Trailer: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark


I love films, all films, in general but if there’s one particular film genre that really floats my boat then it would be in the horror category. This summer will see the release of a title that I’ve been anticipating since I heard about it at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con. The film I speak of is the remake of the 1973 tv horror film of the same name: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

While Troy Nixey takes the director’s chair for this film he’s working on a story written by Guillermo Del Toro who’s been known to dabble in the horror genre (Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone). Del Toro promised a horror film that would bring back horror the way it’s meant to be and that’s with genuine scares and not horror predicated on torture and extreme use of gore. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark will be a throwback to the atmospheric, almost gothic horror, that reached it’s peak during the late 70’s before the slasher boom hit.

The film has been delayed several times as Miramax Films was sold by Disney and the restructuring of the studio after it’s owners finalized it’s purchase put the film on the backburner. It now has an official August 26, 2011 release and it looks like the film got an R-rating from the MPAA for “pervasive scariness”. While Del Toro, Nixey and the rest of the film crew were hoping for a PG-13 rating the one given by the MPAA who seemed to really enjoy said “pervasive scariness” recommended it go out as an R-rated horror (one with little to no gore).

So, we have an upcoming horror film by an upcoming filmmaker handpicked by Del Toro. A film written by Del Toro himself and one which just got an R-rating which made Del Toro as happy as a clam. Plus, it’s a horror film that relies on genuine scares and not gore. My answer to that is August 26, 2011 cannot come sooner.

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Review: Summer Wars (dir. by Hosada Mamoru)


Anime films have been the type to make a major crossover from Japan to the United States when it comes to the US mainstream audience. While anime series typically still remain the realm of the hardcore fans of the genre the stand-alone films get much more love from mainstream critics and audiences in addition to the hardcore. One such film which looks to have made a successful mainstream crossover to the United States was the anime film Summer Wars which was originally released in Japan in August 1, 2009. The film saw it’s American debut at film festivals around the country in 2010, but since I saw it in late May 2011 I consider it a 2011 release for me thus qualifying it as one of the best films of 2011.

Summer Wars was the project of director Hosada Mamoru whose previous stand-alone anime film, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, was well-received by fans and critics alike. Working from a screenplay by Okudera Satoko (adapted from a story written by Hosada himself), Summer Wars was a nice blend of science-fiction, romance and Japanese slice-of-life. The story begins with the introduction and explanation of the OZ on-line community which becomes a major focal point to the film’s story and the many characters in it. OZ was explained as an on-line, social networking community which has become so ingrained in the world community that everything anyone does was done through it’s portals. Think of OZ was an amalgamation of Facebook, Second Life, iTunes, Netflix and every other social networking site all working under one umbrella. It’s a virtual world where people just don’t socially interact through games and chat lobbies, but also a place where every real-world store has a portal where people could purchase things online. It’s also become a palce where governments from local cities to whole countries have set-up their own areas that would control their cities and countries’ infrastructures. It’s Facebook on steroids.

One of the film’s main characters happens to work as a part-time moderator for OZ. Koiso Keiji also happens to be a 17-year old math whiz who would become instrumental in the story to come. The bulk of the story has Keiji being invited by a high school friend in Shinohara Natsuki (explained to him as a job she needs for him to do) to come with her to her family estate where he ends up meeting the rest of Natsuki’s very extended family and also it’s soon-to-be 90-year old matriarch in Jinnouich Sakae. This part of the film makes up the romance and it’s comedic aspect as Keiji gets introduced by Natsuki to her great grandmother Sakae as her boyfriend and future fiance much to Keiji’s surprise. As Keiji tries to awkwardly play along with Natsuki’s plan the second part of the film’s story kick’s in as he inadvertently assist someone or something into hacking into OZ and begin a sequence of events which threatens every account in OZ, but later on even threaten the world.

