Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Iron Sky (2012) Movie Review

It is the year 2018, and a strangely familiar looking President Of The United States has put into motion a manned space mission with strangely racial overtones in hopes of clinching a second term. How little she knows that what the astronauts would discover a most shocking secret hiding on the dark side of the moon. The last remnants of the German Nazi party have made the realm their refuge, and are near ready to unleash an assault the likes the planet has never seen with the help of their newly captured african american spaceman. NO sooner does this all sound like the drunken, or even high late night political joking of the hopelessly disconnected persuasion that Timo Vuorensola's long-delayed Iron Sky has unleashed upon the earth. A kind of singular experience that could even give the central film's plot of a rejuvenated Nazi party from space a run for its money. It's the kind of film one threatens to make as some form of cruel humor, only noone ever expects to see actually made.

As described, the Nazis, led by and large by eugenically created future Fuhrer, Klaus Adler, take their newly acquired black male model, James Washington from what remained of his decimated ship and crew in order to best find a means of wreaking revenge upon the people of earth on a return campaign to save it from itself. Along for the ride is Adler's genetically engineered mate-to-be, and schoolteacher, Renate Richter whom apparently carries with her a greater amount of knowledge and curiosity about the people of said celestial body. Add this to problems on the ground as the President's aide, Vivian Wagner takes in the clueless duo and soon applies their ideology into the campaign platform- to astonishing reception. Oh, and the Nazis..They turned Washington white..

Okay. I was hoping to not go a certain route while writing this, but as these words come rolling off in hopes of giving this film some manner of fair shake, something deep inside simply will not allow this to happen. Iron Sky is not the kind of movie one simply reviews, it is the kind of miracle project that despite the years of hardship and fortune that led to it finally becoming a reality, that makes one wonder how in the nine hells did anyone see this as a feather in their cap. Having initially seen the demo trailer (yes, the original trailer made in hopes of getting funding is reminiscent of a game intro) a part of me was hoping for an at least somewhat funny and clever piece of comic schlock. What one gets, is one obvious gag stretched beyond humor, punctuated by an uncomfortable amount of ignorance about a great many things, the world included. One doesn't enjoy Iron Sky, one endures it.

And it's not as if there weren't some truly cool visual things at work here. For the budget, this Finnish/Australian/German production occasionally displays some surprisingly unique and inspired design work for the space Nazi trappings, ships and costumes. It's just too bad none of it is in service of something resembling a functioning motion picture. One quickly gets the impression that this was largely conceived with enough notes for an industrial music video, and all the while the feature budget was waiting in the wings, noone bothered to flesh out the details of the script story. The entire thing is a mad, inconsistent jumble littered with half-jokes, and crude stereotypes often pointing their "comedic" barbs at the Bush/Cheney administration, which is already dated enough, and would fail to register as humor even if the writing were better. And let's not get any deeper into the character of Washington and the material actor, Christopher Kirby is given. I'd probably be deeply offended if the film as a whole wasn't so ineptly constructed and performed. One might even go so far as to wonder if the writer has ever even met an American, let alone a black one.

It's that bad.

So what else can I possibly say about this fiasco? Perhaps there is just enough room here to say that it hurts knowing that industrial music favorites, Laibach provided the musical score. As fun and Wanger-esque as it all is, it is so sad to see such an incredible group of artists wasted on this catastrophe. In a time when VFX studios are having a bit of a rough patch stateside, it pains to know that stuff like this made it out of the gate. So many creatives deserve a much better stage. This is worse than being laid off.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Re: Mike Hama - The Trap (Wana, 1996)

Flash forward a while after the tumultuous events at the end of Stairway To The Distant Past, and it seems like good ol' Mike Hama's worries are a thing of the past. Yokohama's chinpira boy scout has had himself one heck of a run as of late. Not only does his business seems to have revived in a big way with a more than ample client list, his sister is entering college at last, and to top it off, the stylish sleuth has himself a girlfriend! And yet despite all of this fortune, things also couldn't seem more forboding in this, Hayashi's unexpectedly dour finale to his one of a kind postmodern trilogy where Hama's entire world is on the brink of being torn asunder by a most sinister force.

