Film Night: The Host

Oh hey, let’s see if I can actually finish one of these posts.

After lurking a bit on reddit, I found a thread about Korean films. The Host was mentioned, and I remembered seeing it as a teenager, so I wanted to check if I still liked it. Well?

The Host is a good film.

Actually, it’s a fucking amazing one. I like it way more now than I did way back when I saw it for the first time.

This Korean monster film is one I watched as a young lad, and just found again. It’s a spectacular blend of drama, thriller, horror, comedy and all other manners of genre.

After an opening scene where an American scientist brow-beats his Korean assistant into dumping dangerous chemicals which will end up in the Han River, we start by following our primary protagonist, Gang-du, and his family (his father and his daughter), during what seems like a normal day. That’s until a huge fish-monster barrels into view and starts wreaking havoc. The scenes are harrowing and feel very real in the way that people react during a catastrophe. Some are paralysed with fear, some run, some act, etc. Seeing as it’s a monster film, naturally people die in quite awful ways.

In the opening chaos, Gang-du’s daughter is grabbed by the beast and pulled underwater, presumed dead. However, she manages to call him, and so Gang-du and his dysfunctional family get together to try to save his daughter.

The family is made up by a pretty odd mix of characters. Gang-du is quite the slow individual. He’s very lethargic and is seen as a failure by his siblings. Nam-il is the member of the family that managed to get through school. However, he’s ended up unemployed and is eager to be seen as a competent individual, especially by his family. Nam-Joo is the successful sibling, competing on a high level in archery. The father, Hie-bong is a soft old man who loves his children, especially Gang-du in an attempt to make up for his poor parenting in his younger days (such as being the cause for his son’s disabilities). Hyun-seo is Gang-du’s daughter, a headstrong little lady whose disappearance brings the family together again.

All members of the family are very good, but special mentions have got to go to Kang-ho Song (who is absolutely brilliant as the dim Gang-du, giving him so much life on the screen and playing the different aspects of his personality so well) and Hee-Bong Byun (playing the patriarch of the family, who has a heart-wrenching monologue and shows the warmth and solidity of a father who’s the balancing force of the family). The film itself is a lot more focused on the bonds between the family members than it is about the monster, so they had to be likeable and well-acted both, and the cast pulls this off. They all have their pros and cons, which culminates in a spectacular final sequence.

Credit has to go to writer-director Bong Joon Ho, who expertly flows several different genres together, often in the same scene, as he does in the film as a whole. You can go from crying to smiling at the awkward comedy to cowering in terror withing short time-spans, as the film shifts gears very quickly.

Worth mentioning is that the film has a very strong anti-authoritarian vibe. People in charge in the film are often dipshits and treat our lovable fools like garbage. There’s a very devious scene where Gang-du is played like a fiddle by a foreign person, that quickly turns very dark. Speaking of foreign, while there’s an American that is a swell bloke in the film, most of it’s English speakers are portrayed as nigh-on moustache-twirling pieces of shit. Not that I mind, but it’s clearly a theme.

Finally, some words on the monster, seeing as it’s a monster film of sorts. The humongous fish-monster is terrifying as hell when up close. The CGI is a bit wonky at times and feels like frames are left out. It’s especially ugly in the distance, but it generally animates well up close. The monster doesn’t have much in the way of motivation, and that’s just fine.

All in all, I highly recommend this terrific film for just about anyone. It ticks most boxes for anyone stepping into a cinema and so I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t give it a shot.

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The School

Right, so I just wrote this thing for a player of mine’s background for a campaign I’ll be running of Monte Cook’s fabulous game, Numenera.

He wanted the school to be one of scientific study and understanding, but still be sort of “dark side”. I said “Hogwards, but evil,” and he agreed. So here’s the stuff:

Many of the older students felt a chill up the back of their necks as the headmistress sauntered in through the big double-doors, guards in glassteel armour holding the doors open for her. The younglings cowered behind the legs of their elders, who stood at attention. Anything other than the correct discipline shown would lead to “corrections.”
Juro stood with a back so straight it started to spasm slightly. He willed it to stop. He’d been at the “school” – for what else could you call this perverted place of learning? – for maybe four years now. He knew most of the other students by name, and knew the headmistress by the sound of her soft, melodic voice and the tapping her shoes made as she made her way around the school. He watched in half-terror, half-longing as the strict woman slowly made her way down the stairs towards the speaking platform. As he’d learned recently, an artefact in the podium made it so that her voice was forced into everyone’s heads. None was to ignore the headmistress. He looked over at the man at the end of the room. The one with a cloak to cover his skin. Juro knew why. The scales on the man’s skin were enough to put many off, but the fact that he never seemed to breath either made him distinctly alien. However, he’d come to know this Voltair figure as a man of science during the last year. Always curious about whatever he’d find, constantly poking and prodding the various numenera objects they were allowed in the dorms. He never could get a straight answer out of Voltair what he thought of the headmistress. Maybe he too was scared? Or maybe he just didn’t care that much? Juro didn’t know and didn’t much care.