This part of the story actually worked quite well due to the recent major hacking of Sony’s Playstation and Qriocity networks which gave hackers access to tens of millions of account users’ info. It was hard not to think about this real-life event as something similar (albeit much more massive and danegrous in scope) occurred in Summer Wars. The fact that the film was completed in 2009 and the Sony hack happened just a month ago was real life copying fiction instead of the other way around. It’s this part of the story’s plot which added to the thrilling aspect of the film as Keiji and others (mostly the extended Jinnouichi Clan he meets) try to take on the cause of the OZ hack (which we quickly learn wasn’t a person but an advanced A.I. program released by the U.S. Army into OZ to test it’s capabilities not knowing it would become self-aware and hard to control).

Weaving in and around this science-fiction are some of what makes some Japanese anime so easily accessible to those outside of Japan. We see a slice-of-life that, at first looks to be typical Japanese daily life, but as the story moves along becomes something that everyone would recognize and have some sort of kinship with no matter their race or culture. It’s the theme of family togetherness even through adversity and the occassional disagreements between family members. It’s here we see Natsuki’s great grandmother Sakae show the need for the family to always find time to sit down and eat dinner together no matter what problems each and everyone may be having. It’s these very serene, at times quite hilarious, scenes of family life with the Jinnouichi Clan that Summer Wars will tug at audiences’ heartstrings and cause more than just a few to tear up. Some have said these scenes were too maudlin and corny, but I look at that complaint as people trying to project their own cynical nature on what was really an honest look at family life and how keeping a family together through adversity (both big and small) becomes a reward unto itself.

The Japanese voice cast did quite a good job bringing their animated characters to life from the main leads in Keiji, Natsuki and Sakae right up to the little children who added some levity to the situation. While I try to always watch anime with the Japanese language on with English subtitles for Summer Wars I also watched it with the English-voice dubbing. I was surprised to hear that the English-dubbed version was not as bad as most anime dubs and was actually quite good. Summer Wars looks to boast a who’s-who of English dub voice actors which probably lent itself to a quality dubbing in the end.

Summer Wars was produced by one of Japan’s major animation studios with Madhouse and the look of the film bears this out. The virtual world which made up OZ looked beautiful and made great use of CGI-animation. The avatars used by OZ account members were inventive and a menagerie of characters that all looked to be very distinct each and everytime a new one came on the screen. The animation for the real-world aspect of the film used traditional hand-drawn animation. While it didn’t have the sheen and flash of most anime series the flat-look and natural color scheme used for scenes when outside OZ lent a sense of realism and the natural that made it easier to get into the film. These two contrasting animation styles really helped in pointing out just how different OZ was to everything else.

Hosada Mamoru’s direction keeps everything from becoming a jumbled mess as the film juggles not just two major plot threads concurrently but smaller subplots involving certain individual family members of the Jinnouichi Clan. It’s a testament to his handling of the film that we’re never lost as the film’s story unfolds. Whether it’s the fake relationship between Keiji and Natsuki becoming something more real to the prodigal son coming back to the family after a self-imposed exile of ten years right up to a high school baseball tournament involving one of the family’s younger members who also happens to be a star pitcher.

In the end, Summer Wars should be seen as a landmark film that officially heralds the arrival of one of anime’s great filmmakers. With the untimely passing of Satoshi Kon there’s been a scramble within the anime community to find his heir apparent. Hayao Miyazaki will continue to be one of anime’s godfathers and pillar of quality work, but amongst the younger generation there was really no one stepping up the way Satoshi Kon did in so short a time. I think with Summer Wars it wouldn’t be too farfetched to say that Hosada Mamoru has also stepped up to join Miyazaki as one of the creative geniuses in the anime world. It also shows younger anime filmmakers that there is success to be had doing anime outside the usual mecha, mahou shoujo and shonen series which remains the backbone and meal-ticket for animation studios in Japan.

Summer Wars is an anime film that I’d highly recommend to all whether they’re fans of anime or have no idea what an anime was. This anime is that good and one that deserves to be called just film without the anime tag. It will be interesting to see what Hosada Mamoru comes up with next. I, for one, can’t wait to see what it is. Also, I recommend people watch this on Blu-Ray. The difference in how the animation comes across between Blu-Ray and DVD is leagues apart.

