Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Rare Flix: Project Vampire (1993)

Almost 6 years after featuring the VHS Box Art, I finally review the Film!  Today's Film is Project Vampire, a 1993 Horror Film.  You'll never guess what it is about.  The Film tells the tale of some new-age Vampires trying to take over the World.  Naturally.  Their plan is to turn people into Vampires, thus leading to that Ethan Hawke Film that most people don't remember.  In their way, a Nurse and some guy.  Oh no!  From the Writer and Director of...just this Movie and featuring the Star of...mostly just this, comes...a Film.  I shouldn't shit on the Director too much- he is a Propmaker.  According to IMDB, he has WAY more Credits at that (although many are also Uncredited...so huh?) than anything else.  Whatever works, I guess.  I'm expecting some damn good Props in this one now!  To find out just how many ways I can be let down, read on...
As the Credits roll, 3 Scientists run around at night.  What are they running from?
Well, they found out that their Boss was a Vampire and he wants them to help make a 'turn people into Vampires' serum sold as New Age Medicine.  Alucard Seed Oil?

One escapes and ends up with this Nurse.  Sadly, it is not Rosario Dawson.
The other 2 end up back with their evil Boss and his eye-patch wearing henchman, who's human.  It sure is blue in here.  Is this the foreshadowing of Underworld's blue Color Correction?!?
The evil dude and company want our Lead, since he has some of the serum.  They don't want the truth to get out, after all.

I mean, really, who'd want to see a Planet of the Vampires?
This guy is a Chemist who helps our Heroes.  He also helps set back the Asian Culture by 20 years with his stereotypical broken English schtick.  He was born in Los Angeles.  混蛋
The plan: sell a serum that will make you live longer.  Yeah, but you have to wear those puffy shirts and hang out in Nightclubs waiting for Blade to show up.  Worth it?
When the stereotype and the Nurse are captured, our Hero mopes into action!
Action!
 All kidding aside, they battle the evil Vampire guy eventually and get him outside, where he suddenly turns into a different guy and gets burned up.
In the aftermath, our Heroes...just kind of run away.  The End.
 Pretty disappointing stuff.  Where's my naked Vampire Lady coming out of a Sci-Fi Machine?!?  That doesn't happen.  It's so weird- VHS Boxes have never lied to me!!  All joking aside, there's not much to say here.  The Budget is low and the creativity isn't that high.  You don't need alot of money to make an interesting Film- just look at The Amazing Bulk.  Note how I didn't say 'a good Film' there.  The premise has potential, but the pay-off isn't there.  There isn't much Action, the Acting isn't that great and the whole thing just feels kind of meh.  What a disappointment.  On the plus side, they managed to kick this guy out after last call...
Next up, a Holiday Film from South of the Border.  Viva crappy Movies!  Stay tuned..

Monday, May 2, 2016

Animondo Spotlight: Endless Eight (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Season 2)

Urgh.

Welcome back to Animondo, where today I've decided, against my better judgment, to talk about a particular series of episodes from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya's second season: "Endless Eight."

This is the first of an intermittent series I'll call "spotlights," where I shine a light on a particularly noteworthy episode or plotline of a show and dig into it more than I do in my series reviews.

So of course I chose to start with one of the worst things ever to happen in an anime I otherwise love.

Let's get this out of the way: "Endless Eight" is bad. No question. In my review of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya's second season, I advised people to watch only, at most, the first and last episodes of it, and I stand by that. Whether you love the show or not...actually, especially if you love the show...don't watch the whole thing, at least not until you've watched the rest of the series. Then, if you're morbidly curious, you can come back and bore yourself to death.
"Endless Eight" is an eight-episode time loop arc which covers Haruhi's attempts to do everything she possibly can to have fun during summer vacation. Haruhi being Haruhi, this leads to temporal weirdness because she continually feels unsatisfied and always seems to want to do something more. Thus, since she's not ready for summer vacation to end, it doesn't - it restarts at the beginning.

I love time loop stories. I should love this. I don't.

What's wrong with "Endless Eight?" I went into this a little before, but "Endless Eight" is a time loop story that consists of eight episodes...which are, mostly, exactly the same episode repeated over and over. The same events happen again and again, eight times, with only the most minor variations save for some shifts in tone.

So...let's go with a best-case scenario. Let's say that the events were really amazing, interesting, fascinating ones, the sort that brought out the best in every character on the show. Pick your favorite TV show. Now pick your absolute favorite episode of that TV show (for me, I think we're probably talking "City on the Edge of Forever" from Star Trek).

Now sit down and watch that episode eight times in a row.

