In the most bizarre news I’ve heard in a while, Netflix has released a trailer for Neo Yokio, a cartoon created by Vampire Weekend’s lead vocalist and guitarist Ezra Koenig and starring Jaden Smith.
While this Fall will bring with it a host of promising movies, the new adaptation of Stephen King’s It being among them, what I’m perhaps the most excited for are the advance screenings of two movies related to the famous Tommy Wiseau: The Disaster Artist playing at the Toronto Film Festival on September 11 and 12 and Best F(r)iends at the Prince Charles Cinema on September 4.
For those not in the know, Tommy Wiseau was the lead actor, writer, director, and producer of the cult classic The Room, which enjoys success to this day in the form of screenings with appearances by the actors and audience rituals reminiscent of those performed by fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Although it could be argued that The Room has been his most famous achievement so far, Tommy Wiseau has lent his talents to the short film The House That Drips Blood on Alex, a television series called The Neighbors, and even a number of web series and interviews that can be found on YouTube.
The Disaster Artist, which will be directed by and starring James Franco and Dave Franco as Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero respectively, is an adaptation of actor Greg Sestero’s book chronicling his experiences as one of the lead actors of Wiseau’s pet project. Best F(r)iends, on the other hand, will herald the first return of Sestero and Wiseau in the same film. Sestero will play a drifter who is taken in by mortician Wiseau to help with an illegal scheme to take advantage of his funerary customers, but, in the words of the cinema’s own website, “greed, hatred, and jealousy soon come in turn” to unravel their efforts and set in motion a series of twists and turns in this dark comedy thriller.
As someone who is not only interested in the history behind movies in general, but also a fan of The Room and someone who couldn’t put down Sestero’s book, I’m looking forward to both the comedy and intrigue in the Francos’ representation of The Disaster Artist. Meanwhile, it will be good to get another taste of Wiseau’s unique acting abilities in Best F(r)iends despite his lack of input in the directing and script, although it will be interesting to see Sestero’s performance in a different environment.
For those who haven’t seen The Room, you can find it for relatively cheap or try to navigate the official website to find screenings near you to prepare for The Disaster Artist’s release this December. Best F(r)iends isn’t scheduled to be in local theaters until 2018, but you can get an early look in this exclusive clip:
For the sake of transparency, there are two things that I have to say: there will be significant spoilers in this article, and I was biased against this movie before I watched it. First of all, I’m skeptical of Netflix Originals in general, despite gems like Mindhorn and Stranger Things as well as my confusion as to what makes an anime series “Netflix Original.” Secondly, in my cursory research of the film, I noticed that screenplay writer Jeremy Slater was responsible for another one of my least favorite movies, the generally negatively received horror movie The Lazarus Effect. Lastly, and arguably most importantly, I have seen the anime adaptation of Death Note before and am a fan of anime in general. From Dragonball Evolution to G-Saviour, and even Spike Lee’s Oldboy, Western film studios have for some reason decided that mediocre anime and manga adaptations are something that can’t be left to Japan. So, because we apparently haven’t been subjected to enough with the recent Ghost in the Shell adaptation, Netflix brings us a re-imagining of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Death Note, which I had to watch to satisfy my morbid curiosity.
Blizzard Entertainment’s cinematic team has always been one of the best, and I’ve been consistently impressed by their work ever since I was dazzled by World of Warcraft’s opening cinematic, which still looks great despite being made in 2004. It’s no surprise that alongside all of the other releases and updates teased at this year’s Gamescom that Blizzard has managed to catch everyone’s attention with not only new details about updates across all of their titles, but a whole gallery of animated shorts.
Although a few live-streams are taking place the weekend before, Gamescom, the biggest European video game convention, will take place in Cologne, Germany from August 22 to the 26. Open to professionals, journalists, and enthusiasts alike, you can expect to see appearances from the likes of industry giants such as Ubisoft, Microsoft, and Nintendo, as well as independent developers and even celebrities such as WWE star Bill Goldberg.
As for what to look out for, it looks like a good amount of the developers attending will be expanding on the titles that they showcased at E3. Nintendo has announced live-streams for both Super Mario Odyssey on the 23rd and Metroid: Samus Returns on the 24th, as well as a presentation on Fire Emblem Warriors and Xenoblade Chronicles, and will have some of their more recent titles such as Monster Hunter Stories available for visitors to try out for themselves. Ubisoft’s lineup is also filled with more in depth looks at their upcoming games like South Park: The Fractured But Whole and the new installment Assassin’s Creed. As for Square Enix, they promise “something big” regarding Final Fantasy XV, and Bandai Namco will be showcasing titles such as Dragon Ball FighterZ and Ni no Kuni II. The company that I’m most excited to see is Blizzard Entertainment, which promises a new map and an animated short for Overwatch, a new character in Heroes of the Storm, and even ice cream served by the Lich King to celebrate Hearthstone‘s Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion.