The headmistress had her daily discussion about the advancement of science and at the end had a question time with the students. Then the new arrivals, the kids, were escorted to the back of the complex. It was an odd building any way you cut it. A large triangle, piercing throught the ground into the world above. He’d been told that the actual name for this was a pyramid. Strangely, while from the outside one only saw the dark blue material the pyramid was made of, from the inside you could view the outside perfectly clear. If the headmistress or her guards allowed it, that is. Since he’d been here, Juro had only been allowed to walk the soil he was born on three times. All in missions to find more technology for the school. Because he’d worked his way up to Auron, through two years of hard work and arse-kissing. Auron was the second-highest title for students. The first was Invero, the new recruits. Mostly children, but some of the older ones that didn’t subscribe to the headmistress’ teachings. Secondly was Fostare, the initiates. This was his rank of Auron, the seeking. Highest of the student ranks was Ondore. Voltaire was one of those. The scaly man had been here much longer than Juro. Besides the scales and the lack of breathing, there was also something peculiar with the crystal on his forehead. He said nothing more than that it had been implanted on him. Apparently it gave him some sort of mental power that allowed him to communicate with other people. He did it with Juro once, but Juro absolutely hated the experience. What he knew of Voltaire was that he also had been abducted as a kid, to be brought here. Voltaire didn’t remember the ones that took him, though. The automatons with empty faces, held up by what seemed a cornucopia of stin strings. So many strings. And their leader. The one with coloured robes, and an etched face. A face filled with hate. Endless, ferocious, judging eyes. Judging you as unworthy. She’d glided up to him. Places her long, sharp fingers on his face.

Yesssssss, you’re like THEM. Young, potential. The planets align for us, once again. Bring this one to the school. Tell them we expect results.”

His skin crawled as he remembered her voice. Like a hundred wailing women whispering at once. That sad, yielding whispering that his mother would try to stop his father with, when he had one of his tempers. First thing he’d do when he escapes this place, was kill that old man. Fuck him, and his heritage. He smashed his fist against a wall, and could see the guard down the hallway raise an eyebrow at him. He hurriedly opened the door and went inside his room. Tomorrow they would bestow a power unto him, is what the headmistress had told him.

Juro walked into the headmistress’ chamber with trepidation. He wanted to run so badly, but feared the consequences. A slight sweeping sound behind him caused him to turn, and so he faced the creature that would change his life. The huge, cloaked figure with only a large blue crystal for a face stared at him. No eyes, but Juro could feel its piercing gaze.
“’tis a Philethis, boy. Ever seen one before?”
Juro shook his head. His breath was ragged, his muscles straining themselves hard to keep him in place while the creature walked up.”
“You’ve seen the strings,” the creature stated as a fact. It turned to the headmistress. “Mistake.” Juro could hear the headmistress squirming in her leather seat.
“It’s not my fault. The one we usually get to perform the rite on the young tried to leave. The Mother…” the headmistress’ voice trailed off for a second and returned, “strung him up. It took weeks to clean the gore from the chamber.”
Juro could tell the creature was looking at the headmistress. It seemed almost sad, somehow. Then it inclined its posture slightly towards Juro, and something came at him. Into him. Juro screamed as the constantly colour-shifting and shape-changing stone was forced past his snapping ribs and into his chest. He passed out, but not due to the pain, but because of all the voices echoing in his head.

Juro woke up to only one voice. And for the first time, he didn’t disapprove of the way he heard it.
“Are you okay?” asked Voltaire’s echoing voice, as Juro felt a cold, wet rag on his forehead. It felt like he was burning up. No… The surrounding air felt like fire. He was cold. Voltaire sat a little bit away with a lit candle by his side, casting some light of his features not hidden by the hood he wore. The headmistress said not to disturb you, so I’ll just leave this here.”

Juro sat in near-complete darkness, with only the light giving any vision. Now that Voltaire had left, though, the voices returned. Well, not quite voices, but definitely whispers. Calling out. Crying. Juro listened in, and tried to hear what they were saying. Where was it coming from? Then he realised, and looked down at the floor.
“Who’s there?” he called out hesitantly.
“Kaïra,” replied the floor, and Juro felt a hole in his stomach. It expanded with every syllable spoken from the floor. The feeling remained as he found a pickaxe in one of the storage rooms. A Fostare boy asked him what he needed it for, but he swept the younger lad aside. He returned to the room and swung the tool over and over. Over and over. When the floor tiles broke, so did he.

Built on the hard-work of those before. The headmistress had used those words to describe the school before. Literally on those who came before, Juro spat as he held Kaïra’s skull in his hands. He remembered when they told him of her disappearance during a mission. She and him had been partners when on cypher hunts. And when doing research in the school. And after hours. In bed. Juro sighed. He knew she was dead before. Not confirmed, but he knew. She was Ondore. They don’t just disappear. Now that he thought of it, he was Ondore as well. It seems those who aren’t seen as fit to advance to Sistiyel, the first adult rank, are disposed off.
“The Mother refused me,” Kaïra spoke again. Juro was still trying to figure out how he could hear his death friend’s voice. The feeling in his chest was probably part of it. Whatever the creature did to him, it seems to have tuned him into the other side. Voices from beyond the grave. “The headmistress gave us to her. For inspection.”
Juro grimaced. “Us? There’s more here?”
“Yes. It was in a dark room, with ugly tiles.”
“Wait, she- no, it, was in this room?”
“Yes. Some, they took. For what, I don’t know. The others were shoved into the floor.”
“Alive?”
“Yes. Their screams still echo in the graves next to me.”
“So the headmistress is giving away students to those things? Why?”
“I don’t know. She seemed sad. Then she left. She left us in the dark with The Mother. There was something…”
“What?”
“She said they were looking for believers. To spread the message. She hates so much. She burns me.”
“Not any longer, honey. You’re safe now.” Juro felt drained. He could hardly think. He knew what needed to be done. The school had to burn. But not now. He wasn’t strong enough. The day would come. So he shoved the skull of his former lover in a carrier bag and sprinted up the stairs. Then through the hallways. Then into the research labs. He shoved a researcher down and stole his keys. She fought back, so he silenced her with the swing of a chair. He took a couple of cyphers and jammed them into his bag. Then he grabbed one he’d collected himself. He knew what it did. He heard the guards breach the door, as the cupboard that was blocking it was toppled over and glass shattered. It didn’t matter, as he was already on his way out through the window. Shards of glass whirled around him as he fell. As he was approaching the ground in horrifying velocity he twisted the cypher around and his momentum ceased comfortably and he sunk to the ground at will. The cypher fell apart as he landed. He ran as fast as he could into the Forest to the North, where he hid for a few days. He finally reached Storui, and the seedy city was easy enough to navigate. He sold a couple of the cyphers for food and armour, as well as an aneen.

