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Gintama (2017 Movie)

Warner Bros. Pictures

My rating: 5 of 5

Edo-period Japan has been invaded by aliens from outer space, and the country looks a bit different now with aliens (known as Amanto) in positions of political and social privilege and samurai bereft of their swords. One such former samurai, Sakata Gintoki, has embraced the challenges of this new life by becoming a sweets-loving odd-jobber along with his young friends, Shinpachi and Kagura. But when rumors of a serial killer begin to arise, Gin finds himself drawn back by his past in order to protect the present that he loves.

Okay, first of all, confession: I totally started watching this live-action remake of Gintama just because I love Shun Oguri’s work; never mind the fact that I also love the anime/manga on which this movie is based. Having said that, Oguri did a fabulous job with the role of Gin, but there was a ton of other things that I loved about Gintama. First of all, the casting in general was very well done, and everyone did a great job portraying their characters. And, even though the particular story arc they chose involves a lot of characters, they didn’t go chopping people out left and right, so fair warning, there are a lot of people to keep track of. But I appreciated that they went to the trouble of not chopping . . . either characters or plot, actually. Plot context: at the start, we do get the cafe scene where Gin and Shinpachi first meet–but after that, there’s this big plot gap, and the majority of the movie is the Benizakura arc. I wasn’t expecting them to jump headlong into the story like that, but I think it was a smart choice. It’s one of my favorite parts of the anime/manga for a lot of the reasons that make it a great choice for the movie as well. It captures the absurdity and general silliness that makes Gintama (whatever the medium) such a  fun, funny story; I confess to laughing out loud for a great portion of the movie. You’ve got fourth-wall breaking, references galore, plus just plain ridiculousness (like the Yorozuya and Shinsengumi’s beetle-hunting madness). But this arc also has a lot of heart. It pulls from both Gin’s and Katsura’s childhood days as well as from their resistance-fighter exploits, incorporating that into the present-day plot. And of course, said plot allows for some great action sequences and sword fights–it’s one of the few points in the series where Gin gets a chance to truly look cool for a moment . . . before he ruins it by picking his nose or something. As far as the sets and makeup/CGI, it’s honestly not the greatest. I mean, a lot of the aliens are obviously just folks in animal suits or wearing body paint. But that fits the story–the absurdity and fourth-wall breaking and such–so well that I honestly prefer that over awesome, convincing CG for everything. It just works. So yes, I really loved the Gintama live-action movie, although I would caution that if you haven’t either read the manga or watched the anime at least a bit, you’ll likely be a bit confused; even with two-and-a-half hours of film, there’s still a lot that isn’t explained in a lot of detail. But for fans . . . absolutely recommended; it captures not just the story itself, but the heart of Gintama.

Written & Directed by Yūichi Fukuda/Based on Gintama by Hideaki Sorachi/Starring Shun Oguri, Masaki Suda, Kanna Hashimoto, Yūya Yagira, Ryo Yoshizawa, Masami Nagasawa, Masaki Okada, Nakamura Kankurō VI, & Tsuyoshi Dōmoto

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Doctor Who, Series 11 (2018 TV Series)

BBC

Status: Complete (10 episodes)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

The Doctor’s back–but now he’s a she. And she’s as ready to take on the universe as ever, whether it’s talking down a frightened ships crew, cobbling together advanced tech from what pieces she has on hand, or solving a mystery before everything falls apart. What’s more, she’s got a whole gang of three coming along this time; more fun that way, right?

I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews of this season of Doctor Who–everything from praising it as true Who to saying it’s completely fallen away from what Who is meant to be. And to be honest, I have somewhat mixed feelings about the series, although my general experience was mostly positive (remember, a 3.5 for me is somewhere between liked it and really liked it, okay?). First off, I think Jodie did a phenomenal job in a challenging role. She managed to find that balance of being the Doctor but also having a new, regenerated personality. I enjoyed the mix of super-quirky, inventive, and smart woman that she brings to the table. The supporting cast was kind of so-so; they were interesting and I enjoyed their stories, but I didn’t feel particularly invested in them for the most part. I enjoyed the diversity, although it did seem a little forced at times–ditto with the appealing to the common man thing they had going. As for the actual episodes, I found a pretty broad mix; some were excellent (Rosa made me cry) and others (like Arachnids in the UK) just had no appeal. Again, there seemed to be a very intentional focus on diversity and everyday people . . . which is a great thing for stories to have and I love that, it just seemed like the writers were trying a bit too hard here. Same thing with the show being Who if you follow me–the things you expect in Doctor Who were definitely present, but it was almost like they were trying too hard to incorporate them at times. Like, I get that with a new basically everything, they’ve got a lot to prove to maintain their viewership, but still. . . . One last note: this series is really short, like, surprisingly so. On the whole, I enjoyed series 11 of Doctor Who, but for fellow Whovians out there, I can’t say for sure whether you’d enjoy this or not. Fifty-fifty shot, I’d say.