In addition to announcements and presentations, there will be numerous chances for guests to have some hands-on experience with the games being presented as well as cosplay events, tournaments, and other fun video game themed activities. For those who can’t make it out to Germany for the week to experience Gamescom firsthand, live-streams can be found on the websites of either the developers themselves or various gaming news sites.
Usually, I don’t really fixate on the actors of a movie. If all of the other moving parts come together and the acting is decent at least, I can enjoy the film, and being generally terrible with names it can be hard to remember who they are beyond a couple of popular characters they played. Other than Tommy Wiseau, whose antics I’m tempted to revisit at a later date with the advent of his return in Best F(r)iends, the only exception I can think of is Nicolas Kim Coppola, known professionally as Nicolas Cage. I can fairly reliably count on enjoying his acting even if the movie itself isn’t great (The Wicker Man, Drive Angry, etc.), so after browsing on Netflix through a few movies with him that I haven’t seen yet I settled on Matchstick Men, directed by Ridley Scott.
This crime film focuses on Cage and Sam Rockwell as a pair of con artists, Roy and Frank respectively, operating a fake lottery by selling water filters, although Roy suffers from severe OCD, panic attacks, and verbal and facial tics that he keeps suppressed with illegal medication. Roy suddenly learns that he has a 14 year old daughter living with his ex-wife, which leads him to agree to Frank’s proposal of a long-term con that he had always refused. What follows is a strange mix of a crime film plot and the story an emotionally broken man trying to put the pieces of his life back together to reconnect with his long-lost daughter.
As weird as it feels to say, Matchstick Men has what can be considered one of Nicolas Cage’s more subdued roles; by that, I mean that he only has one hilariously over the top freak-out in the whole movie. When I learned a short way into the movie about Roy’s conditions, I braced myself for the worst, but Cage surprisingly veers mostly away from portraying Roy as a raving lunatic and instead gives an excellent performance of a man who has some ethical, emotional, and mental problems, but is still very human. Some of his character’s quirks are of course used for comedic purposes, and the movie and Cage do succeed in being genuinely funny when they’re trying to be, but I was pleasantly surprised at some of Roy’s more serious moments and the way he grows as a character all the way until the very end. Alison Lohman, who plays Roy’s daughter Angela, and Rockwell are also great, but Cage’s acting stood out due in part to both his starring role and the contrast to his acting in other movies.
As for the movie itself, I really liked how some visual elements correlated to Roy’s mental state. Dark interiors dimly lit by what little of the almost blinding outside light is let in highlights Roy’s fear of outside places, and the distortion of both time and vision during his panic attacks was interesting as well. Netflix lists this movie as both a comedy and a drama, and while in my opinion the ratio was distinctly weighted in the favor of drama, as I mentioned before the comedy portions are solid. Plot-wise the film somehow manages to stay interesting in the parts focused on the cons, the scenes about Roy growing closer to his daughter, and the times when the two intermingle. It also ends with a twist that, while not overly obvious beyond some callbacks to certain lines after it’s revealed, has enough little clues and tidbits hidden throughout the film so that the viewer could figure it out before the end. That person would be admittedly smarter than me, but even without realizing it before it was revealed, the twist was entertaining and the bittersweet ending left me satisfied.
Its generally positive reviews despite its lack of box office success meant that, for the most part, critics were left satisfied as well. Matchstick Men holds a respectable 83% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a four out of four stars from Roger Ebert, although some critics were dissatisfied with Cage’s acting, the deviations from the original novel by Eric Garcia, or both. Although I’m a sucker for almost any movie with Nicolas Cage in it, I firmly believe that Matchstick Men would merit being called a great film even without his unique acting talents, which is a lot more than I can say for some of the other movies he has appeared in. So, if you’re looking to enjoy some good old fashioned “Cage rage” crime drama, it admittedly can be found in about 80% of his movies that are on Netflix right now, but I can vouch for this one in particular.
With this week, the anime summer 2017 season has officially reached its midpoint. When it comes to picking out the shows I want to watch each season, I tend to be fairly conservative. I’m a man about town with things to do, or at least I like to pretend that I am, so the number of shows I watch in a season rarely reaches double digits and they usually consist mostly of adaptations of manga I’ve read or continuations from something I’ve already seen. That being said, it’s not too late to help others expand their horizons, so I’ve put together my thoughts on the series I’m watching this season so far: two that started this season, two that started the previous season and are still going, and one honorable mention that is kind of in this season.