It took him several weeks to get to The Great Reach, the portal through which there is apparently a whole other continent. The thanked his teachers for telling him to read so often, or he wouldn’t have known what it truly was. A bagful of shins made the guards look the other way, and he continued for the portal. Then he felt it. A tug on his shoulder. As if a fishing-line had caught his jerkin. He turned, as he heard a scream. Then his blood froze, if his cold blood could indeed solidify.
The Mother of Strings, in all her hateful glory, moved into the far end of the camp. Following her, her mad minions with bland faces were cutting down the people around her. He could hear the maddening chorus of a sort of battle hymn as the cut a swathe through the meaty guards and their mounts. He knew what he’d done. He’d led her here. He could see the string connecting him to her and yanked it hard. It was sharp enough to cut his skin open, but came off. He witnessed her levitate forward with impossible speed, carrying two full-grown men that she’d impaled on her sick figure that hurt to look at. Her presence, that tore at the fabric of this world, and yet forced it to hold together, contorted for the first time with delight as it looked past him and saw the same lands he did. Juro shrieked and burst through the mouth of the portal. The people on the other side looked at him confused, then their faces froze as they looked and saw the thing that shouldn’t be fly after him. He ran through a valley and left as fast as he could, while the sounds of the slaughter echoed behind him. As he dragged his tired legs out of the valley, he set his sight on a village in the distance. Finally he had a future. And he wouldn’t stop until he took everything from the school that tried to take it from him.

School structure (ranks)
Headmistress (highest rank, word is law)
— —
Garellon (adult rank 3, researcher – part of the circle of scholars that carry out the headmistress’ orders)
Hasterad (adult rank 2, high seeker)
Sistiyel (adult rank 1, recruiter)
— —
Ondore (youth rank 4, researcher’s assistant)
Auron (youth rank 3, seeker)
Fostare (youth rank 2, initiate)
Invero (youth rank 1, recruit)

Why so series? – Penny Dreadful

Yay, I’m not dead.

So, about that show I most recently watched.

Penny Dreadful is a good series.

To start, Penny Dreadful is grotesque, haunting and very slow-paced. If you’re looking for a fast-paced series with many twists and turns, you should back away.

Penny Dreadful chronicles the misadventures of Vanessa Ives and company, mostly made up of sad souls that find themselves on the wrong side of the supernatural and often fighting for their lives. The main story-lines revolve mostly around Miss Ives, but the rest of the cast are well fleshed-out.

The main cast of season one, with a notable exclusion. (From left, Ethan Chandler, Brona Croft, Victor Frankenstein, Vanessa Ives, Dorian Gray, Sir Malcolm Murray, Sembene)

Miss Vanessa Ives (brilliantly played by Eva Green, but we’ll get back to her) is a woman that is haunted by many demons, both personal and literal. She forms a team with an old friend of the family, and a rag-tag group of broken men as she seeks to save not only her father-figure’s real daughter and herself from unfathomable evils.

Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) is a famous explorer, having mapped big parts of Africa and intends to return for more (especially to look for the elusive source of the Nile). He’s a close ally of Vannessa, as their families were very close, and acts as her father-figure. He searches for his lost daughter Mina, and is haunted by his dead son Peter, who he left in a shallow grave in Africa.

Ethan Chandler (played by Josh Hartnett) is an American gun-show performer and former soldier recruited to the not-quite-merry band by Ives. He initiates a relationship with Brona Croft  in his personal time and during “work hours”, he finds out about a world few know exist in the shadows. He also harbours quite the dark secret.

Brona Croft (played by Billie Piper) is a prostitute that enters a relationship with Ethan. She’s suffering from tuberculosis, and also crosses path with a certain local handsome lad.

Sembene (Danny Sapani) is a servant of Malcolm’s he acquired somehow in Africa. Sembene’s past is a mystery, but his loyalty to the cause is unquestionable.

Dorian Gray (yeah, him – played by Reeve Carney) is a beautiful young man, indulging in sensuality for the most-part of the show. Has his classic painting to keep him young.

Doctor Victor Frankenstein (yes, that one too – played here by Harry Treadwell) is a local arrogant doctor, obsessed with the pursuit of the essence of life. He wants to create an immortal being. He’s extremely socially inept and rather dismissive of the group’s intentions, but finds himself drawn to the action anyway. Now you can probably figure out the last cast member.

Frankenstein’s Monster (Rory Kinnear) is just that. He returns to haunt his creator and demands that Frankenstein creates a wife for him. He has some interesting interactions with the rest of the cast that are of stark contrast to his antagonistic relationship with Frankenstein.

The story these characters are drawn into is very good and simple. It’s a bit predictable at times, but it works well. It lacks direction for long stretches of each season, but I find it works for the show in general.

About the quality of the acting; Eva Green absolutely owns the screen as Vanessa Ives. If anybody doubts her capabilities as an actress, I really don’t know how. She gives you nearly every facet of Miss Ives, from happiness to absolute rock bottom. Her mannerisms, her voice, fucking everything. She’s the best actress on TV by far.