You might not hate the episode if you did that, but you'd be pretty darn bored, wouldn't you?
That's the thing with "Endless Eight." An individual episode of it is actually pretty good--not the best on the show, no, but pretty good. Taken as a single episode, it's a fun romp with Haruhi and friends as she tries to pack in every last possible fun activity during summer vacation. But you have to watch that episode eight times.

And that suuuuuuucks.

I've described "Endless Eight" to friends as "the best-written bad story I've ever seen," and it is. It's astonishingly well-written. It's just a terrible idea.
The characterization is strong, the characters are interesting, the relationships are fun, and there's a great sense of a group of friends just having a good time together--with an undercurrent of worry from Kyon, who always knows things with Haruhi are going to get strange and keeps watching out for when that's going to happen this time. Taken as a single episode, an "Endless Eight" episode fits in absolutely perfectly with the rest of the show.

It even has one of my favorite moments ever on the show, where Mikuru the time-traveling girl tries to explain her discovery that they're stuck in a time loop without revealing anything she's not supposed to reveal--leading to roughly every third word in a lengthy explanation being "classified information."

And that's all well and good...but again, it repeats eight times.

I'm repeating myself here. See what it does to you?
The other thing that's actually good about "Endless Eight" is how much effort clearly went into it. The episode repeats eight times...but the art and voice acting is different each time. The artists drew eight different interpretations of every moment in the story, and the actors performed it eight different ways! It's genuinely fascinating to see all the different variations on how to show and act a particular scene.

As a study on the ways to tell a story..."Endless Eight" is actually very interesting. I'd even call it downright useful if you're looking for different ideas on how to present scenes in something you're writing or producing or what-have-you.

As an anime plot, though, it's absolutely horrid.

I don't understand what led the Haruhi Suzumiya team to believe that they could realistically devote eight full episodes to virtually the same exact story and expect people to like it. Watching "Endless Eight" is torturous. When I did it, it nearly killed the show for me entirely, and I loved this show. I still like it...but I can't claim nearly as much love for it as I had before "Endless Eight." It really does just boil down to the repetition. There's far, far too much, and the episodes owe that to how they decided the time loop would work.

Here's the problem in a nutshell:
  • No one except Yuki the kindasorta computer girl initially recognizes that they are experiencing a time loop.
  • Yuki's primary objective is observation, so she does not share her knowledge.
  • When the others realize they are in a time loop via Mikuru's explanation, Yuki still does not share anything more than confirmation of that fact. She does not explain what they have tried before or help them arrive at a conclusion.
  • Therefore, they try exactly the same resolutions, over and over.
  • Until they don't, for no apparent reason.
If the concept had been that Kyon and company tried different things each time and realized they were in a time loop earlier in each "repeat," this might have been an amazingly fun plot. Unfortunately, things just repeat and they don't vary their strategy.

Until the very, very unsatisfying ending.

Spoilers follow.

So here's the thing. Each time the characters repeat the run, there's a theme of Haruhi trying to get as much out of vacation as possible. Each run ends with her tapped out for ideas and asking the others to come up with something to do for the last day. Since none of them can, they get rewound and stuck for another cycle through the vacation.

Each time, Kyon at some points thinks about how he still needs to get his summer homework done.

So, on the final loop, for some reason that's not really clear since--remember--he's not being told what did or didn't work on previous loops, he decides to invite everyone to work on their homework together.

And that works.

It's pretty deeply unsatisfying, honestly. It wouldn't be that bad if we hadn't spent eight episodes repeatedly seeing the characters fail to come up with anything to do...and if the rules established for the time loop didn't seem like they kind of should prevent Kyon from coming up with the idea anyway. It is suggested by Yuki each time they discover the event that things don't go quite the same each time, with them sometimes not going to the same summer events (the loop happens over 15,000 times, as I recall, so I guess we should be happy we only have to see it as few times as we do), so I guess you can reason that they just finally found the instance of the loop where Kyon grows a brain, but still...

You wasted my time with eight episodes identical in every way that mattered, and then your resolution to this irritating, lengthy ordeal of a story is that...simple?

I mean...at least if maybe they'd had Yuki suggest it, it would show character growth for her--it'd show her moving beyond observation to being willing to take action in a circumstance like this. For Kyon to just suddenly have the solution just feels wrong.

Spoilers over.

I guess I'd sum up the problem with "Endless Eight" as twofold. It focuses on the wrong person - if you're doing a time loop plot, focus on the person who remembers the loops. In this case, that's Yuki. And secondly, the person who remembers the loops should in some way be active in trying to stop them or use them in some way. Yuki is pretty much inactive--the show plays with her thinking about telling Kyon about the loop, but she doesn't reveal her information until they already have it, basically. If you used "Endless Eight" to show a Yuki character arc--to show her developing by wrestling in her non-emotional way with the fact that her observation subjects, her friends, are stuck, and ultimately deciding to help them, it could be a very worthwhile story.

