What We Do in The Shadows

Reviewed by Vladislav (just this once)

Ladies, gentlemen, and other such creatures, it is the year 2015, and what better way to celebrate than to acknowledge that most of the movies this year have been lackluster. Therefore, let us travel back in time to glorious 2014 to dig up a little gem of awesomeness.

As the reviews humbly point out in a non-hegemonic fashion, this movie is HILARIOUS! Also, vampires.

Comedic duo Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement bring us What We Do in The Shadows, a mockumentary on the lives of four vampire flatmates and their struggles in the twenty-first century. We watch these guys struggle with the adversaries of the modern world: the internet, club bouncers, hooligan werewolf packs, and the ever present need for acceptance. Also, this year isn’t just any old year. This year welcomes the Unholy Masquerade: a costume ball for all creatures dark and undead. Banshees, vampires, zombies. And every year there is a very special guest of honor. Needless to say, our little quartet of vampires is very keen to make a good appearance. But what with their new and rebellious fledgling, Nick, and his benevolent computer buddy, Stu, will they be able to make the cut?

We have Viago, Deacon, Vladislav (yay, me :D), and Petyr. Viago is an eighteenth century Dentist who is the cheerier of the lot. He has almost a maternal feel to him as he does his best to make the little vampire coven feel like a family. He also harbors a love for a mortal woman called Josephine, which is in the bloom of her mortal life, in a retirement home.

Vladislav leaks male machismo whenever he’s in the shot with his epic mustachios and brooding eyebrows. He used to be the vampire of vampires. A creature renown through the ages for his brutality, lust, and grand acts of debauchery. Alas, ever since his encounter with the “Beast” he has never been the same. He now struggles to regain his former glory.

Deacon, himself, is the “bad boy” of the group. He was turned vampire by Petyr in a “dark and creepy castle.” To go into his story doesn’t seem like a good way to give you a portrait of his character. So I have this gif instead:

Case and point.

And lastly, we have Petyr, the oldest vampire from them all. He seems to be a lot more savage in his manner and more closely resembles Nosferatu from the original vampire flicks.

Anywho, this little film is a ball of fun. It definitely feels like a documentary, and all the jokes are spot on. The characters are a riot to watch, and the stupid situations they get themselves in should crack a smile or ten. It’s well written, and a lot of creativity went into it. The laughs are actually quite clever and well thought out. With vampire flicks having such a bad rep, this movie definitely did its best to up the game on the Vampire genre, comedic or otherwise.

Overall, a definite yarn ball of fun, AND YOU’RE THE CAT! Go unravel that ball. RIGHT NOW.

Also, this, because, yeah…

Uzumasa Limelight: A Review

Review by Vladi

Ladies, gents, and other noble creatures of the earth, today I am proud to put on some hipster pants and review a movie you probably haven’t heard of. Today we look at Ken Ochiai’s Uzumasa Limelight. This little gem has just come out. I had the pleasure of seeing it at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Center several nights ago. However, as I am led to believe, it will be playing at Dundas Square (Toronto, Canada) for the next couple of days. It’s an independent film; it has only a limited release, so I suggest you go and see it while you still can.

As the movie’s title subtly suggests, this movie’s somewhat of a homage to Charlie Chaplin’s own film titled Limelight (1952) which looks at the life of a once brilliant entertainer, now washed up, trying to pass the torch on to a youthful protĂ©gĂ©. Uzumasa Limelight shares the same theme. We look at the life of Seiichi Kamiyama, a professional kirareyaku. Kirareyaku were background actors for Japanese samurai dramas, also known as chanbara, whose job was to die spectacular deaths on the silver screen. Seiichi Kamiyama has been doing this for over fifty years. He has earned the respect of his colleagues and people of the Kyoto movie scene. However, the times are-a-changin’, and the new generation of films no longer has need for old washed up actors. Even proper swordsmanship is no longer appreciated, as everything is done using CGI. The sun is setting on the classic era of chanbara films, and with it Kamiyama’s only tie to a world which vanished long ago. Hope comes in the form of a young and aspiring actress called Satsuki, in need of a mentor.

The movie is very much a love letter to the bygone days of Japanese cinema. We’re given a very good look at what life might have been like for actors at that time. It’s very different from what theater culture is today, and even more so from the West. We are shown a world  where actors can spend their entire lives working in one big community, resembling something touchingly close to a family. Their only sense of accomplishment and pride comes from the reputation they’ve earned over decades of hard work, dedication, and respect. This makes it all the more heart breaking when you see it slowly fall apart.