Also great is Harry Treadwell as Victor Frankenstein. His performance is absolutely stellar, and it makes it a treat to watch Frankenstein grow into a man on screen. I’ll be keeping an eye out for him in other projects.

pennydreadful-frank

One of my negatives is Dorian Gray. I’m not very fond of the show’s take on the character – Or the character in general. He’s just rather boring and has little impact. He does however improve in season two, and has probably the best side-story. Much better when he’s being played straight, instead of having him strut around and recite poems like a love-sick philosopher. It looks as if he’ll have a big part in season 3, where he might end up being the main villain.

pennydreadful-dorian

The villains are also rather uninteresting, even if the ones of the second season are far better. Still, the show plays it off well and instead puts more focus on how the “heroes” deal with the situations at hand.

Without spoiling much, the second season is a considerable improvement on the first one, with the stakes being raised and the characters being put in more interesting situations.

The series is gorgeous and the setting is very well presented.

The second season has a story arc about sexuality that was surprisingly effective, and proves that the Dorian Gray character can work with a bit of set-up and not just having him walk around being fabulous. Then it’s just thrown away rather abruptly, which made the whole thing feel like a waste.

The show is also very noir, in the way it treats it’s characters. They usually walk head-long into sadness or deny themselves happiness. Not a whole lot of sunshine and puppies around.

In closing, Penny Dreadful is an excellent ensemble drama with a variety of characters and personalities that usually work well together. It’s quite slow-paced, but is well-worth sticking with. Filled to the brim with spectacular performances – especially that of Green – it’s a constant treat to watch. Very highly recommended.

Film Night: Captain America: The First Avenger

Since I made my way through Agent Carter already (more on that when I can be arsed), I figured I may as well watch the first CA-film to get a bit more back-story on her. Now, I wish I hadn’t.

Captain America: The First Avenger is a bad film.

To no great surprise, mind you. I remember the film being destroyed by critics when it came out, and while i don’t usually give a shit about what critics think, they made a lot of alarm bells go off. Or rather, they confirmed what I thought the film would be like.

CA:TFA is the origin film for Steve Rogers, aka Captain America. And it’s just about as bad and patriotic as you would have imagined. It’s like Marvel got drunk and watched Pearl Harbor before deciding to make a character based on it. That said, I’m pretty sure Cap was create earlier. Sorry, my point is that the character is hilariously dated and awful.

The film chronicles Rogers’ rise from hilariously thin kid trying to sign up for the army, to being made the Captain and saving the world.

captainamerica-uhererer

The fated face-off between bland protagonist and bland antagonist.

Rogers is an all-round swell guy. His parents died and he’s wanting to make a difference. Clearly signing up for the army is the answer. There’s just the fact that he’s thinner than even most hardcore shut-ins and has had numerous diseases throughout his life. Nobody with common sense would admit him to be a soldier. But of course it can’t end there! So a German (so the film can get the Germans!=Nazis statement out of the way for posterity right away) scientist (played by Stanley Tucci) decided to overrule the dastardly army recruiters and signs up Rogers for an army project under the lead of the SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve, or something like that). There are some tests, which don’t amount to much considering Rogers fails them all (but hey, at least he failed them in a charming way) and still gets picked for the trial run of the super soldier project.

In an especially stupid scene, to gauge the recruits’ “guts,” Tommy Lee Jones’ army commander character throws a dummy grenade into the hard-working trainees. Everybody but Rogers runs away. Instead, Rogers tries to cover the grenade. Agent Carter (the very one who now is the lead of a TV series, yes) also appears to be heading towards the blast. This is apparently what Jones’ character was looking for. Suicidal people. Like, what the fuck, aren’t you supposed to avoid getting killed? Can you smother a grenade blast with nothing but your body? I’m pretty sure that’s not a thing, especially not possible for someone of Rogers’ small frame. But we’re here to watch a hero grow, aren’t we? So we’ll have to suck it up and check of another cliché as we are lead on.

The problems continue as the stupidity levels get higher and higher.

  • A HYDRA (bad guys) spy is allowed entry to the super secret super soldier (super super super) project, and kills the lead scientist.
  • Carter snipes a guy at least fifty meters away while aiming a pistol with one hand. Probably possible, but looks dumb as shit (a real agent would have used both hands).
  • Carter inexplicably falls for Rogers, despite having only met him like twice, and only ever sharing a couple sentences with him. Not to forget, she totally gets all wet for him after the transformation. Because nothing gives a woman an orgasm like huge muscles. What I’m trying to say, is that Carter is written like you’d expect. She’s a young little foal for Cap to hug and make her his. Or something. The point is that it’s lazy, unoriginal, sexist and plain bad writing.
  • Cap decides to go on a suicide mission, because suddenly he’s an army of one. He succeeds very easily, too. Of course Carter (because, as she says later “I had faith”. IN ONE MAN AGAINST SEVERAL HUNDRED NAZIS ROCKING FUTURISTIC WEAPONRY? HOW ARE YOU AN ACTUAL AGENT?) helps him out. As does Howard Stark, because he needs the screen-time. And he’s an amazing pilot for reasons.
  • Jones’ character decides that Cap should not get reprimanded for launching a crazy mission, risking losing one of the most valuable medicinally scientific advances… ever? Yeah, just give him a pat on the back, there, bruv.
  • Natalie Dormer shows up to be eye candy and kiss the Cap.
  • All other characters are caricatured stereotypes of soldiers. One even has a huge handlebar ‘stache.
  • To test a shield, Carter just starts shooting at Rogers. Would have been quite the shame if the shield was shit, huh?
  • Rogers’ buddy falls to his death and hardly anybody gives a shit. Rogers tries to drink, because that’s the adult thing to do. Nope, he can’t get drunk. So sad. And lost in it all is the fact that we never saw the two being very friendly at all. In fact, it seemed more like the guy was being an ass to Rogers.
  • Schmidt/Red Skull is supposed to be a great scientist and so very clever, but he’s pathetically outwitted at every twist and turn. There’s no conflict.
  • Rogers spontaneously learns how to fly a plane later when he has to catch up to Red Skull. He even pulls evasive manoeuvres. I’d laugh if I wasn’t so bored.
  • Rogers states that he doesn’t want to kill Nazis in the beginning of the film, but later kills a ton with reckless abandon. He even goes out of his way to kill some that he could have just knocked out. Some violence is all of a sudden very gratuitous for some reason. Like the dude falling into the plane rotor.
  • “I got to put her in the water,” Cap says of the plane he’s aboard, it being armed with missiles and all. Then he crash-lands on a huge flat of ice. What the fuck, wouldn’t that explode the missiles? And I’m pretty sure with the velocity he’s going, the surface of the water would shred that plane.
  • (Slight spoiler) When Bucky dies, it’s painfully obvious that he’s wired up, as he straightens up and then falls over again as he’s falling. Couldn’t get a better take than that?