Executive produced by Chris Chibnall/Written by  Malorie Blackman, Ed Hime, Pete McTighe, Vinay Patel, Joy Wilkinson, & Chris Chibnall/Directed by Jamie Childs, Mark Tonderai, Sallie Aprahamian, & Jennifer Perrott/Starring Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, & Mandip Gill/Music by Segun Akinola

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Bleach (2018 Movie)

Warner Bros.

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Kurosaki Ichigo: a normal high-school student with bleached-looking hair, a grumpy expression . . . and the ability to see spirits. The wheels of fate begin to turn as this ability leads to his encounter with a shinigami, Kuchiki Rukia, and spin completely out of control as their encounter with a dark spirit known as a Hollow leads to Rukia’s injury and Ichigo’s subsequent taking on of her shinigami powers. In effect, he becomes a substitute shinigami, fighting Hollows until he’s strong enough to give Rukia’s power back to her without dying in the process. He may even get a shot at the Hollow that killed his mother years ago. Assuming Rukia’s superiors don’t kill them both first.

I was surprised and pleased to see a decent live-action remake of Bleach released this year. This movie takes the first major story arc, all the stuff with Grand Fisher, Ichigo’s becoming a substitute shinigami, basically everything up to Rukia’s return to Soul Society, and compresses it into about an hour and a half of fast-paced action. It’s quite well done and manages to summarize a lot of information into a very brief chunk of time without losing the story in the process. Still, I would recommend this mostly for fans who are already familiar with the story, or at least the basic concepts, because it’s kind of a huge info dump even still. They did a good job keeping the balance, though, with drama, humor, and of course some action-packed fights interspersed. And the fights are properly epic. The CG throughout is very impressive, especially for the Hollows themselves. The casting was well done, especially for Ichigo himself and for Yuzu and Inoue, although I don’t personally love the casting for Renji. Honestly, my biggest complaint is just that, because there are sooooo many characters in Bleach, there just wasn’t time for lots of character development for everyone. Like, at all, in some instances. But still, they did a good job of picking a few key characters and developing them well. I liked that they actually took a proper story arc from the original manga instead of just making a random plot or hugely distorting a main plot, and I honestly do think they did well trimming and unifying it to work as a movie. So yes, I would recommend the live-action Bleach, particularly to fans of the original anime/manga.

Written by Shinsuke Sato & Daisuke Habara/Directed by Shinsuke Sato/Based on Bleach by Tite Kubo/Starring Sota Fukushi, Hana Sugisaki, Ryo Yoshizawa, Erina Mano, Yu Koyanagi, Taichi Saotome, Miyavi, Seiichi Tanabe, Masami Nagasawa, & Yōsuke Eguchi/Music by Yutaka Yamada

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The Forest (2016 Movie)

Gramercy Pictures

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Rated PG-13/Trigger warning for suicide

Sara Price receives a phone call from Japan informing her that her twin sister Jess was last seen entering Aokigahara Forest–a place legendary for people going to commit suicide–and is presumed dead. But Sara knows better. Ever since they were kids, she’s been able to sense Jess’s existence, tell when she’s in trouble. So she knows that Jess is still alive, and as so many times before, that she needs Sara’s help. Arriving in Japan, Sara is warned off numerous times, told of the yūrei that haunt the forest, driving people to madness and luring those with sadness in their hearts to kill themselves, even if that wasn’t their intention. But Sara refuses to be dissuaded, and teaming up with reporter Aiden and trail-guide Michi, she sets off into the forest in search of her sister.