I can best describe Seizo Fukumoto (Kamiyama) as a Japanese Clint Eastwood. You might remember him as Ugly Bob from The Last Samurai. He has that old, leathery toughness to him. The performance by him is really solid. This is probably partly because he actually is a kirareyaku. He has been killed thousands of times on screen, making him a far superior Japanese Sean Bean. A little side note: There was a Q&A session with the director and the cast after the film was screened. It was really touching to hear that the movie’s lead, Fukumoto, had to be constantly asked to stay in the center of the shots. This mostly because he was so used to being a background actor, he is used to staying at the edges of the shots so as not to bother anyone or draw attention to himself. It’s just humbling to see such humility and modesty in a performer. Especially with the over saturated market of divas we have in the West.

The movie’s an independent production, so don’t expect that high Hollywood polish on every frame you see. That being said, it’s shot very well, and the images are really clean. There’s some very good humour in it; I didn’t expect to laugh nearly that much at a foreign drama. It is Japanese cinema, so you will be exposed to a different world and storytelling than you are normally used to in the West. If nothing else, it’s a great piece to open you up to a different culture. There were some moments, mostly courtesy of Fukumoto, where I had to reign in the feels, for tears were knocking at the door. It is a very human story that will really draw you in if you let it. I strongly hold that one of the greater accomplishments in film is being able to tell a truly human story which explores the human condition and put us, the audience, in the shoes of the characters. If I can sit in a chair in a dark room and feel pangs in my chest because I feel like my world’s falling apart, the director’s done his job. To the cast and director of this film, I tip my hat. It was a great experience, I strongly suggest you go see it.

Because nothing in Japanese narrative is truly over without falling Sakura blossoms.

Bastion: A Review

Reviewed by Vladi

(Bastion Trailer)

Kid knows he’s the bee’s knees. He knows his game plays like a Caelondia tune on a fine-strung harp, and he don’t need to tell you twice. Hell, even once is one too many.

Ladies, bottom dwellers, and gentlemen, today we look at Supergiant Games’ Bastion. Bastion is an indie production developed in 2010. The game had much critical acclaim as it came out. It won the Game Critics Award at E3 for Best Downloadable Game, and was nominated for the Best Original Game at the same event. It continued to receive nominations, primarily for creativity and best soundtrack. All of them are well earned, as we are about to take a look at this beauty.

Bastion’s an action RPG set in in the fantasy world of Caelondia. Our story starts  as the Calamity has destroyed much of the known world. The floating cities of Caelondia have mostly all sunk. With civilization in tatters, the world is once again a savage garden, with monsters and bandits running amok, it resembles a very western Wild West. Our main protagonist is the Kid, a white-haired little bad-ass in rusty armor.

Kid means business.”

He remains entirely silent throughout this game. Our story is told entirely through our dynamic narrator, Rucks. Rucks has this amazingly bad-ass voice. It’s like a husky, Clint Eastwoodish, Film Noire voice. And the lines are written accordingly for it. I remember first playing this game, and a couple of minutes in, I more or less kept playing because I just wanted to listen to this guy say stuff. It’s really entertaining, and it really sets the mood/tone for the game. I’ve never before been impressed by a voice in a game, or narration for that matter. But this game knocked it out of the park with this narrator.

Unlike most games, you don’t have to trade one good thing for another. The gameplay is a lot of fun. You walk around platforms and use an arsenal of weapons to fight through levels. You have a good variety of weapons, all of which can be upgraded and equipped in different slots. The vista of possibilities really makes the gameplay enjoyable all throughout the game. If you get bored with one style, or it simply isn’t your thing, you can switch up your weapon slots, and thus change your approach to the combat. The customization is baffling in its simplicity. In fact, that is something I am going to come back to again and again with this game. Everything is very simple. It’s easy to do, and it provides for fun gameplay. You don’t have to spend hours learning how to play this game, you just pick it up and have fun. No need for tutorials or try-harding here.

“Kid needs to pick out his tools for pwnage. Folk in Caelondia loved killing things.”
“Now that the kid has something to pwn with, he needs to pimp it out. People in Caelondia loved pimpin’ their somethings.”

You’re also given one more way to customize your experience. We’re given the Distillery. Here you can activate potions you’ve managed to collect or buy along your adventure, which give you some form of enhancement. The cool thing about it is that there are sometimes trade-offs. You’ll get one good affect with a bad one. The Deardrum, for example, will give you 100% critical strike, but you have to be at 100% health to use it, making you have to play with great care and stealth. The Leechade will give you life-steal on strikes, but it will reduce Tonic potency by 66%, making you rely on your brute combat skill instead of special abilities. You have figure what kind of customization goes well with your style, or if fail that, just what would be pure fun.