Hama is now at a point in his fledgling career that he finds himself able to turn down jobs if he sees fit. And after he turns down a most eerie visitor with a bizarre request, matters soon take on terrible implications as his name and reputation come at odds with his success. It is to the point that unlike previous scrapes with gangs and politicians, it is the most unseen of the city that bring about the worst of our hero's troubles. Even as local police are stymied by not only shabby work, but in falsified evidence, bodies are piling up with a nasty M.O., and shows no signs of ceasing. What's a Yokohama private eye with a checkered past to do?

Kaizo Hayashi and writer Daisuke Tengan return for one last cinematic go-round foregoes the often lighthearted tones of the previous installments' first thirds, and stares (almost a bit too deeply) into a spiritual abyss as their characters are faced with adversaries that are nowhere near as transparent as the hoods of the past. As they conspire to make Hama's life into a living nightmare, it is also apparent that they may not even be cognizant enough to carry through beyond a neverending search for a mother figure to suite their needs. That's right, psychosis is at the very center of this episode's plotline, and while it indeed makes for an interesting swerve for the series, it ultimately never feels natural to the entire world Hayashi & Tengan have created. They have allowed real life events to seep into the mythos, which indeed has its effective moments. The problem here is that like so many psycho-thrillers of the past, it takes a very generalized slant by creating villains that are in no way endearing, but definitely worthy of more complexity. So what Wana ends up being, is a wacky detective tale hijacked by an overall lack of foresight, and possibly hope.

Almost humourously enough, a lot of what is happening to our plucku protagonist can be paraphrased in his newly flowering relationship with the virtually-mute, Yuriko(Yui Natsukawa). As lucky a guy as Maiku is, Yuriko, happens to be a deeply devoted christian, and ready to make a good, honest boy out of him. She disapproves of his gambling, drinking, and just about every other thing that makes him the likeable scamp he is. The entire piece plays up the notion that Hama's luck is double-sided. For all the good things happening, it is at the price of things innately alien to his being. And this also plays heavily into the more serious implications throughout the remaining running time. Where this goes wrong, is in how disproportionate it all is. When we see how heavy things can get, it borders on overbearing.

Tone-wise, Wana is easily the series' most hazy as the story attempts to infuse bit of the trademark humor alongside the really dark material that threatens to derail the entire affair. To a certain extent, the whole thing flirts heavily with a lot of what would eventually become associated with the J-horror boom of the latter end of the decade. Tengan's script definitely shares many quiet, creepy scenes that almost hint at his work with Takashi Miike. The film's tone also seems to play out commisurate with Japan's overall weariness in the days of 1995, after several months of disaster as evidenced by Shishido in a scene. A final chapter almost subsumed by tragedy, Hama's theatrical swan song is akin to skirting the fringes of nostalgia, while simultaneously being sucked into a black hole borne of a day where domestic terrors were far too powerful.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Throughline

After much of the extensive pausing that has graced the walls of this blog over the last year-plus, it has nagged me what it is that binds a majority of my writeups/reviews. Considering it as some mildly consistent body of work comprised of hours upon hours of grinding through whatever thoughts were found floating about in need of some manner of home, while discomforting in some respects, also deserves examination if even for a moment. Which is hopefully why these words are coming out in rapid succession this morning, at the beginning of the year of the Water Snake. Perhaps with some calm resolve, this could help clear up the fog of so many recent breaks. While real life has taken a significant point in matters, it hasn't been without thinking endlessly about what topics make for good editorial, be them here, or at AD, or any number of places. Daily schedules notwithstanding, it is also about finding something new to consider, even if the subject itself has been adequately written about elsewhere. So where does the Kaijyu seek out its own brand of thought?

Likely within an insufferable need to clear the air between fan behavior and an awareness of more grounded social context. And while none of it is entirely successful, it does feel very much like a common denominator that binds even the most gonzo peek at a bloody post-tokusatsu tribute. Which is also why the occasional darker than average piece of horror or doc comes my way and has to attain some manner of coverage here. Even the more obvious multiplex experience can carry with it some manner of social challenge that the average crowd might consider in between the opulent production value and explosive sound mix. One of the bigger things that film school helped me understand was that everything created is equally capable of coming through with something that is beyond the often extraordinary trappings we are sold into watching it for. Ostensibly it's just looking out for some semblance of the personal that could transcend the package. When novelty wears off, especially in a media climate such as now, one may find it important to seek out just what it is that draws them to certain works. What does one walk away from them with? What did it help us consider? What is it to be truly entertained?