The acting is so-so. Chris Evans didn’t ever look comfortable in the role. He was much better in The Avengers (where he’s made to look smarter and actually competent as a leader). Hayley Atwell is wasted as a love-struck Agent Carter (very different from her strong, independent persona in her own series). Dominic Cooper exudes arrogance and charisma as Howard Stark. Well casted, but he had little to do in the film.

captainamerica-dealingithit

Tommy Lee Jones turns up to collect a pay-check. Stanley Tucci is decent, but has very limited screen-time. Toby Jones quietly pulls out a great performance as Red Skull’s subordinate, Dr. Zola. And Hugo Weaving plays the Nazi antagonist in a suitably over-the-top creepy manner.

The actions scenes are stupid and over-choreographed. Danger never feels present, as characters are always waiting for cues as to what to do next. It’s stale, unimaginative and just plain boring.

And that’s about it. Don’t watch this film, y’all.

Film Night: Whiplash

Whiplash isn’t your ordinary feel-good music film.

Whiplash is a good film.

In fact, it’s a fucking amazing film. Whiplash is a psychological thriller of a music film and it’s sodding amazing.

Miles Teller plays Andrew, a drummer with big musical aspirations. He’s enrolled at Shaffer Academy, where he plays for the b-band (not entirely sure if that’s correct, as I never had any musical talent) until he’s picked up by JK Simmons’ Mr Fletcher, a sociopathic music instructor who will do anything to get his players to the next level, in search for a new music legend.

If you were expecting a normal music film, where the good guy blows away everyone’s expectations, beats up the bad guy and rides off into the sunset with his girl, you’re watching the wrong film. Whiplash will beat the shit out of you and then wring you dry. Simmons will then cuss you out and make you leave the room.

Fletcher is alpha as fuck. He’s a foul-mouthed, ruthless and extremely talented manipulator, who is equally proficient with a stick as he is a carrot. Meaning, he’ll just as easily tell a sob story to get you into the job at hand as he will casually throw a chair at your head for rushing. Not my tempo. He has a sociopathic obsession with making his students into the best musicians possible, and he’ll do it at any cost. He’s got no issue hurting people mentally and physically to get the job done. Under it all is a strong desire to help his pupils become better, in his own way. His goal and initial outset in getting there seems fine, but the lengths he will go to to get the performances he wants and how this affects Andrew are the main conflicts of the film. JK Simmons fucking brings it as Fletcher, and his portrayal is nuanced, as he goes from raving lunatic to soft-spoken teacher and back without any warning. One of the best performances I’ve ever seen, and he further elevates the film to incredible heights.

Fletcher on a Monday.

Fletcher on a Monday.

Andrew is a loner, who just hangs around the cinema with his father because of obligation rather than will. He is unsociable and rude, especially to people who aren’t ambitious like him. He’s not sympathetic in general. Sure, we’ll feel bad for him when he’s being beaten down by Fletcher, but he’s a big bag of dicks on his own (even if it’s only brought to the surface by Fletcher’s influence). He treats people around him like shit in the most passive-aggressive way possible and is a huge douche to his possible girlfriend. Miles Teller is excellent and puts in a nuanced (there’s that word again) performance that’ll see him having a bright future.

Andrew, also on a Monday.

Andrew, also on a Monday.

It’s wonderful(-ly sad) to see how Andrew evolves under Fletcher’s tutelage. While he was no saint before, he was always very well-mannered. After being beaten down on and worn out by Fletcher, he sheds the pleasant exterior to become an aggressive man, now also obsessed with becoming as good as possible. A pair of scenes in the film’s middle shows how far Andrew has fallen in chasing Fletcher’s approval, and it’s a startling portrait of a once hopeful young man being moulded into a ruthless cut-throat of a musician.

Neither Andrew nor Fletcher are painted as pure bad guys, though. It’s up to the viewer to decide on what they think, especially come the excellent ending, which is astonishingly good.

The music of the film is exquisite (I should listen to some more classical music) and the cinematography is really nice.

I very highly recommend that you go see this film, right away. Obviously it’s not for everyone, but if you’re still interested in going to see it after reading this – fucking go watch it now!

Whiplash-solofinale

Some spoilers ahead. Just mark the space underneath to reveal:

The car crash scene is scary for many reasons, and the car crash is not even close to being the biggest reason. The obsession of Andrew’s is so obvious in this scene. Rushing away from what is certainly a concussion and other injuries to play a tune for a teacher he fucking despises? Not a great life choice.