“Kid has to choose his poison. Folk in Caelondia sure loved a drink.”

Now, if having an awesome Noire Clint Eastwood voice isn’t giving you an eargasm just yet, take this in. The soundtrack of this game is OUUUUUUUUTTTTTT offffff THISSSSS WOOOORRRRLLLLLDDDD! I don’t mean the ‘out of this world’ type where you youtube the first and last track once in a blue moon. I mean every single track on the list is off the hinges. Not only does it unhinge doors in every scene of the game, but it’s also addictively awesome to listen on its own. There’s a great versatility in the song roster. You get folk,  a bit of rock, some middle eastern tunes and everything in between. Just this crazy variety of sound and style you wouldn’t expect in just one game, or from just one composer. Darren Korb‘s the man. Between him and Logan Cunningham (Rucks), you’re in for an audiogasm.

Here’s a little sampler of the OST:

Honestly, in good conscience I can say that this is one of the best games I’ve ever played. At least one of the best all-around games. Nothing about it is strictly revolutionary, but it just does everything really, really well. You have gameplay that is engaging, entertaining, and easy to pick up. You have colourful and beautifully designed levels to draw you into the world that literally assemble before you as you discover them. You have a good story to keep you going. You have this great soundtrack to accompany your gaming experience, coupled with a narrator which adds all the colour and shading needed to give that extra dimension. Hands down, one of the best games created recently. I am not often impressed with games. There’s a lot of them that I like playing, or enjoy from time to time. But this game definitely did enough things right to earn my eternal props (can you really hope for more in life?) Definitely an amazing experience. Give Gaben your money and go download now!

Go on, Kid, give it a try.

The Legend of Korra, Book 3: Change (for real!)

Review by Vladi

*Contains Spoilers*

So to anyone new to this series, this is the third season of The Legend of Korra, which is a sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender. Now if you are unfamiliar with that series, you probably have been living under a rock. Fortunately for you, I will earthbend your ass out from underneath it. Avatar: The Last Airbender was an absolutely AMAZING series that came out back in 2005. It follows the adventures of Aang and his friends on a quest to restore balance to a world torn by war. The world is divided into four nations, fire, earth, water, air, each with their own history, powers, and cultures. The characters were great, the concepts were pretty kick ass (I mean who doesn’t want to be able to control the elements while doing martial arts, seriously!?), there was a nice story arc – it was just a really well-made show. Now without further kiss-ass and plunges into anime nostalgia, we fast-forward to 2012 when the Legend of Korra came out.

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(Image Source: http://avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Avatar_Wiki)

The first season of Legend of Korra was quite good. It did what very few animes do, and it actually evolved the world the original left behind. What I mean by that is that while the first series was set in what seemed to be a medieval time period, the Korra series were set two or three generations later, in what appears to be an 18th century. And it is very well done. The world has changed a lot, it has modernized. Republic City, where a lot of the story takes place, resembles New York in the 30’s. Of course, bending has been integrated into this new civilization, and it makes for a pretty kick ass setting. What made the first Korra good is, arguably, a well-made villain. I am, of course, talking about Amon. We were given a villain that was shrouded in mystery, posed a genuine threat, and actually had very relatable motives for starting his revolution against benders.

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(Image Source: http://avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Avatar_Wiki)

Fast forward to the season 2, and Nickelodeon exiled all of its writers to the Sahara desert, and replaced them with chimps. The villain was the one dimensional, take-over-the-world kind of guy. He didn’t seem to pose any real threat, his flip from good to bad was done over a single scene, with hardly any hints. Just trashball of a writing script. And to top it all off, we had a Godzilla-like battle between Godzilla Korra and Godzilla Unalaq (her uncle), and it was just a joke of a finale. So with that concluding season 2, I was really wary into starting season 3.

However, I was pleasantly surprised. Season 3 came in like a gust of fresh air (GETTTIT, GETTIT?!). The plot seemed to come back on track with the introduction of some new villains. The producers of Korra must have learned well from their mistakes, because the new villains greatly resembled Amon, in principle, at least. We have The Red Lotus, Zaheer, P’li, Ming-Hua, and Ghazan.