Original Japanese Trailer

Film Review: Everything Must Go (dir. by Dan Rush)


Everything Must Go is Will Ferrell’s attempt to prove that he can be a serious actor and to a large extent, he succeeds.  I saw this film at the Plano Angelika and the audience, at first, seemed to be rather confused as they realized that Will Ferrell wasn’t going to be particularly funny in this film.  However, as the film progressed, his performance — if not the film itself — seemed to win the audience over.  Though, at first glance, this film would seem to have little in common with Anchorman or Tallegada Nights, it does fit in nicely as part of the Mediocre American Man trilogy.  It’s just that here, we’re supposed to feel for Ferrell’s mediocre American man as opposed to laugh at him.

In Everything Must Go, Ferrell plays a middle-aged, alcoholic who, after getting fired from his job, returns home and discovers that his wife has locked himself out of the house and has put all of his possessions out on the front lawn.  Over the next few days, Ferrell spends his time sitting out in the front yard, drinking beer, dealing with the neighbors, and eventually — with the help of a neighborhood kid (Christopher Jordan Wallace) — holding a yard sale that, as you can probably guess — serves as a metaphor for the sorry state of his life in general.  The film is based on the short story Why Don’t You Dance? by Raymond Carver and, as you can tell from the plot synopsis, it’s definitely not a film to see without your Cymbalta.

I wanted to like Everything Must Go a lot more than I actually did.  It’s a beautifully shot film that features scenes of true insight and pathos.  Unfortunately, for every scene of subtle power, there’s another scene where director Dan Rush pushes too hard to appeal to easy sentiment.  There’s a wonderfully awkward yet poignant scene in which Ferrell tracks down and talks to a woman (played by Laura Dern) who he barely knew in high school.  Ferrell and Dern have a great chemistry and the scene is difficult to watch precisely because it’s so honest and revealing.  However, to get to that scene, you have to deal with scenes of Ferrell dealing with a self-righteous neighbor (Stephen Root) or awkwardly talking to the pregnant woman (Rebecca Hall) who has just moved in across the street.  These scenes are awkward for the opposite reason — they just seem so false, forced, and predictable.

Falling somewhere in between are the scenes in which Will Ferrell befriends a lonely neighborhood boy, played by Christopher Jordan Wallace.  Wallace does a good job in the role and he and Ferrell act well opposite each other but, at the same time, it’s hard not to feel as if the Wallace is being used more as a dramatic device than an actual character.  It’s hard not to feel that this is yet another film in which the filmmakers attempt to get us to accept bad behavior on the part of a white protagonist by having him befriend the only black person in the entire movie.  

Everything Must Go is Will Ferrell’s attempt to prove that he can play a serious role and it must be said that he succeeds even as the film fails.  Essentially, he’s just playing a real world version of the same goofy, overgrown boys that he plays in his comedies but he’s smart enough as a performer to realize that and use it to his advantage.  Ferrell understands that, in real life, both Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby would be burned-out dinosaurs with failed marriages and no place to live.  If nothing else, Everything Must Go proves that the line between comedy and tragedy is quite thin indeed.

Scenes I Love: Scanners


While bored out of my mind this early Monday morning (no work due to the Memorial Day holiday) I do what I usually do to try and get out of it: I surf YouTube. Doing this sometimes alleviates my boredom and sometimes it doesn’t. This time around it did as I came across a scene from a film that has to be one of my all-time favorites. An all-time favorite film and scene both.

The scene I came across is one of the earliest sequences in David Cronenberg’s seminal sci-fi work, Scanners. It stars Michael Ironside in the film’s villanous role as Darryl Revok. In this scene we don’t know he’s the heavy. We suspect something to be off about him, but we can’t put a finger on it. It’s during the unfolding of this short scene that we finally realize that Revok is not what he seems to be as the unfortunate “scanner” expert next to him begins to feel the depths of Revok’s ability. A feeling that soon turns to pain and then finally the explosive result.

I think I was nine years-old when I first saw this scene and to say that it left an indelible mark on me would be an understatement. I was still too young to truly appreciate Cronenberg as a filmmaker then, but years later when I saw this again when film started to become more than just entertainment for me was when I saw just how much a genius the man was. This scene helped put me on what would turn out to be an ongoing love affair of all things Cronenberg.