Whether it’s music, movies, or television, one of the most fascinating aspects about pop culture can be the history behind the scenes. Starting in 2018, AMC is giving us a chance to take a peek behind the curtain to hear some of the untold stories of pop culture genres from the masters themselves in a year-round documentary series called “AMC Visionaries.” Although they only have working titles at the moment, viewers can look forward to “Eli Roth’s History of Horror,” hosted by the award-winning film director, writer, producer, and actor Eli Roth himself, and “AMC Visionaries: Rap Yearbook,” executive produced by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter of the Grammy® Award-winning hip-hop band The Roots.
“Eli Roth’s History of Horror” will aim to bring together some of the storytellers and stars who define the genre to explore the themes, inspirations, and struggles of horror’s past and present. It’ll take viewers on an hour-long journey through horror influencing and being influenced by an ever-changing society and into the minds of loyal fans who are addicted to the thrills these films provide. Roth himself said “I’m thrilled to be part of this incredible series. For years, I’ve wanted to create a definitive ‘History of Horror,’ a living record of the genre with interviews from all the greats, old and new,” and hopes that “This show will serve as a record for future generations” to remember the masters we lose every year along with their stories and experiences.
“Rap Yearbook,” which is based on Shea Serrano’s New York Times best-selling book of the same name, will aim to put some of the most important moments and songs in hip-hop history under the microscope in order to debate and deconstruct them. This series will tell the story of one key song each episode with the help of a special guest MC and a group of legendary rap artists, music experts, and other key contributors in order to give viewers a deeper understanding of its history and meaning. The audience can expect to see the streets, the airwaves, and the lives of the musicians intermingle to make hip-hop one of the most important and influential music genres in the world. “Questlove” and “Black Thought” expressed their enthusiasm for the project, saying “We are really excited to create this thought-provoking series with AMC and Jigsaw Productions. We are just beginning to enter the film and television content creation space in a big way and to have ‘Rap Yearbook’ as one of our first projects greenlit to series, and AMC and Jigsaw as our partners, it’s an amazing way to launch our production company. This will be a great journey.”
In addition to these two six-part series, some other previously announced series will be falling under the “AMC Visionaries Banner.” This includes “Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics” featuring interviews with comic greats such as Stan Lee, Patty Jenkins, Lynda Carter, Kevin Smith, Famke Janssen, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Rodriguez and Todd McFarlane as well as “James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction” with notable guests like Paul W. Anderson, Roland Emmerich, Paul Verhoeven, Bryan Singer, Keanu Reeves and Jonathan Nolan. Alongside these star-studded projects, AMC also has Visionaries series about the history of video games, the outlaws of the Internet, and the history of martial arts on the horizon. While the variety of subjects that these series will cover is great enough that just about anyone can find a documentary about one of their favorite genres, it also aims to plumb their depths. Charlie Collier, president of AMC, SundanceTV, and AMC Studios, promises that “‘AMC Visionaries’ is all about going deep into areas of fan passion.”
Whatever your passion is, keep an eye on AMC’s 2018 lineup to learn about the men and women who make it all possible.
This Wednesday, the anime streaming site Crunchyroll hosted an exclusive theatrical release of the television adaptation of the popular manga The Ancient Magus Bride. The shonen fantasy series, published in Mag Garden’s Monthly Comic Garden, portrays a young Japanese girl’s foray into the world of magic after she puts herself up for auction as a slave and is bought by a mage with a monstrous appearance who decides to make her his apprentice. It didn’t seem to be too overtly advertised, given that I stumbled upon this screening when looking for upcoming movies on my local theater’s website, but I jumped at the chance to see a manga I enjoyed be brought to life by Wit Studio, known recently for their work on Attack on Titan and Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. I joined a friend and surprising amount of other theater patrons to see the first three episodes of this series, which have previously only been seen at the recent Anime Expo.
I will have to admit that the episode format didn’t work too well in a theater environment. The episodes were shown immediately one after the other, with no openings or endings between them. The cuts where one episode ends and the next begins were obvious and a bit jarring, and in the third episode there was a short flashback to something we had seen just minutes ago in the previous episode. While I think these kind of detract from the viewing experience, these are elements that will be much less obvious with its weekly episode format in the fall season.
There were also some minor elements glossed over, such as the explanation of why dragons read minds in the third chapter, but for the sake of time constraints I suppose I can’t expect everything to be included. In addition, while there was only one genuine grammatical error that I could find in the subtitles, it was a bit odd to see that Crunchyroll uses Seven Seas Entertainment’s translation of Chise as a “Sleigh Beggy” rather than the “Slay Vega” used by fan translations of the manga. Of course it makes sense for their company to use the translation of the ones who license the North American release, and “Sleigh Beggy” does have some (admittedly unrelated) significance in magical lore, but the voice actors pronounce the second word as “beygah.” There’s a bit of a disconnect between what the viewer hears and what he sees, like for all of the copyright avoiding name changes in the licensed translation of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.