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(Image Source: http://avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Avatar_Wiki)

They are top security prisoners, and absolutely devastating benders. That’s all the information we are given for a while, and quite honestly, that’s all the information you need. They are cool, they are deadly, they are mysterious. They make you want to watch this series and figure them out. They aren’t clichĂ©; their motives are quite unclear until at least half way through the season. And even then, when you find out, (SPOILER!!!) that it’s destroying Korra, you still want to know, “why”? And, I will say this: very few animes make a good case for their villains. But the motives and ideologies of these rebels are actually quite legitimate, which in turn, makes the plot all the more enjoyable to follow. Note for future writers out there: Good vs Evil = lame as HELL! Conflict based on genuine issues of a political/social/moral nature =  AWESOME.

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(Image Source: http://avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Avatar_Wiki)

Another big plus of this season is that Korra gets to move around. A big part of the original Avatar series was that the protagonist went around the world to complete his quest. You got to see different benders, different cultures and different characters. The last two Korra seasons really lacked that. However, we have her on the move again in this season, and it was quite enjoyable to see Ba Sing Sei again, and also the deserts that were featured in the original. We also got to see a new place, Zaofu.

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(Image Source: http://avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Avatar_Wiki)

Zaofu is a metal bending city ruled by Lyn Beifong’s sister, Suyin Beifong. Like all other places in the Avatar universe, Zaofu has its own culture, architecture, and style. Seeing places like this was one of the things that made the first Avatar so enjoyable to watch. Suyin’s pretty much the opposite of the rigid, law-abiding, Lyn, and is the cause for some pretty sweet family drama between them. Looking forward to a lot more of this in season 4.

The bending also seemed to go up a notch since the last two seasons. I don’t know what it was, but it really felt like every bender did the same thing with just a different animation. They threw some punches and kicks, blasts of whatever element came out. In this season, much like the original series, bending looks distinctive again. It’s not about just hurling blasts at the enemy, but manipulating the elements in a way that will give you an advantage. There’s actual rhyme and reason to the fights again, and they are very fun to watch. I remember seeing Toph Beifong do her bending for the first time, (when I was just about set on the opinion that no one in their right mind would want to do something as lame as earth bending, compared to the other “cool” elements) and having my mind blown on just how cool she made earth bending by manipulating the terrain around her. And we get a lot more of that in this season. So again, thumbs up!

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(Image Source: http://avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Avatar_Wiki)

I’ll save the worst for last. My only beef with this season, and the Korra series in general, is that it doesn’t have much character development. Korra is much the same as she is in the start, and the same holds true for Mako, Bolin, and Asami. One of the things that made the original Avatar so fun to watch was that you saw Aang and Zuko (his enemy) change. You saw them mature, and you saw their outlooks on the world change. Mako is just the brooding handsome guy whose sole purpose is to drop teenage panties. Bolin is your discount Sokka. And Asami is just Asami. Again, this isn’t too big of an issue as the villains provide an engaging conflict, but it would still be nice to see some development in the last season.

Other than that, the show was great! It really improved on a lot of stuff and started to feel like the original Avatar again, for which I can’t give it any higher praise.

Definitely recommend!

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

Sin City 1
(Image Source: http://sincity-2.com/)

Review By Vladi

Sin City: A dame to kill for. This was a movie I was waiting on for the last six years. The original Sin City came out back in 2005, and as it is in my fashion, I didn’t give it a shot until the three years later, when all the hype had died down.

The first time I saw Sin City, I distinctly remember thinking two things. One, wow, what are my brains doing on the wall?! And two, when am I going to see a sequel to this? I feel I can’t talk about A Dame to Kill For, without talking about the first film.

The visual style of Sin City is probably the first of its kind, along with Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, to be a fully digital live action film. Sin City is the first movie which took a graphic novel and translated it into film while actually keeping the medium. You are watching a film, but every shot is constructed to look like a comic book strip. Even the action sequences are shot in such a way that they represent comic book sequences. The movie was first shot in colour, and then converted to black and white, to stay true to the graphic novel. Also, several important objects in the movie are coloured in, both underlining their significance to the plot, and adding nuance to the shots.