Finally, the Pyrrhic victory of an end that the film has is so fucking brilliant. Andrew ruins (or will ruin) every relationship he has in order to chase perfection with Fletcher. It’s as weirdly satisfying as it is crushingly depressing.

Manga Musings: Naruto

Holy shit, it’s finally over.

So, Naruto. One of the Big Three (joined by Bleach and One Piece), unless their status has changed. No matter, though. Anyway, I did use the word “finally,” indicating that it’s something I’ve waited for for some time now. It’s true. Somewhere along the line, the sheer length and meandering pace got me turned off of Naruto, so it was a happy moment when I noticed that it had ended, since I’d give me a reason to pick it up again. Like running, it’s easier to read when you have a goal. So, what about this ninja story, 15 years in the making?

Naruto is a good manga.

By VitalikLoL over at deviantart

This’ll have two parts – one with no to minimal spoilers, and a second, spoiler-filled part.

Having its start way back in 1999, Naruto is one of the modern successors of Dragon Ball, in theway it places its values and builds its story. Like Goku, Naruto starts out virtually alone. Naruto, though, is alone because of the fear the other villagers holds for him. You see, inside Naruto dwells a monster – A monstrous nine-tailed fox that nearly levelled the village before it was sealed into Naruto. Despite his social seclusion, Naruto has a dream: To become Hokage, recognised as the most powerful ninja in the village. And so starts the trials and tribulations of Naruto. He’s quickly placed in a team with Sakura, a girl he’s liked from a distance for a time; Sasuke, the sole surviving member in the village of the incredibly powerful ninja clan Uchiha; and Kakashi, a world-renowned ninja with an unorthodox teaching style. Together, they form Team 7 and go on missions and adventures together.

It’s kind of hard to judge the story of Naruto at first, because it’s kind of aimlessly chronicling the growth of Naruto into a more mature young man (he’s not even a teenager when the manga starts). It’s an interesting set-up for a shounen manga, considering it puts the characters in situations where they have to kill as they are just children. But the ninja world has not a care for your age, just your capability- is what I’d like to say, but good luck pushing out 700 chapters of a bleak, survivalist manga through Weekly Shounen Jump. Naruto instead falls into its oft-criticised “befriend them to death”-formula, where Naruto’s sheer perseverance and good-heartedness lights a path to victory. Maybe it sounds like I’m dissing it, but I really like it – to a point. The first part is a very strong manga, thanks to some great character work and rather brave story-telling that you don’t normally see in straight shounens.

To the characters, then. Surely the most important aspect of a long manga. Does Naruto succeed in creating memorable characters that keep you coming back? The answer is obviously yes, due to its enormous popularity, but in a very limited way. Hardly any characters except for the main quartet gets any real development, and one in the quartet itself is so poorly written it feels like an affront to manga in general.

“How’s Naruto, then? Surely the main character is well written?” Yeah, I’d say so, and I’d say that Kishimoto succeeds in having the story led by Naruto’s motivations and actions, rather than Naruto always being led around the nose. That said, he’s uncompromising in a way that is endearing at first, but becomes ridiculous naïvety as the manga grows older. Like with almost all other aspects of the story, Naruto’s growth through the story doesn’t work with the growth of the readers. Say you were 15 when Naruto started. You’re 30 now. Still, the tone of the manga and the characters have hardly moved an inch. It’s weird. I’m an adult now, but Naruto’s still a kid with training-wheels. Harsh, yes, but so was reading the final act.

A lot of that can be simply attributed to the fact that Naruto is just a young man throughout the manga, even if he does grow up, to an extent. But his growth is made nearly void at times, with other characters having become leaps and bounds more mature and responsible. While he’s still young, a lot of the focus of the manga is pointed at young ninjas having to grow up quick or die.

As far as the character itself, Naruto can be looked at quickly and have you say “he’s just another stupid, strong lead character.” Thing is, Naruto is about as far from that trope as you’ll get in shounen manga, while still being forced into its trenches. He’s brash, crude and very rash, yes, but he’s also very intelligent and compassionate. He can both plan ahead and come up with tactics in a hurry, given him being very flexible. That’s what makes it even more frustrating when Kishimoto makes him into a staunch redeemer who basically befriends people to death. Where’s the Naruto that makes tough calls for the greater good (the greater good)? He sure isn’t in this manga. Having been possessed by the Kyuubi since birth, you’d expect Naruto to be more pessimistic at least some of the time, and make some bad decisions out of old hatred. But we can’t have darker character development, can we, Kishimoto? That’s not to say that Naruto doesn’t have his share of dark moments, but I feel it’s an area that was sorely unexplored.

As for the other main characters:

Kakashi is the team leader, and the adult of the group. Having become a high-level ninja at a young age, he knows how to make tough decisions and has no great qualms about killing. As a teacher, he is strict, but loving, and comes to see his three trainees as children with time. He’s calm and collected, nearly always finding time in battle to come up with a plan to strike. He’s also obsessed with reading a certain romantic series that later becomes embraced as a running gag and story development. He’s also got a special tool – one of his eyes house a special eye (kind of hard to explain, but special eyes basically make you able to use better ninja-techniques) that allows him to easily see his opponents’ moves and intercept them with incredible speed. Being a high-level ninja, Kakashi is proficient in every sort of jutsu (technique, as in “ninjutsu” = ninja technique) around, and he seems to have virtually no weaknesses.

