Thursday, July 26, 2018

Dragon Ball Super (Japan 2017)

With, "Super," the Dragon Ball universe is back and better than ever. The same characters you've known throughout the years with new ones that are actually interesting and a plot that centers around action. What's not to love? Well, we'll get into that.

When we first see Goku again, he's living the farm life with his wife Chichi and son Goten. A pretty ordinary existence for one of the strongest warriors in the universe, but you know that things won't stay that way for long. Beerus, the God of Destruction, foresees the coming of a Super Saiyan God, and with his right-hand man Whis, begins the search for this being. Beerus makes the rounds, interrupting Bluma's birthday party and picking fights with Buu and others, all the while threatening to destroy the universe unless he gets some answers. Vegeta seems to grasp the power of Beerus and refuses to step up to him, regardless of the chaos being brought down around them. Natrually, Goku, sensing the power from Beerus, arrives and challenges him to a fight. Beerus sees the potential in Goku and realizes that there's more to this Saiyan than meets the eye. Vegeta, not wanting to be outdone, convinces Whis to let him train with him in order to become stronger. Goku eventually follows suit and the two of them are training harder than ever to become the best. 

Meanwhile, in the future, Trunks is grappling with a threat that has managed to destroy almost everything in his world. The mysterious Goku Black is hell bent on destruction and doesn't care who stands in his way. His only goal is to annihilate everything he sees. Trunks must rely on his companions both in his time and in the past to stop Black and there are more than a few twists involved with how his creation came to be. 

Beerus' twin brother Champa arrives to issue a challenge regarding the twelve universes. Champa wants all of the best foods that Earth has to offer and in order to get it, the warriors he selects from his universe will have to win over Beerus'. You see, each universe has a God of Destruction at the helm. After a series of battles takes place for the sake of food, the event itself grabs the attention of the Master of all Universes, Zeno-sama. His interest is piqued with the battles that took place and now he wants to hold a tournament of his own. This tournament would pit 10 of the best fighters from each of the universes against each other and only the winning universe would remain in existence. The stakes couldn't be higher. Goku enlists ten of the best warriors, including Vegeta, Piccolo, Krillin, to name a few, to comprise the team for universe seven and an epic battle for survival begins. Some of the fiercest competitors will challenge Goku like never before and Jiren is a name that will live on in DB lore forever.

You know I like to keep things spoiler free, hence the gaps in explaining the story. I personally think the Future Trunks saga is a high point in Super, so I don't want to give away the details, including how Goku Black comes to be. It's a really dark side to DB that really grabs you because there are real consequences taking place. I also think finding out who Goku chooses for the Tournament of Power is a fun thing to find out as a viewer as well because there's not shortage of characters to pull from. Some choices will certainly elicit a, "Whoa!" or a, "No way!" from you. The idea of a major tournament lends itself to Dragon Balls biggest selling point, which is the flashes action sequences. There's an abundance of that here and it's interesting to see all of the different character designs for all the fighters coming from different universes. I have to point out that I love Zeno. Period. He's both adorable and terrifying at the same time. The big elephant in the room with Super is that it's 131 episodes and even for the biggest Dragon Ball fan, I think that's more than a bit much. It almost goes without saying that there is a lot of filler here. I definitely think Super could have been tightened up well under 100 episodes. A particular low point for me was the return of Gohan and his Saiyaman character. A film crew begins making a movie about Saiyaman and Gohan gets involved with the stunts and in the process proves to Vidal and his daughter pan that he's a brave man, as well as a loving father and husband. It was a weird, misplaced story arc in the middle of Super and really didn't serve much purpose in my opinion. It's well documented at this point that the animation in Super, early on, is quite suspect and looks well below the standards you'd associate with Dragon Ball. This is true, but only for the first 15 episodes of so and then there's a noticeable change. There felt like two more major changes in animation style and quality as the series progress and trust me, by the end, you'll be blow away by it. Some of those final episodes felt like movie quality animation. 

I tried not to keep this review too long, but it's hard not to when the series is so long. I think Dragon Ball fans will love Super and I also think it's really accessible for those that use Super as an entry into the DB world. It has everything you love about DB but expands on it. It can be a slog at times but I'm glad I stuck with it. (Lee)

Grade: B+

Sunday, October 8, 2017

I Saw The Devil (Korea 2010)

Are you willing to become the very thing that you're trying to stop? In the case of, I Saw The Devil that thing would be a vicious, cold-blooded killer. I can not believe it took me so long to finally see this movie but here we are and I might be slightly traumatized. 

NIS agent Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun), is on the phone with his fiance Joo-yun, who happens to be stranded on the side of the snowy road with a flat tire, waiting for a tow-truck. He's a man that is always busy with work but naturally, he's concerned about Joo-yun's well being. An older man in a school shuttle van drives up and offers to help Joo-yun in her situation, but after being told that his help wouldn't be needed, he attacks Joo-yun and takes her back to his, for lack of a better word, lair. What takes place here is pretty much horrific and shows us that this killer is next level crazy. As the police begin the search for Joo-yun, her father, retired police chief Jang (Jeon Gook-hwan) and Soo-hyun arrive to the scene and are overwhelmed at the reality of what has happened to their Joo-yun. Soo-hyun takes some time away from work and together with chief Jang, compile a list of suspects. One-by-by, Soo-hyun begins to hunt these individuals down, coming up empty-handed until he learns about Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik), a school academy bus driver that's estranged from his parents and his own son. Kyung-chul takes women, who tend to be alone, and brutally rapes and murders them. When police Section Chief Oh (Chun Ho-jin) and his team also catch on to Kyung-chul, they try to bust him as he drives a shuttle full of school girls home. Kyung-chul knows that he's been discovered and before he can assault a young schoolgirl, Soo-hyun shows up and the two have an intense confrontation. Seemingly getting the upper hand, Soo-hyun doesn't kill Kyung-chul and doesn't hand him over to the police, but instead shoves a tracker down his throat, leaving him to ponder why he's still alive. From here, we have a game of cat-and-mouse where the protagonist is doing the torturing and the chasing deliberately, just to show Kyung-chul that he can get to him anytime he wants. However, as you can imagine when dealing with someone so dangerous, Soo-hyun get's a little too confident and prey gets away, leaving his loved ones exposed and at risk.