So aside from it being a complete visualgasm of a movie, and a pioneer in this kind of genre, the movie actually has quite the fun and gritty plot. I’m an absolute Tarantino fanatic, and I can say with a clean conscience that this has a bit of a Pulp Fiction feel to it. It’s gritty, it’s original, and it’s just plain enjoyable to watch. You cheer for the characters, you find the world engaging, and you can just revel at how openly original it is. The movie, as follows from the graphic novels, is done in a film noire style that takes a bat to the teeth, and is dragged face-first along a highway (in the best possible way). Micky Rourke is a riot to watch as Marv, a psychopath gorilla bent on mass destruction that would put Schwarzenegger and Stalone’s love child to shame. Clive Owen does a great job with Dwight – a noire knight in scrap armor. And even Bruce Willis pulls off an engaging role of the stoic good-cop-in-a-bad-world, Hartigan. Lastly, I have to give credit to Elijah Wood for playing one of the creepiest fucks I’ve ever had the pleasure to view on a screen – Kevin. That shit gave me nightmares for nights to come (really? – No, but it well fucking could have). I’d definitely rate this as one of the most enjoyable films I can watch on an annual basis.

So taking all of that, how was A Dame to Kill For? And regrettably, I have to say underwhelming. There are three plot lines in this movie, and they are all scattered chronologically with respect to the first movie, which can seriously confuse you if you aren’t paying attention. The main plot line is that of Dwight (this time played by Josh Brolin). I’ve never been a great fan of Brolin, but he’s a decent actor. The only issue is, he’s nowhere near as likeable as Clive Owen. Clive Owen made you like the character just enough to keep asking “what’s next?” Brolin’s character, on the other hand, is very one dimensional and brutish. Nothing really pulls you in. He lacks that charm. On the flip side, we have Eva Green playing Ava, the Femme Fatale, for which she hardly needs any help. She’s just about the perfect person for that role. She’s sexual, she’s seductive, she’s scary, she’s powerful, she’s just about anything and everything you could ask for in that kind of role. And whilst she induces boners (yes, more than one) in just about every scene she’s in, she doesn’t do all that much for the plot. She’s a one trick pony, and after you get to see her trick the first time, the other fifteen times really begin to drag.

Sin City 2
(Image Source: http://sincity-2.com/)

Johnny Boy’s segment is done perfect. If watched all on its own, I would have thought it was made back in 2005 with the rest of the first Sin City. It engages you in that same way, with good writing, engaging plot, and a very likeable character. The jokes are spot on, the shots are great, it just feels GREAT, it feels RIGHT. The character’s fun to watch – he’s enough of a sleaze that you can’t love him, but he’s charming enough that you want to cheer for him. You don’t know which way the plot will turn, and you are genuinely entertained from minute one. That being said, all together, it probably only takes 15-20 minutes of screen time. So, a small victory there. More Joseph Gordon-Levitt, less Josh Brolin, please.

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(Image Source: http://sincity-2.com/)

And lastly, we have Jessica Alba’s storyline, which takes off from where the first movie ended. It’s considerably darker than the rest of the stories, as it deals with her emotional turmoil after (SPOILER, DUH!?) Hartigan’s death. You see her steadily develop and change as a character as both her emotional state/sanity deteriorate. Jessica Alba does a great job with lil’ Nancy Callahan, just as she did in the first movie, but this time bringing more feels to it. And again, my only regret is that it was a minor storyline. It was only given 10-20 minutes.

Now don’t be sad, two out of three ain’t bad. But, I can’t help being sad. The first movie left some big shoes to fill, and this movie did a lot of hit and miss. I rarely praise CGI and Green Screen, but in this movie’s case, it really is done well to a fault. It drags you into a graphic novel through a cinema screen, and it’s just brilliant. There’s some good lines in there, some fun action, and the style itself is always enjoyable to watch. The writing on the main story could have taken up a few notches, but even so, it’s better than most drivel you’ll see in a theater, anyways. Oh, and last but not least, Eva Green’s tits should probably have had their own casting credit, from all the times they are shown in this film. And they are just perfect, in every shot, from every angle, in all lighting. I’m fine with nudity, I don’t particularly enjoy gratuitous sex/sexuality, but in this movie’s case, with so much lacking in the plot, I’ll take what I can get. And now the key question: Should I see it? And my answer is, “I don’t know, maybe?” (Great reviewer, huh?) Some of this movie is absolutely spot on. You will be shown a visual style you will likely have never seen. You will be shown a dark and gritty noire world that’s actually quite engaging. You’ll have some bad lines, you’ll have some good lines. You’ll have some gold, and you’ll have some cheese. And tits, lots of Eva Green’s tits. And when you’ve seen too much of Eva Green’s tits, you’ll be subtly reminded that she, indeed has tits, and they are here for your viewing pleasure in every second, fucking frame. It’s a mixed bag, but a fun bag. You decide!

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(Image Source: http://sincity-2.com/)