As it is, it is only useful as an interesting study of different ways to present the same scenes.

Over...and over...and over...and over...and over...and over...and over...and over.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

TV on the Internet: Daredevil- Season 2 (Part 2)

At last, I'm finally done.  Unfortunately...I'm done.  While we all bide our time until September, let me look at the rest of this Season.
With The Punisher temporarily put away, Daredevil can more easily split his focus to the personal issue he's having to deal with.
Elektra, the woman from his past, is trying to get him to uncover some deep evil in the City.
When Stick shows up, his offer of help is not exactly in the way that you might think.  It's almost like he's an asshole or something.
As a side-note, it is worth noting that Punisher still has one of the most bad-ass moments of the whole Season in his story.  It just gets less and less focus as the Season wraps up.
With all of their pasts coming back to haunt them, can Elektra and Daredevil win the day?
Or will these guys put a stop to any sort of happy Ending?  To find out, watch the Show('s second half).
The worst thing that I can really say here is that The Punisher becomes less and less shown as the Season comes to an End.  Mind you, this is Daredevil though.  Besides, Ninjas.

As was just announced, he's got his own Show coming soon, so bring on the punishment!

Friday, April 29, 2016

New Import Flix: Jeruzalem (2015) {SPOILER Version}

If you didn't get enough from the SPOILER-Free Version, this one allows me more freedom to explain all of the ridiculous stuff.  You were warned, so no bitching.  Deal?

Alright, now I have free reign.  Today's Film is Jeruzalem, a 2015 Found Footage Film made in and set in Israel.  You'd think that they'd be able to spell the City's name right then!  I kid, I kid.  I guess they were going for the whole World War Z thing...although it is hardly topical in 2015, right?  They are either too late to be topical or too early to be topical for the Sequel.  That's still happening, right?  This Story involves a young woman and her friend going to The Holy Land on Vacation.  Once there, they change their itinerary when they meet a guy.  This brings them to a place they won't want to be later when all Hell, somewhat literally, breaks loose.  This is Found Footage, so everything you expect is here.  Cutting away, annoying POV, pointless jump scares- the usual.  The Film has some new tricks to play, although they are mostly just the same tricks repackaged.  There's not much new here if you really think about it, which is kind of a shame.  They did replace the Camera with Smart Glass, so...2015?  As mentioned above and in the Title, this is the Review to see if you want SPOILERS.  I have to give them, since, well, I can't tell you the stupid stuff very well otherwise.  To find out more, read on..
Back in the 1970s, a lady returned from the dead, failed to be exercised by all 3 Religious Groups and was then killed.  Thankfully, someone was there with a 25-lb camera to film it!
In the Present, a young Jewish-American girl is given Smart Glass by her Dad before her trip to Israel.  This...this is your view now, folks.
They go to Jerusalem when they meet some guy who insists.  After some filler...I mean, a few days, he shows her some footage he found on the Vatican Darknet.  I've now used that expression twice.
So here is where the SPOILER stuff comes in.  You were warned...

Everyone is suddenly being rushed out as chaos ensues.  Our Heroine goes INTO AN ASYLUM to break out the guy and sees what is going on- freaky Demon People!
Oh and there's also a giant Golem/Demon/whatever in the City.  Much like Cloverfield, the Filmmakers aren't interested in showing you much of that, so enjoy cheap (both Budget and writing-wise) scares instead.
To keep the Cloverfield thing going, they eventually go into some Tunnels.

Oh and they take the shot from you-know-what...although it doesn't actually close out the Film.
Borrowing from REC 2 now, we have 'Zombie Rules' for Demonic Possession with bites/scratches turning you into a Demon-thing.  It may be a stretch, but the 'person killing themselves to stop the transformation' bit was in Diary of the Dead...so I'm counting that too.
As the Film comes to a close, our heroine transforms, with her POV saving the Film a few stacks by not showing the effect.

Borrowing a little from Chronicle, she, now transformed, flies off as a creature to, well, end the World...or something.  The End.
Despite how it appears, nothing much has changed.  As stated, this is basically a mish-mash of stuff from previous Found Footage Films with a slight polish, but not much more.  The setting is Israel, which gives you some translation issues and 'fish out of water' stuff.  This could easily be anywhere though, be it Madrid, Paris or Tokyo.  The subbing of Smart Glass for the Camera adds some minor differences, but not much overall.  Note to Filmmakers- don't make this into a thing now.  The biggest draw or detriment to these kinds of Films is the Lead.  She has some good moments, but tends to break down pretty easily.  She goes right to yelling or crying way too easily.  Insert sexist joke here.  I'm not going to say that the Film doesn't do some of the cliche moments right or anything- they just indulge in them too much.  It is hard to avoid a sense of familiarity, that's all.  If a Film is good enough, I can give it more of a pass.  In this case, the Film just isn't.  The Pacing is all over the map, the good moments are too spaced out and it just too damn generic.  What do you think, never quite in frame Giant Demon?
Next up, some more mystery stuff.  Let's see if it can get stranger than this one.  Stay tuned...