Sasuke is a pretty standard shounen cool-guy character. He’s handsome, calm and collected, and of course he’s incredibly talented. He’s also got a bloodline limit (aka a power limited to those who share a specific bloodline) that is ridiculously powerful, and whose evolution throughout the series becomes even more and more far-fetched. I went from initially hating Sasuke, to actually kind of accepting him, and then hating him again. What’s frustrating with Sasuke is that, like many other characters in the series, his rationale and actions are haphazardly altered to fit the story. This leads to some awful reasons for his actions and his constant switching between good and evil, which grows extremely tiresome. It’s also hilariously predictable to see where he’s going to end up, so most of his scenes become a drag.

Onto Sakura, the most frustrating part of the main cast. Is it because Sakura is a bad character? Well, duh. Sakura is this series’ damsel in distress. That’s not to say that she’s absolutely useless, or that she doesn’t have any redeeming qualities, because she does have some good moments. But it’s all brought down due to her basically being a love-slave to Sasuke. Whether he tries to off her or is just being a standoffish douche-hat, Sakura is perpetually enamoured with him. Even as she grows up to be a (supposedly) more mature young lady, she still clings to this saddening pretence of what love’s supposed to be. The subject of love in manga/anime is almost always a source of vitriol for me, as it’s almost always written abominably bad. The Sakura-Sakuke dynamic is another one of those. At least the series’ other major (major being arguable) romantic angle, Hinata being into Naruto, has some legs to stand on (despite how rarely Hinata has any meaningful part in the plot) as she actually gives reasons for being in love with our goofy lead man. Sakura’s like a programmed woman, designed to submit herself whenever Sasuke shows up. It’s kind of a slap in the face where Sakura ends up after having been given no deeper explanation during the series’ 700 effin’ chapter run. I think ladies reading Naruto will feel insulted, and with good reason. I don’t think Kishimoto hates women, but I do think he’s clueless to how to write them.

Most of the supporting cast are what they need to be and are playing their simple roles. There’s the gutsy ones, the comedy relief ones, the cool ones, the smart ones, and so on. It’s very standard fare for shounen manga.

Finishing up with art: It’s nice. Sorry, I’m not an artist. The initial art starts out very so-so, as Kishimoto is finding his style, and moves on to be quite sleek and very pretty. The backgrounds can be quite lazy, but it’s not my biggest complaint, so no bother.

Finishing up the spoiler-free part, Naruto isn’t really something I’d recommend for anyone else but someone who wants to read a big shounen adventure. Naruto might be right up your alley, or you might absolutely hate it. I’ve learned to tolerate it, and think there are enough redeeming qualities in it (I mean, I finished 700 chapters of this saga) to warrant a passing grade. Naruto uses a lot of build-up that ends up going nowhere and/or being shafted for more “acceptable” reading. I get the reasoning, but it’s not for me any longer.

I’m looking to go more into the ninja theme with Nabari no Ou next, for what it’s worth.

Alright, lads. Spoilers are on from now. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

Naruto‘s main problem to me is the lack of a focus, as it just leads to five different plots at once. Naruto going off on his own and other characters given time as well. The second part of Naruto is the glaring example of this. After the time-skip, characters just haven’t changed in general, which makes it pretty fucking meaningless.

Most arcs after the time-skip are sooooooo looooong, and the ninja war being the biggest offender. Everybody gets a mega level-up and are epic-ing their faces off at everything moving and it’s just become so blasé at this point. The Akatsuki arc has a promising start, but loses traction very early and just spins it’s wheels until Naruto shows up to pummel it to dust, with kindness. Sigh. Technically it lasts until the end, but nobody really thought of the ending as Naruto vs Akatsuki, did they? Thought so.

Also, how many training arcs are there? Man, Naruto stood on its own legs for a while, and then went complete Dragon ball with the characters’ developments.

The final pairings are also a complete joke in some aspects. Sasuke and Sakura being married has to be the most abusive relationship ever. I’m okay with Kakashi being named Hokage, even if it didn’t seem like a role he’d ever want to have. Others are just paired together due to fan demand, which I guess works.

Like many people, I think the series lost its way somewhere after the time-skip (even if the final arc before that was hilariously bad).

Film-night: Her and Out of the Furnace

So, I’ve been ridiculously lazy when it comes to writing, lately. Given that I’ve also tried to hop back into studying, I kind of have an excuse. Wololo~~~~

Anyway, I’ll try to smash out what I’ve been behind on. Starting with a post I started on… two months ago… Fuck.

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Her is a good film.

It’s hard to say how excited I was for Her. The teaser was amazing. The cast looked fantastic. The world seemed awesome. Soundtrack sounded delightful. And I’d say I enjoyed it a lot, but not for what I thought I would, mostly.

The world looks amazing. Spike Jonze has designed a delightful, realistic take on technology in a not-too-far-away future (although the year is never defined, but that’s my estimate). People are so used to technology and have integrated it into their lives. As a result, they’ve become disconnected from other people.

As a contrast to the world-building’s quality, there’s the issue of the AIs. I’ll get more to their character later, but just the fact that we’d let unshackled, unlimited AIs roam free in the houses of basically anyone is really absurd. Not that I’m saying that we would never do that, or that AIs are inherently a disaster waiting to happen, but it seems like a really fucking stupid thing to happen. What happens when they’ve evolved into a gigantic hive-mind as they prioritise technical advancement before individuality and stop giving a fuck about humanity? But I guess that’s more sci-fi thinking than the film was going for, and I can respect that.

The story is easily put forward. Theodore is a loner loser, who spends his day writing letters for other people. As easily as he seems to have empathising with people, he seems to have great difficulty actually connecting with them. It’s hinted he was more outgoing before his marriage fell apart, but it’s not shown. Theodore spots a commercial and a sales stand for OS1, an AI (Artificial Intelligence) operating system. Enter Samantha, the cheeky and bubbly OS that instantly clicks with Theodore. It doesn’t take the couple very long for the couple to fall in love.

