Daaaaaamn Guillermo Del Toro, I don't even care that there's nothing original about your kick-ass and hella fun giant robot movie, because it is a kick-ass and hella fun giant robot movie, which means that it is EXACTLY the live-action giant robot movie that I've been waiting my whole life for. (Sorry, Transformers films, but in order to entertain me all you had to do was, you know, not insult the audience's intelligence and not make liberal use of racist and sexist humor. And yet, somehow, all three of you failed to meet even that minimal standard. WELP.) And I know that I shouldn't be down on Pacific Rim for not being "original" because it's actually one of the most thoughtfully-designed and perfectly-executed pastiche films I've seen in a long, long time. It's a movie with great monsters, great robots, great actors, great costumes, and a story that cribs from all of the best elements of the mecha genre. Not to mention that the battle scenes are some of the best goddamn giant robot battle scenes (and best goddamn giant monster battle scenes) I've ever seen put on film. (Sorry again, Transformers. No wait. Not sorry.)
The Lone Ranger
I don't even have to touch the elephant in the room that is Tonto in order to say with conviction that this is a terrible film because, by God, this is a fucking terrible film. Bloated, tone-deaf, emotionally flat, and - most unfortunately of all - boring as fuck. I was bored out of my skull while suffering through this in the theater. Right hand to God, if I hadn't gone to the theater with one of those people who is always determined to suffer through the entire movie NO MATTER WHAT then I would have up and fucking walked out by the time we got to the railroad unveiling. This movie doesn't know when to be funny and when to be serious. It fucks up scenes that should be treated seriously with awful unfunny jokes, and fucks up scenes that should be funny with more awful unfunny jokes. It has one of the worst cases of dialogue-that-sounds-like-it-was-
I admit, I didn't have terribly high expectations going into this show. The premise was advertised as "let's watch how a terrible mom screws up her teenage son so much that he goes insane and murders pretty girls" and really, wow, there's like a million ways that a premise like that could go terribly wrong. And then guess what? The show turned out to be a thousand times better than advertised. Starting with, of course, the premise: First and foremost, the show does an incredibly good job with its portrayal of Norma. She's complex, layered, deeply sympathetic despite her terribleness, and a fascinating character to anchor the show around. The thing about Norma as she's portrayed in the show is that, well... We all know a Norma Bates. Or somebody just like her. I think that most of us probably HAVE a Norma Bates in our own families, in our circle of friends, or related to one of our friends. (I know I do.) Watching Norma onscreen is like sharing a universal experience: Like damn, yes, that's it, that's HER (or HIM), that's exactly how she freaks out or that's exactly what he would try to do, yup, been there done that, only usually with less murder and frantic hiding-of-the-bodies involved. (Usually.) And as for Norman, er... I admit that I find the show's portrayal of Norman a lot less realistic/relatable than its portrayal of Norma, but at the same time he's still a great character, and watching his downward spiral is a terrible and fascinating experience. It doesn't hurt that Freddie Highmore has an absolutely arresting screen presence, either. Other things that the show does right: The pretty, popular cheerleader also turns out to be a complex and layered character; Dylan is a great addition to the cast of characters; the insular-small-town-with-dark-creepy-
Breaking Bad (seasons 1-3)
Speaking of really excellent shows that are unfortunately tainted with really icky racial issues! I just finished the first three seasons of Breaking Bad and am so far loving it. Well, loving it with a lot of caveats, that is. I admit, the first season is pretty hard to get through. For nearly the entirety of the first season Walt's descent into methland is portrayed as such a blatant White Man Power Fantasy: Walter is inexplicably so much better at making meth than all of his (uneducated and/or brown-skinned) competitors! His meth is so pure and perfect that the unwashed masses fall all over themselves to obtain it! He stands up to jerkfaces! He gets revenge on everyone who looked down on him! He's suddenly really good at satisfying his wife in bed! He's so much smarter and so much more badass than the scary brown Mexican thugs! He even out-smarts and out-badasses the scary brown Mexican thugs until they do exactly what he wants them to do! Both in the very beginning of the season and at the end! So yyyyyeaaaaaaah, great writing and Bryan Cranston aside, I was ready to give up on the show by the time I got to the final episode of the first season. But then. BUT THEN. But then I started watching the second season. And that's where things really start to fall apart; that's where the real subversion of the first season's White Man Power Fantasy really begins. And wow, the second and third seasons just take everything that the first season built up and brutally rip it down to shreds. To be fair, I still think that the show has some pretty severe racial issues. The third season especially is full of way too many "scary brown-skinned Mexicans are scary" moments that can't be mitigated merely by the fact that characters like Gus and Gomez are also part of the show. (The Cousins, man. They don't look or act human. They're just meant to be fucking terrifying walking plot devices.) But the show also does so much so right. Fucking fantastic writing, great acting, great casting (they actually cast an actor with cerebral palsy to play the character with cerebral palsy! And he's written as a real person whose character isn't reduced to merely having a disability!), and a great lead character. I'm especially in love with the way that the show mercilessly deconstructs Walter's character. Hell, even his need to provide for his family, his last remaining sympathetic trait, is repeatedly revealed to be just another manifestation of his narcissism. So now I'm about to head into season 4, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how all of this is going to end.
Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna
An under-rated gem from last spring's glut of anime that I started watching last year but never got around to finishing until recently. I wish I hadn't waited. Once you get past all the male-gazey fanservice (and I admit, there's an awful lot of that to get past), it's just a fantastic show with absolutely gorgeous animation and a perfectly old-fashioned sense of noirish fun. There's not a whole lot more that I can say about this show, because it's mostly style over substance in the end, but goddamn does it have a whole lot of fantastic style. In case any of y'all are in the mood for a stylishly-animated show about a femme fatale thief who has lots of awesome adventures, then you should definitely check this one out.
Blue Exorcist: The Movie: We Made A Goddamn Blue Exorcist Movie
Oh look, A-1 pictures made a Blue Exorcist movie that actually stays true to the visual style of the manga. Which means, of course, that it is INSANELY DETAILED and UNBELIEVABLY GORGEOUS. Like, wow. "Eye-candy" doesn't even begin to describe it. As for the film itself, well. It's basically just like one big long episode from the TV series, which frankly I think is the best approach for these types of spin-off anime films to take, save for the fact that the ultimate resolution to the plot ends up being really stupid, even by Blue Exorcist standards. And yeah, the film suffers from the usual anime film problems: Namely, that there are way too many pointless character cameos that exist just so that EVERY character in the series can have their own little moment of screentime. Even worse, of the two original characters for the film, one of them is so totally pointless and has such zero impact on the plot that the film would have been better off without him. I'm talking about Liu, of course. (Usamaro was great, though!) But overall, I actually really enjoyed the film. The artwork is stunning, the action sequences are amazing, and the plot is passable enough. It's an entertaining enough movie and it is very, very pretty to look at. Good enough for me.
It's almost impossible not to compare Dangan Ronpa to its predecessors Higurashi no Naku Koro ni and Umineko no Naku Koro ni: All are terrifically stupid yet incredibly fun mystery thriller visual novels, with lots of ridiculous over-the-top characters, ridiculous over-the-top locked room murders, and ridiculous over-the-top gore and violence... that all made for TERRIBLE anime adaptations. And boy oh boy, we're only five episodes in and already Dangan Ronpa seems to be suffering from Higurashi/Umineko Syndrome in spades. But hey, at least the Higurashi and Umineko anime adaptations changed the art style to make the anime series look better than the game. The Dangan Ronpa anime, however, for some reason decided to stay true to the godawful character designs and overly-amateurish artwork style of the original game. Those character designs might work perfectly fine in the context of a video game, but when animated? They look terrible. Plus the anime has so far repeatedly committed the cardinal sin of taking itself waaaaaaay to damn seriously. The game, at least, was self-aware enough to revel in its own ridiculousness. What Dangan Ronpa needed in order to be a successful anime adaptation was a whole lot more improved artwork and a whole lot less of that Grimdark Deep and Serious posturing. Because it is frankly impossible to take this premise and this cast of characters seriously, yet the anime really gives off the impression that it expects us to do just that. And, as Z so succinctly put it, "So far the anime adaptation is basically just an animated let’s play where we skip through any characterization and clues and go through the barest bones of a plot. Not very exciting to watch."
Bee and Puppycat
I'm in love with the animation style so far, but I think this type of humor is going to take a while to grow on me. On the other hand, however, Cartoon Hangover is always reliably excellent, so I guess I'll see where this is going. If nothing else, well, it's got beautiful animation, it's free, and it's short, so it's got all of that going for it already!
What a perfect finale. What a perfect show. That's all that I have to say about that.