I initially picked up The Forest for the simple reason that Eoin Macken is in it. For the record, don’t do that. His role here isn’t that big, and while I liked his character, the writing here simply did not do justice to his immense skill as an actor. Having said that, I very much do not regret watching this movie. It’s an unexpected horror/thriller that refuses to fall into any of your typical genre niches neatly. There’s an Asian horror feel to it that goes beyond just the setting, but it’s not strictly an Asian horror film. Nor is it your typical jump-scare, blood and gore fest that so many horror movies are. In fact, although it seems strange to say this in regards to any horror sort of movie, The Forest is remarkably clean. Still not family friendly, obviously, what with the scariness and allusions to suicide that are prevalent, but it’s not all the sex and language and blood that so many movies of this sort seem to stoop to. Rather, this movie is a slow, atmospheric build of emotional, mental, and psychological horror over the course of the entire movie. If you’re not a fan of the slow burn, it will probably drive you crazy; give this movie a pass. But if you’ve got the patience, the atmosphere of tension that builds is quite well done–the lighting, music, acting, sets, backstory, everything working together quite brilliantly. There’s a sense of mystery that plays in well, and of course, the supernatural element as the yūrei here are real . . . at least in Sara’s head. And that’s where things get really interesting as we have this slow descent into madness from her perspective, so we as the viewers aren’t always able to tell what’s real and what isn’t either. I’ve seen a lot of controversial ratings for this movie–some very positive, others negative in the extreme–but personally, I feel The Forest is one of the best horror/thriller movies I’ve seen, period. Recommended, at least for those who have the patience for the slower pacing.

Written by Ben Ketai, Sarah Cornwell, & Nick Antosca/Directed by Jason Zada/Produced by Tory Metzger, David S. Goyer, & David Linde/Starring Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, & Eoin Macken/Music by Bear McCreary

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Supernatural (2005- TV Series)

The CW

Status: Ongoing (13 Seasons)

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience/rated TV-14

Two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, travel the country in the 1967 Impala that is more home to them than any building has ever had the chance to be. They start out searching for their father who has disappeared while hunting the demon that killed their mother years ago. Along the way, Sam and Dean hunt as well–fighting monsters, ghosts, demons, the stuff of nightmares, and saving people from horrors they can’t even imagine. Sometimes their efforts go utterly unnoticed; other times, they meet incredible people who help them on their journey. Regardless, they always have each other, except for those rare, horrible times when they just don’t. And somewhere along the line, hunting simply becomes who they are–it’s no longer just a revenge mission or a search for their father. Sam and Dean are, quite simply, hunters; they save people, they save the world. A lot.

I’ve put off reviewing Supernatural for, like, 2 years now because I love it so very much, and I know I can never do it justice in a review. So know that first, before I delve into details; this show has my heart in a crazy way that almost no other story ever has, and it has continued to consistently for years now. I couldn’t say exactly what makes this show so incredible, largely because it’s a lot of little, subtle things combined. I love the characters, first and foremost. Jensen and Jared do such an amazing job of getting in their characters’ heads and of portraying them deeply and transparently, as do the immense number of wonderful guest cast members. So much so that, although this is at times a monster-of-the-week kind of show (much less so as you get to later seasons), it manages to be highly character driven. The characters grow and experience a lot of internal conflict over the course of the series as well, which is another thing I love–the show evolves as it goes, so that just when you think they’ve done it all (I mean seriously, we hit the biblical apocalypse in season 5) you find yourself seeing things afresh, finding new frontiers. And the writers do such a great job keeping the balance between all the angst (and yes, here there be angst) with family support and outright humor (e.g., recently in the midst of this big series of episodes focusing on busting into an alternate dimension to save family members–lots of angst and tension–we get a random crossover with Scooby Do that, while darker than typical for the cartoon, is brimming with laughs and fun as well). I guess what I’m trying to say is that Supernatural somehow manages to be a lot more than hot guys fighting scary monsters and saving the world, although yes, it’s definitely that. It’s family and understanding and acceptance and so many things that I long to see more of, and I highly recommend this show.

Created by Eric Kripke/Starring Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Katie Cassidy, Lauren Cohan, Misha Collins, Mark A. Sheppard, Mark Pellegrino, & Alexander Calvert/Music by Jay Gruska & Christopher Lennertz

 

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My Bloody Valentine (2009 Movie)

Lionsgate

My rating: 3 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience/Rated R for all the reasons–sex, language, nudity, blood and gore, violence, you name it, you’ve been warned

Tom Warden returns to the small mining town of Harmony after nearly ten years away to settle things following his father’s death. But it seems the past is coming back to haunt him as a series of violent murders sweeps across the rural community . . . murders that parallel closely those that devastated the town on Valentine’s Day ten years ago. And people can’t help but wonder, since Tom was in a way responsible for the previous murders, or at least for the mining accident that created the monster responsible for them.