Also, for those who don’t know, Michael Ironside also ends up voicing that iconic video character Sam Fisher from the Splinter Cell franchise.

Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 07 “You Win Or You Die”


HBO was kind enough to allow people who registered for their HBOGO.COM service to watch this seventh episode of Game of Thrones a full week before it aired. I wasn’t planning on watching it ahead of time, but since I already was signed up I decided to just go ahead and watch it. I must say that this latest episode continues to build on what has been a very strong first season for the tv adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s popular and critically-acclaimed medieval fantasy novel series of “A Song of Ice and Fire”.

The last episode was a major turning point for some of the characters in this series. “A Golden Crown” saw Daenerys Targaryen finally become her own woman in the face of her older siblings buffonery and childish tantrums. Behavior which finally got him the “golden crown” he deserved from Khal Drogo (and one which Daenerys seems to approve of). Tyrion Lannister using his wit and cunning mind to get himself extricated from the craziness that was Lysa Arryn and her court in the Eyrie of the Vale. The episode also brings together all the clues and evidence Ned Stark had been gathering about the death of the previous Hand of the King.

One would think that nothing could top all the pivotal events of episode six’s “A Golden Crown”, but this seventh episode surely tops that one with some building on the revelations of the previous episode. It’s really a major testament to showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss at how they’re able to not just stay true to the source material but also condense some of the minor threads of subplots and backstory into an hour episode that’s thrilling, engaging and not pandering to it’s audience.

This episode was aptly titled, “You Win Or You Die” as the fight for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms finally begins. We see the introduction of the Lannister patriarch who has loomed over the series as some unseen Sword of Damocles who holds King Robert’s tenuous hold on his kingdom. It was a treat to see veteran British actor Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister and see him playing the character as a no-nonsense, pragmatic but ruthless leader of his House. His brief time in this episode told us all we needed to know about Tywin. He’s so unlike his three children and this fact has become such a burden to him that he’s willing to take whatever virtue from the one child he sees as his most capable heir in Jamie that he’s willing to forgo all the faults. The scene of him butchering and dressing the stag while talking down (and propping up) Jamie for his foolishness with challenging Ned in episode five was very prophetic.

The episode also sees the return of Jon Snow and his part of the series’ story as he finally gets formally inducted into the Night’s Watch with Sam and the rest of the new recruits. What should’ve been a momentous occasion has been tempered by the sudden news of his uncle Benjen’s disappearance north of the Wall. It also shows Jon at his most petulant. What he saw as punishment from the Night’s Watch trainer and resident asshole in Ser Allister when he gets assigned as the Commander’s squire and steward was seen by his friend Sam as Jon being groomed for future command. For those who have been quite tough on chubby and cowardly Samwell should really have second thoughts about just how useless he is. He is surely becoming the voice of reason and logic to Jon’s more impetuous and “act now, think later” mentality. We also see the return of one of the direwolves as Jon’s (aptly named Ghost) brings him a gruesome gift once he has taken his vows.

The third major event in this episode before we get to it’s climactic finish brings us back to Vaes Dothrak and to Daenerys and Khal Drogo. With Viserys now out of the picture we see Daenerys begin to assert herself on Khal Drogo. While her brother’s dreams of becoming the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms have been dashed with a golden, metallic clang her own ambitions have not. She now sees herself as the true Dragon and still wishes to have the Iron Throne for her unborn son, Rhaego. While Khal Drogo still doesn’t see such things as important for him and his people an event in a marketplace which puts his khaleesi and son in danger finally convinces him of the danger the Seven Kingdoms poses.

This all leads us to the beginning of the “game of thrones”. Ned now fully knows why his predecessor was killed as the secret of Joffrey “Bieber” Baratheon’s lineage becomes quite clear. While more crafty and politically adept individuals would keep the secret from Cersei this is Ned Stark we’re talking about and he confronts his Queen with the news. To say that Cersei wasn’t flustered would be an understatement. This episode showed Lena Headey in full control of the Cersei character as we see her play the role with more iron and spine than what was shown in the novel.