And it these thoughts continue through at places like Anime Diet, where the occasional cartoon review, or look back at fandoms of days past reside. Attempting to sum up feelings about a medium that has meant so much to me since childhood remains a challenging and occasionally rewarding part of my online life. And its also hard to imagine a medium more telling of a culture and its social nuances than anime, so there is often a wealth to be mined by looking at the trajectory it has granted itself in half a century. And like anything else, it is riddled with a need to make a quick yen, but it also has within it, the power to encapsulate a time and attitude like few other forms of art. Its often visceral nature is not unlike varying types of rock music from folk to punk to sheer noise. And whether or not we acknowledge such a thing, it never ceases to raise an eyebrow or two, or jolt someone into a soap-box-stepping frenzy. And it cannot merely by a reflection of the fans themselves so much as the work that helped illuminate these feelings that were brewing under that surface in the first place. "Just look at that passion all over those walls" It's a visceral, occasionally beautiful kind of love that is hard for some to see the value in, but still deserves some much needed examining from the ground floor.

So what it all comes together as, perhaps is best summed up as a multi-tentacled means of figuring out where one goes after the flaming fanboy begins to cool down. Where one can truly roost, and still appreciate the past whilst looking heartily toward the future. It can just as easily be magical as it could be gritty, horrific as it could be gorgeous, honest as it is bugnuts crazy. It isn't nearly as tonally schizophrenic as one might have imagined. After all, it is imperative that a wanderer seek themselves whilst being lost. It isn't easy to chart a map without a north star, or a compass, but the work brought forth by the challenge makes it all worth while. We are all visitors, and it remains to be seen how many choose to remain as tourists. So there is indeed value in staking out all possible hidden paths. The magic is in knowing where these paths intersect.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Re: Mike Hama - Stairway To The Distant Past (1995)

Not too long after a certain Most Terrible Time, young private eye Mike Hama is hurting for cash, and is taking whatever jobs come his way. Things have been so dry that he has even taken to seeking lost dogs with a net on the street in hopes of helping him and his sister survive. That is until fate intervenes in the form of a long lost parent, as well as some truly nasty intrigue plaguing the Yokohama harbor. Bad luck streak aside, things are about to spiral out of control once again for our hapless sleuth. Bursting with color as promised by the original case's finale, Stairway To The Distant Past gets personal as Masatoshi Nagase's likeable individualist must contend with trouble from all sides while director Keizo Hayashi mostly sticks the landing in this second Hama feature.

Not content with merely handing Hama just another missing person case, in this go-round, people seem to be pouring out of the walls to complicate his life. Boating into Yokohama as the sakura is in full bloom, is Mike & Akane's eternally youthful showgirl of a mother(Haruko Wanibuchi). Eager to re-establish some form of connection with her son who isn't having any of this, she also signals the coming of a local gangland legend (Eiji Okada) who's very presence attracts all manner of bad attention. All of this while crooked politician, Kanno's plans for the city go from seedy to desperate. For a film with such a loaded series of plotlines, Hayashi's direction this time around is perhaps informed by the addition of color which offers up a number of almost hypnotic sequences, often giving the whole affair more of a disjointed slow burn effect.

Undoubtedly feeling tasked to heap on the visuals as the final minutes of Most Terrible Time promised a small-scale Technicolor spectacle, Hayashi does dole out some more than welcome grandness to the proceedings. There are terrific looking scenes including a memorable entrance for the film's unusual heavy as lights cut through the dark of the harbor at night, and there are some lovely images that further make Yokohama into a troubled, yet lovely looking place that seems frozen in time. To further emphasize the dramatics, there are also a decent number of stylized sets that couldn't be done the last time around. The palette has been expanded, now if only the scripting by returning Daisuke Tengan & Hayashi could find a way to make the storytelling just as sweeping. Because for all it's colorful wonders, Stairway kind of flounders. Far more content to play with new toys than to tell a compelling narrative.

Which is in no way a means of saying that this Hama adventure is worth a skip. Quite the opposite. It remains a bittersweet and borderline surreal chapter to the series that carries with it some timely (for the mid 1990s) humor, and even some interesting insights into the beginning of a generation, uncertain of its role with its forbears, not to mention less so about a foggy future. Should come as no surprise that dreams of an opulent past would find themselves flirting with the present. But what Hama and friends learn here, is that even the past is painted in troubled colors.