My Bloody Valentine is a great reminder of why I don’t watch slasher films–but I couldn’t resist the awesomeness that is Jensen Ackles anymore, I just couldn’t. And I have to say that if this were my kind of movie, I would likely have given it quite a high rating. There’s more story to it that just a random collection of bodies building up, so points for that. The casting and acting are well done, too–and yes, I have to gush a bit over the great job Jensen did with this role. There’s a lot of subtlety and suggestion that goes into this part, and he pulls it off with his typical aplomb. But I have to say that the other actors did a great job with their parts, too, which again made the whole thing much more enjoyable. Having said that, there’s a lot of violence and just cringe-worthy, graphic murders–kudos on the CG, by the way–that are just kind of awful, even though they’re executed well. So yeah, fair warning and all that; this is likely to induce nightmares. I did enjoy the twist at the ending, even if it was a bit predictable. Of note, this is a remake of the 1981 movie of the same title, which I haven’t seen, so I can’t comment on any comparisons between the two. Recommended for Ackles fans and for slasher fans, but probably not otherwise. And I’ll always love Ten Inch Hero waaaaay more.

Directed by Patrick Lussier/Produced by Jack L. Murray/Screenplay by Zane Smith, Todd Farmer, & John Beaird (1981 screenplay)/Story by Stephen Miller (1981 story)/Based on My Bloody Valentine by George Mihalka/Starring Jensen Ackles, Jaime King, Kerr Smith, Betsy Rue, & Kevin Tighe/Music by Michael Wandmacher

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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (2016-2017 TV Series)

BBC America

Status: Complete (2 Seasons/18 Episodes)

My rating: 4 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience/rated TV-14

“Have you noticed an acceleration of strangeness in your life of late?” It’s an odd question to be coming from the man who just forced his way through the window into your flat then had the audacity to be affronted when you’re upset by his presence. And yet, for Todd Brotzman, it’s an oddly apt one as his life has abruptly gone from one of inane consistency to a flurry of strangeness, ending with himself unemployed, a person of interest in a frankly impossible murder case, and, oh yeah, with an odd man in a yellow jacket climbing through his window. And the fun is just beginning.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is one of those shows that is absolutely brilliant . . . as long as you have the patience to deal with the utter absurdity of it. The WTF-factor is huge here, with weird happenings and an accumulation of strange coincidences that all happen to connect somehow just piling on en masse. But the story has a way of rewarding viewers who stick around for the weirdness, bringing everything together in the end to make an odd sort of sense. The characters are well written, brilliantly cast, and quite interesting. Moreover, they’re relatable, perhaps more than most any characters in a TV show I’ve ever encountered. Seriously, they’re so utterly not pulled together, and it’s actually endearing and affirming to see them going about their lives, trying to make things work, while sometimes not having a clue and being so ridden with doubt and guilt. They’re very human in the midst of something that’s completely strange, paranormal even. Which isn’t to say that all the characters are normal–I would say that Dirk himself, as well as all the other Black Wing subjects, are extremely odd in their mannerisms and their way of interacting with the world, the whole “holistic” leaf-on-the-wind thing. But they make for fabulous characters. I feel like the filming is visually rewarding as well–case in point the very beginning of the first season, where we go from close-ups of Dirk’s face (too close to actually identify him immediately) to an impossibly violent and improbably crime scene to a kitten in rapid progression. Or the beginning of the second season, where we are confronted with a fantasy setting, complete with a pink-haired prince and giant scissors wielded as swords (I was almost convinced this was a preview for another show at first, it was so strange!). Seriously, though, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is one of those shows that definitely isn’t for everyone, but if you’re willing to be patient with the weirdness, it’s oddly rewarding.

Created by Max Landis/Based on Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
by Douglas Adams/Starring Samuel Barnett, Elijah Wood, Hannah Marks, Fiona Dourif, Jade Eshete, Mpho Koaho, Michael Eklund, Dustin Milligan, Osiric Chau/Music by Cristobal Tapia de Veer & The Newton Brothers

 

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