Skull Heads (2009)

skullheads_8Starring Robin Sydney, Samantha Light, Steve Kramer, Rane Jameson, Kim Argetsinger, Lucia Stara, Antonio Covatta, Giacomo Gonnella

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: I don’t know, honestly. Not good.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:

Modern Full Moon films are always a dicey proposition because the budgets are rarely high enough to pull off the FX work necessary to realize their relatively high-concept premises. Skull Heads is no different in the budget department, but it does enough right that this doesn’t matter much. At least for me it didn’t. One look at other reviews for this movie reveals that I may be alone in my love for Skull Heads, but when a film from a fading company is such a return to form I have a hard time believing that I’m its only fan.

Skull Heads begins in a castle dungeon where an angry father is punishing his unruly daughter, Naomi (Robin Sydney), on the rack. Just right there you have two huge pieces of evidence in the return-to-form case: the film is set in a real castle (a hallmark of tons of Full Moon films), and the creepy, unsettling family dynamics. Creepy families are arguably more of a horror movie thing than an actual Full Moon trademark, but with something as unique and defining in the “creepy family” horror sub-genre as Head of the Family (and that’s just one of many creepy families in their catalog), you know they’ve done some serious work in the genre. And the Arkhoff family in Skull Heads is one of Full Moon’s most fucked up and interesting to watch families.

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Stephen reviews: Eureka Seven: Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers (2009)

eurekaseven_1Eureka seveN: Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers
[交響詩篇エウレカセブン ポケットが虹でいっぱい Kōkyō Shihen Eureka Seven: Pocket ga Niji de Ippai] (2009)
AKA Eureka Seven: The Movie; Eureka Seven: Pocket Full of Rainbows; Psalms of Planets Eureka seveN: Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers

Starring Kaori Nazuka, Yuko Sanpei, Keiji Fujiwara, Ami Koshimizu, Mariko Neya, Mugihito, Sakiko Tamagawa, Shugenori Yamazaki

Directed by Tomoki Kyoda

Several years back, Eureka Seven was all over the place. Or at least I kept seeing it everywhere when I was looking for new anime. I figured it was just some random Evangelion rip-off, and left it at that. But then something odd happened recently. It got a sequel. That’s pretty uncommon for anime. Remakes? Yes. Yet another season of some stretched too thin action series like One Piece? Of course. But an actual sequel of a series that ended several years ago? You don’t bump into those all that often in the anime industry. So I decided to go back and check out the original and see if my apprehension was well founded or not.

I was somewhat right in my Eva rip-off assessment, but it actually reminded me more of Macross with its scattering swarms of projectiles chasing after flying enemies. Particularly Macross Plus, which it seemed very reminiscent of from a stylistic point of view, so it was no surprise to find Shoji Kawamori credited with the mechanical designs. And while it had plenty of Eva’s sinister secret council meetings and the requisite bandaged mystery girl, it also had the stripey sphere full of enemy monsters and a bizarre time displacement subplot that reminded me of Rah Xephon. Basically, Eureka Seven is a hodgepodge of every popular mecha anime they could squeeze together. If I wanted to be cynical I would call it just a massive rip-off of everything, but I think that, at least in this movie version, it added up to something more than the sum of its parts.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Eureka Seven: Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers (2009) →

Stephen reviews: Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)

blood_the_last_vampire_1Starring Gianna Jun, Allison Miller, Liam Cunningham, JJ Feild, Koyuki, Yasuaki Kurata, Larry Lamb

Directed by Chris Nahon

If you’ve been around here for a long time, you might remember my review of the original Blood: The Last Vampire. It was a popular enough anime to generate two TV series and two more films so far. I came to this live-action version expecting a horrendous piece of crap, and while this is definitely the weakest entry in the franchise that I’ve seen so far, it’s not nearly as bad as I feared. Just don’t get your hopes too high.

The live-action film is a loose remake of the original anime. It takes the same setting and characters and replicates several of the more important scenes, but it also greatly expands upon the original, elaborating on existing characters and adding new ones to the mix. It also drops some of the technical details. It never once uses the term “chiropterans” to refer to the monsters, instead calling them “demons” or “bloodsuckers.” The biggest change to the concept, though, is that it is now a revenge story. Saya is no longer just an aimless wanderer of the night. Now she’s on a quest for vengeance against the demon that killed her father.

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Stephen reviews: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

Superman_Batman-Public-Enemies-posterStarring Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, Clancy Brown, Allison Mack, Xander Berkely, CCH Pounder, Ricardo Chavira, John C. McGinley

Directed by Sam Liu

To help out with the Man of Steel countdown, I’m going to be adding to Will’s ongoing Superman reviews in my own manner, by reviewing a few of the animated films showcasing the Man of Steel. This is an adaptation of a story arc from the comics, and it shows. If you want something with realism or a serious story, look elsewhere. This doesn’t have the old style Adam West camp, but it is pure superhero action that doesn’t put on any airs. This is no Christopher Nolan film.

They went so far as to adapt the character designs of the comic book artist, Ed McGuinness, into animation. What this means is a lot of bulging, well-defined muscles. For Superman himself the image works very well, but for some of the other characters, like Captain Atom, it just looks strange.