“You Win Or You Die” finally sees an ignominious end to King Robert and his whoring and drinking. What was suppose to be a boar-hunt to help alleviate the stress he has been getting from both the Lannisters and the Starks finally gets him gored by the very boar he’s trying to hunt (though there’s suspicion that his inattentiveness during the hunt may have had some help). Mark Addy does a great job as Robert on his deathbed as he confesses his failings not just as a ruler but as a husband and as a father to the Seven Kingdoms, Cersei and Joffrey respectively. He appoints Ned to become the Regent of the Kingdoms until Joffrey is of age and does so officially with a sealed document.

One would think this final and dying declaration from a dying ruler would be enough to give Ned the power he requires to put the kingdom into order from the coming chaos but that would be selling all the characters with something to gain short. Robert’s not even cold when his younger brother Renly approaches Ned about plans to seize the throne from Cersei, but Ned being the honorable type refuses. Whatever ally he might’ve had to help him leaves the city as he confronts Cersei and Joffrey about the plans of succession. This is where the episode finally explodes into the conflict that’s been building since the very episode.

Some might say that this episode seems quite full of subplots and story threads and might not devote enough time for each. In fact, I was surprised at how much the writers were able to cram into this episode and still make each storyline have the time to make their events important to the series as a whole. While the episode ends with the the “game of thrones” in full swing in King’s Landing, the episode could also mean that things in the Wall and north of it has finally sunk into Jon and his fellow recruits as being truly serious. He and his new brothers must win or die. It’s as simple as that. Even Daenerys’ situation across the Narrow Sea fits the episode title well. With her now the bearer of the Targaryen line and her husband the leader of a powerful army she must also win or die.

Everyone in this episode seems to know the rules of the game their playing except the one person who seemed to be the one who had the most to win or lose. This episode showed Ned at his most intractable and honorable self, but it also showed just how much ill-prepared he is to fight in a battlefield where he doesn’t know who to trust and the very people who he shouldn’t trust might be his only allies. The final scene of the episode really highlight’s this dilemma for Ned and was such a great cliffhanger for the final three episodes to come before the series end’s it’s first season.

For fans of the books this episode shouldn’t disappoint and for new fans it should excite and really pull them in deeper into the world of Martin’s creation. Next week should continue the events we’re left to process as this latest episode ended. Will war finally break out between the two major houses of Lannister and Stark? Will Drogo finally bring his Dothraki horde into the Seven Kingdoms to gift his wife the Iron Throne she covets? What agenda does Littlefinger have and will it be the downfall of one of the houses?

There’s so much to be answered but seeing how this series just seems to get better with each successive episode I don’t doubt that episode eight will drop the ball and disappoint us with the answer (or will more questions arise) to those very questions.

Poll: Which Films Are You Looking Forward To In June and July?


Rapidly we are approaching the half-way mark of 2011.  This is the time of year that the studios start to roll out their big “event” movies along with the occasional “prestige” film.  In short, this is the time that, for many (thought not for me), the year in film truly begins.

So, I’m curious — what films are you most interested in and excited about seeing in June and July? To help answer that question, I’ve created two polls which you can find below.  You can vote for up to four films for each month and write-in votes are accepted. Voting will be open on both polls until July 1st.

Hey, it’s the first trailer for David Fincher’s version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo


Okay, here’s the red band trailer for David Fincher’s unneccessary offensive insulting upcoming version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. 

If you want, feel free to visit YouTube and read all the comments from fanboys having Finchergasms over it.  My position will continue to be that David Fincher is a very talented director, Rooney Mara was rather bland in both Nightmare on Elm Street and The Social Network, Daniel Craig is boring and overrated but then again, so is the character he’s playing, and finally, Noomi Rapace will always be the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. 

That doesn’t mean that Fincher won’t make a good movie.  The trailer is effective and the material seems well suited for Fincher’s vision.  In fact, it could allow Fincher to get back to his Fight Club and Zodiac roots after going all boring and mainstream with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network.

Still, perhaps we should remake The Lord of The Rings trilogy next.  After all, those first three films are just sooooo New Zealand.  We need an American version.