Quick Reviews: Black Zoo (1963)

Approximately 30 years after Lionel Atwill went crazy working for a Zoo, we got to see Michael Gough go crazy running one...
One night, this random lady is killed by a Tiger while out for a walk.  New York City, right?
Later at a Zoo, the Owner- Gough- leads a Tour.

Yes, I do realize that this is a terrible Print.  Big deal- wanna fight about it?
As it turns out, Gough is WAY too into his Animals.  He also has a mute sidekick on loan from House of Wax.

He also kills people.  Way to bury the lead, me!
One of his men kills his Tiger, so he is, in turn, fed to a Lion.  The circle of life?
He's also part of a weird Cult that worships the Animals and does a Ceremony to put the Tiger's spirit in a young one.  Nice hat.
After a couple more killings, Gough turns on his wife when she tries to leave.  We eventually learn that the mute sidekick is Gough's son, who went mute when he saw did kill his Mother.

What an ignoble death for Alfred.  The End.
Fun, but dated stuff.  Black Zoo is a fun little Movie that just goes for the crazy.  Tiger attack in the park- check.  Lion attack at home- check.  Sneak attack by a Gorilla- big check!  It is all a bit silly, while also trying to be really dark.  As a result, it almost feels more so at times!  For example, he has a dramatic moment explaining how he won't sell the Zoo to some sleazy guy and then sics a Lion on him (which was just calmly waiting outside).  It is treated so seriously that it really works on a different level.  For his part, Gough nails the role.  He is maniacal in private, but puts on a good show around others.  That said, there is some odd filler with some school children and a monkey show.  I don't know how necessary it was to see the whole performance really.  I guess it was either that or have a really silly Comic show up every 10 minutes.  All in all, Black Zoo is a bizarre, hidden gem.  It is apparently available on DVD, although MGM only trusts the market enough for a 'burn-on-demand DVD-R' release and not a full-fledged one.  If you would market it, this kind of thing might sell, guys.  Don't make me sic the Gorilla on you...
Considering the quality of Print available, not a bad Film.  It is a bit dated, so just bear that in mind.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Quick Reviews: Jeruzalem (2015) {SPOILER-Free Version}

One one hand, this is a new Release (only playing in January in the U.S.) and I don't want to SPOIL it.  On the other hand, I can't explain how dumb it is without SPOILERS.  So let me give it two different Reviews.  Pick the one you like...

The struggle for the last 60 years (give or take) has been whether to have 2 States or 1.  What if someone else decided for them though?  Let's see...
Back in the 1970s, some Found Footage stuff happens in Israel with this seemingly-dead lady coming back.  Wait- did something actually happen before the last Hour in one of these?
Don't get your hopes up!

It is back to tedium as this girl in New Jersey planning to go to Israel in the present.  She got Smart Glasses from her Dad and, yeah, this is how the Movie is 'filmed.'
Her and her friend run across a guy who convinces them to go to Jerusalem first, but he discovers something weird on the Vatican Darknet.

I just used the words 'Vatican Darknet.'  How have things come to this?
A day later, he starts acting crazy and is taken away.  Our Heroines are confused, but go on with the trip until...
An average day in Jerusalem.

I kid, I kid...although something bad does happen.
With all Hell breaking loose (somewhat literally), can they make it out?  To find out, watch the Film.
A slightly-interesting veneer on the same old stuff.  Jeruzalem has some legitimate scares and unique visuals.  The change of setting is an interesting one at times.  Monster taught us that just going to somewhere Foreign is not enough though.  Thankfully, this is not nearly that bad.  It isn't really good though.  The gimmick of it being Smart Glass only goes so far and doesn't factor much into the Plot.  Basically, it plays the part of a Cell Phone, only it is attached to a person's face.  Once you get past that, this is pretty routine.  Our Heroine, for example, is really strong...until she starts yelling and crying all the time.  The situation is big and grand...but they don't focus that much on it.  Without going too in-depth (I'll save that for the SPOILER Review), the thing has a real Cloverfield vibe to it.  That's the biggest problem- familiarity.  The Film feels like every other Found Footage Film at some point, varying from moment to moment.  On the surface, this is different, but it is the same thing deep down.  Need more proof?  Well, case in point...
More exciting at times than some of these...but just as dumb.  Being marginally-better at times is just not enough for this Sub-Genre.