I'm a big fan of director Kim Jee-won (A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life), and I honestly don't know why I never watched I Saw The Devil until now. I think it was just a matter of, "I'll get around to it" and then life got in the way. I'm so glad it came across my radar again because I Saw The Devil is one of those films that reminds you of how hard Korea can go. I'm not easily shocked by films but there were moments here where I thought, "My God, this is hardcore." So yeah, it's not for the squeamish but if you can stomach it, there is so much pleasure in watching the tables turn on a villain as evil as Kyung-chul. It turns into a situation where you know that what Soo-hyun is doing isn't morally right and quite frankly, illegal. But you look past it (at least I did) because the movie does such a great job of putting you in the middle of his pain both in large part of Lee Byung-hun's fantastic and subdued performance and in the graphic nature of Kyung-chul's behavior. You want this monster stopped almost as much as Soo-hyun does. At 141 minutes, I never felt like the movie was dragging and the pacing keeps you glued to the screen the entire time. The only moments where I felt like maybe the film was going too far in trying to shock was when Kyung-chul meets up with his friend Tae-joo (Choi Moo-sung), who has a cannibalistic nature. He was a bit over-the-top for me and that whole scene tried dragging the movie more into the surreal and almost felt comical. 

I definitely think I Saw The Devil is a polarizing movie. Some will say, "How can you even watch a movie like that?" and there will be those that love it because it's extreme. More than that however, the performances by our two leads are amazing, the tension is real and how things play out will really keep you guessing. Yes, the content is graphic but it shouldn't be defined by it and to be honest I was only half-joking about being traumatized. (Lee)

Grade: A

Monday, June 26, 2017

Kimi no Na wa (Japan 2016)

A near perfect example of how to make an animated film that is so much more than just a, "cartoon", Kimi no Na wa (Your Name) is everything you come to expect from director Makoto Shinkai and is certainly his greatest cinematic achievement thus far.

Taki (Ryunoske Kamiki) lives in the big city of Tokyo and Mitsuha (Mone Kamishirashi) in the small fictional rural town of Itomori. Two teenagers who seemingly have no connection with one another live entirely different lives, yet suddenly find themselves in an unbelievable situation when they wake up to find they've switched bodies. Yes, the ol' body-switch movie but oh, this is so much more than that. Taki, like most boys (let's be honest), innocently explores his new found feminine physique and tries to adjust to life in Itomori now that he has a younger sister Yotsuha (Kanon Tani),  and Grandma Hitoha (Etsuko Ichiara) to live with in a town he doesn't know. Meanwhile, Mitsuha isn't necessarily thrilled to be in Taki's skin, but she's excited to be experiencing life in Tokyo, something she's been pining for. It doesn't take long for both Taki and Mitsuha's circle of friends begin to notice the changes in behavior. Seeing as how neither of them can explain the reasoning behind the randomness of when they switch, Taki and Mitsuha begin leaving each other messages and tips on how to navigate each other's lives until a solution for their problem can be found. Taki learns, from Grandma Hitoha, some very important aspects of ancient religious customs that involve the threads of time and how things are connected in this world. Mitsuha and her sister perform a ceremony for the God's involving kuchikamizake, an alcohol fermented with the saliva of the person performing the ceremony. Why am I telling you this? Well, because it plays an important part in how the story unfolds, but I refuse to spoil things for you. When the two stop switching bodies suddenly, Taki and his friends decide to take a trip to find Mitsuha and her hometown. However, something isn't quite right in his attempt to find her and Itomori isn't exactly what he remembered it to be. Where did Mitsuha go? And what happened to Itomori?

I'm not one to buy into the hype of anything and Kimi no Na wa certainly had plenty of that. I recall reading a lot about the stellar reception it was receiving by both audiences and critics alike and the fact that it ranks as the highest grossing film in Japan speaks volumes. My feeling after viewing Kimi no Na wa was that I truly understood why it is as praised as it is. Is it the best anime film ever made? That's purely subjective. However, it is one of the best anime films that I've personally ever seen. Makoto Shinkai continues to prove that he's the guy to watch in this industry. His storytelling and direction seem unmatched in this field and this film, as well as his prior works, drive that point home. He has a way, including with this film, to tap into the Japanese' strong love of nostalgia and their longing for the simpler life of high school days is a big component of that. CoMix studios, the animation studio that Shinkai-san works with, create some of the most stunning visuals in anime. It's no wonder he chooses to work with them because the level of detail and realism they create is the best I've seen. There are so many elements involved with this production that are firing on all cylinders and that's part of why Kimi no Na wa is so great. While initially, I didn't think the premise of body-swapping was all that original, it turns out to be so much more than that in the 2nd half. It's a film with a lot of heart, memorable characters, insanely good visuals, an amazing soundtrack composed by the popular group RadWimps and it is the sum of all these parts that create something truly special.

It's not everyday that you get an animated film of this caliber. One that both manages to take it's home country by storm, but also manages to charm audiences across the globe. Kimi no Na wa has left it's mark as something definitely worth-seeing and certainly worth remembering. (Lee)

Grade: A