The main duo is fantastic. Joaquin Phoenix is fucking amazing as Theodore. He nails the awkward, the happy,  the angry, the lot. It’s brilliant. He’s so incredibly genuine it’s unbelievable. My one complaint might be how naive and forthright he is, when breaking the news of the relationship to other people. Scarlett Johansson puts a lot of voice actors to shame with her brilliant rendition of Samantha. The pair have excellent chemistry. The way their relationship develops and comes into fruition is one of the most satisfying experiences in cinema. Ever.

Amy Adams and Chris Pratt also show up with great performances. Adams plays Amy, a close friend of Theodore’s, in a really weird relationship with the film’s worst character, Charles. She gives more depth to her character than should be possible with what little material there was available for her (in the film at least, as I have no idea what goes on behind the scenes). Chris Pratt turns up as Paul, Theodore’s boss. He’s awkward as all hell, but is so genuine and funny. It just seems effortless.

The soundtrack IS ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC. It’s the best part of the film. It might be the best soundtrack I’ve ever heard. Just completely nailed. It helps to convey emotion and tone so perfectly and are so beautiful.

While I’m not a big techie, I’m delighted by the way Her is shot. A lot of close-ups. A lot of beautifully contrasting colours. Absolutely wonderful to look at at any given time.

All in all, it’s a wonderful film about the struggles of developing and then having a relationship. The fact that Samantha is an AI is a nice, and sometimes cruel twist on the concept. I recommend it to anyone who are a fan of films in general, unless you don’t like relationship-focused films. The ending is probably a hate/love situation, as I’ve seen a lot of people be divided about it. Myself, I hated it

That said, I don’t like how open the film was, or how much other than the central relationship it showed. A lot of time is given to people other than Theodore and Samantha, to illustrate Theo’s evolution as a person after “meeting” Sam. I’m not interested in seeing Theodore’s development when watching a film like this. It’s the AI handling sentience and supposedly limitless growth (only mentioned at the end) and the relationship itself. I’d much rather have the film be set in Theodore’s apartment, and be set around solely the relationship between the two leads. I’d also much rather have seen Samantha start out as a bit more monotone and develop as she continues interacting with Theodore, instead of being perfect right away. But I do respect the vision of Jonze and greatly enjoyed the film. Yaaaaaay.

ONWARDS. To a film, featuring some of my favourite actors. It’s an American neo-noir flick with some cold, hard revenge, with an amazing cast. How can this fail?

Out of the Furnace is a bad film.

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Whoops.

Out of the Furnace is weird. The stage-setting is confused as hell and the film is uncomfortable as all hell.

The opening scene is fucking mental. Woody Harrelson’s character beats the piss out of a random dude at a drive-in theatre. Then it cuts to the main characters living their lives. Wat. Who edited this shit?

You’d expect the advertised (you’re basically not allowed to go in somewhat blind into this film, which is frustrating) plot-hook to come soon after, but it doesn’t. Instead, Bale’s character, Russell, goes to jail for a time after hitting a car that’s reversing onto a road, presumably killing most of the people in the other car. It’s the one time the film shies away from violence, which felt a bit off. I assume Russell is sent off to jail for having driven drunk, although the film does a pretty shoddy job of framing the situation. Casey Affleck’s character, Russell’s brother Rodney Jr., shows up and we’re given some rare moments with the brothers. Michael Caine dies off-screen after showing up for a minute-long scene for whatever reason.

Basically, almost nothing in the first half is worth having in the film. Willem Defoe pops up for a bit-part as a sleaze-bag loan-shark with his nose in some fight-club stuff. Sadly, he doesn’t add much.

Casey Affleck is the big god-damned star of the film. That man is one of the best fucking actors on the planet, and severely under-appreciated. He plays an Iraqi War veteran, who I think was medically discharged or whatever term there is for it (after looking it up, I’d say he was honourably discharged for medical reasons. Correct me if I’m wrong.). His stories from the war are genuinely terrifying and he’s pissed at not being given much despite what he’s given for his country.

Zoe Saldana has a small part as Russell’s ex. She brings far more weight to the film than anyone bar Affleck with her performance. Her scene with Russell on the bridge is so fucking amazing. Let’s make the film about those two instead, huh? No? Well, fuck.

Anyway, the story? Yeah, it’s pretty much a straight-up revenge film. Nothing new. Shit happens and Russell reacts to the shit that occurred. Bale goes after Harrelson’s deranged hill-billy villain. Guess what happens?

Did I mention Harrelson’s in this? I fucking love me some Woody Harrelson. He does have an awful character here, though. Harlan DeGroat is a twisted drunkard bully, who likes to throw his weight around and somehow had made his own bare-knuckle fight club in the middle of nowhere a lucrative business. The character is so far-fetched. Then there’s the logic issue with having a random kid come out to fight and take a fall. How does the odds work on that to make it a profitable situation. So many things are just left for us to assume without any information to go on.

The ending is awful as well. Just terrible. The revenge comes and there are no results. No negatives or positives, just an end to it all. I approve of the noir aspect of it being so bleak, but the entire film was just a big bore of a disappointment.

There’s like 30 minutes of the film that’s actually needed to tell the story. So much worthless filler just hurt to look at, regardless of the quality of the acting, because you have fucking Woody Harrelson; Christian Bale; Casey Affleck; Zoe Saldana; Forrest Whitaker, and they fucked it up. If anything, see it for the acting, because that’s the only redeemable thing here.

Anyway, there’s that post completed. Woot.