These drawbacks are fairly minor compared to the good points of this anime’s presentation, however. One change that was for the better in my opinion was the swapping around of a few scenes in order to improve the pacing, which can be quite important given that each episode covers approximately one of the manga’s relatively long chapters. The animation is fantastic, with beautifully animated spells and quite cute spirits and dragons. The backgrounds, which provide a break from the usual Japanese scenery in favor of rural London and the wilds of Iceland, were breathtaking as well, and their enjoyment was made all the better by the orchestral soundtrack that ranged from playful and light to dark and mysterious. The voice acting was pretty good overall, but Ryouta Takeuchi’s delivery of Ainsworth’s “straight-faced” jokes were particularly memorable.
I was also presently surprised to find that Crunchyroll aired the pilot of their new series, Children of Ether, before The Ancient Magus Bride. A unique work that’s directed by LeSean Thomas, whose works include The Boondocks and Legend of Korra, and animated by anime veterans such as Mitsuo Iso of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame, it has the feel of being a sort of “American anime” in the way that Avatar: The Last Airbender did. This series, however, is targeted towards older audiences with its urban dystopian setting and bloody action scenes. Perhaps what’s most interesting is that in addition to having character designs from Hiroshi Shimizu, who worked on Michiko to Hatchin, it’s also influenced by Michiko to Hatchin‘s portrayal of people of color in anime. While I was mostly excited to see how The Ancient Magus Bride would turn out, I’m also going to be keeping an eye out for Children of Ether.
Of course, The Ancient Magus Bride doesn’t end after just three episodes; it will return in October for the Fall season, alongside other anxiously awaited series like Kino no Tabi and Pop Team Epic. Children of Ether doesn’t have an established release date as of yet, but should be announced in the near future by Crunchyroll. In the meantime, the Summer season is in full swing to make the wait just a bit easier, so enjoy it while you can!
After a long, hard weekend of scouring Netflix, I’m back again to talk about movies I’ve never seen as if I had some kind of authority on the subject. For this installment, I decided to search for something that could justify the “retro” in my title. After avoiding the temptation of watching a movie I’ve already seen and scrolling past some other well-known films, I came across Heathers.
This is a title that wasn’t too familiar to me, and its casual mention of suicide and listing as a dark comedy had me intrigued. It’s also listed under “Cult Movies,” although its inclusion alongside The Iron Giant and three different installments of the Sharknado franchise has me questioning what that really means, if anything. Unlike the last movie, Heathers is an American movie, written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehmann. Fans of recent TV shows will recognize the stars Christian Slater and Winona Ryder, who’ve each gotten a Golden Globe for their performances in Mr. Robot and Stranger Things respectively.
Ryder plays Veronica, who puts up with the company of the three eponymous Heathers in order to be a part of the most popular clique in her high school. While she’s not alone in hating the Heathers, Veronica stays with them until she meets the mysterious transfer student Jason, played by Slater. The movie continues to portray a typical high school setting, including levels of swearing, drinking, and sex one would expect of an actual high school rather than of one portrayed in a movie, until the tragic suicide of Heather Chandler.
Netflix’s categorization of this movie as a dark comedy was pretty appropriate; the dialogue before, during, and after these “suicides” is filled with irreverent dry wit. What was really surprising was that the movie was also able to deliver tense moments that could be genuinely unnerving as well, although those tended to be relatively short-lived. All of the stereotypes one would expect from a high school movie were there, but they were taken to their extremes and used to make statements not only about social structures and cliques, but about a wide array of topics including homophobia and bullying. The stereotypes and other motifs, such as the color associations of the Heathers group and reoccurring conversational structures, persist through the dramatic events of the film in order to both parody them and to highlight their ever-present influence. To be fair, though, reading too far into things is another thing that is mercilessly made fun of in this movie.
If you’ve read this far, it’s probably safe to say that you can tell that I enjoyed this movie, and I’m not alone. 95% of critics gave Heathers a positive review according to Rotten tomatoes, and Roger Ebert gave the film 2.5 out of 4 stars. The movie even managed to achieve one of the highest honors of any modern work: having a musical made out of it. If I had to choose something to complain about, it would be that the soundtrack was lackluster even without its noticeable aging. That said, Slater’s and Ryder’s performances were a pleasure to watch, the writing for the jokes was consistently hilarious, and there were even some cool visual elements and details to enjoy throughout.
I apologize for another positive review, and for it being of another movie that definitely isn’t family-friendly, but if you’re in the mood for some dry, morbid humor, there are worse high school movies that you could choose.