This brings me to a more awkward aspect of the film, the heaping mountain of random characters. I had no idea who some of these people are, and there were tons that I only recognized by sight without any idea of what they do. This could genuinely cause a rather large barrier for those not familiar with DC Comics. Though it was interesting to see an animated Starfire that looks closer to her comic book design. You’ll have to resist asking yourself just who the hell all these people are. They’re just random people for Superman and Batman to beat up.

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Stephen reviews: First Squad: The Moment of Truth (2009)

poster_first_squadFirst Squad: The Moment of Truth [Первый отряд ファースト・スクワッド] (2009)

Starring Elena Chebaturkina, Aleksandr Gruzdev, Damir Eldarov, Irina Savina, Ludmila Shuvalova, Michael Tikhonov, Sergei Aisman, Olga Golovanova, Rudolf Pankov

Directed by Yoshiharu Ashino

Well, that’s an interesting list of actors, isn’t it? As you might have guessed, this is a Russian film, although it was made in cooperation with a Japanese animation studio. It’s like Blade of the Phantom Master in that regard, but thankfully this time the DVD release came with the original Russian audio track, as well as the Japanese and English dubs. Too bad the video quality wasn’t quite up to snuff. Camera panning was often jerky, and at times I got a feeling that the animation was higher quality than what I was actually seeing on the screen. Clearly something about the frame rate was a bit off.

Clumsy video transfer aside, the film is very intriguing. This is probably the first Russian film I’ve ever seen, although with Japanese directing and animation it’s not going to give me much insight into Russian film technique. It’s also the only fictional tale I’ve seen about the Eastern European front in World War II. I suspect it’s a much more common theme in Russian cinema. Since I know very little about that aspect of WWII, I can’t speak to historical accuracy at all, but First Squad portrays the Russian front as a snow-covered network of trenches that looked straight out of the first World War. If nothing else, it made WWII feel fresh and new.

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Stephen reviews: King of Thorn (2009)

King_of_Thorn-982478001-largeKing of Thorn [いばらの王 Ibara no Ō] (2009)

Starring Kana Hanazawa, Eri Sendai, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Akiko Yajima, Sayaka Ohara, Kenji Nomura, Misaki Kuno, Shinichiro Miki, Kousei Hirota, Tsutomu Isobe

Directed by Kazuyoshi Katayama

The premise in King of Thorn closely follows that of a horror movie, however it never really feels like a horror movie. This may simply be that I’m not a huge horror fan, and not all that attuned to the genre conventions. But as much as this uses the tried and true formula of trapping a diverse group of people in one spot and then slowly killing them off one by one, it never tries to amp up the terror. It’s all about adrenaline-pumping action and head-scratching conspiracies.

This was a pretty enjoyable film all things considered. Since I’m not much for horror, the downplay of its creepier elements worked well for me. Perhaps the biggest problem is that once they start explaining all the mysteries, you may well become even more confused. The film delves into the kind of metaphysical weirdness that anime is so often fond of. I would love to give you more of a heads up, but explaining anything beyond that would just be spoiling the plot. Also, I’m not quite sure myself just what was going on. I’ll need to watch this one again someday to see if it actually makes sense. Just make sure you go into this film knowing it’s going to get weird.

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Stephen reviews: Summer Wars (2009)

Summer-Wars-PosterSummer Wars [サマーウォーズ Samā Wōzu] (2009)

Starring Ryunosuke Kamiki, Nanami Sakuraba, Mitsuki Tanimura, Sumiko Fuji, Ayumu Saito, Takahiro Yokokawa, Kiyomi Tanigawa, Mutsumi Sasaki, Mieko Nobusawa, Takuya Kirimoto, Sakiko Tamagawa

Directed by Mamoru Hosoda

After the surprisingly enjoyable Girl Who Leapt Through Time, I was expecting something better from Mamoru Hosoda. Summer Wars isn’t bad, in fact I had a great deal of fun with the first half of it. Unfortunately the second half tapers off, and I found myself less than enthused with its conclusion.

Much of the film involves the virtual world of Oz. It is an online community where people hang out, play games, conduct business, and in general do anything that you might do online (Except look at porn. This film is rated PG, you know.). I’m not quite sure if Oz is a website on the Internet, or if it simply is the Internet in the world of this film. In any case, it’s a far more idealized version of the Internet than what we have in the real world. All languages are automatically translated on the fly. The user experience seems to be far closer to virtual reality, even to the point of having avatar martial arts tournaments. And of course, security is absolutely unbreachable, which leads to some of the major plot points in the film.

The plot revolves around Kenji and his classmate Natsuki. Using the simplest trick in the book, that of a pretty girl looking sad and bemoaning her fate, Natsuki suckers Kenji into helping her out over summer break. It seems that poor Kenji is doomed to drag Natsuki’s luggage around on a weekend trip to visit her grandmother. Once they arrive, however, Kenji finds out that her real plan is for him to pretend to be her boyfriend and impress her family. This could have been the starting point for any number of tragically ill-conceived romantic comedies, but fortunately the film takes a hard left turn at the next plot point, nearly abandoning the clumsy relationship of the two fake lovebirds.

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