Monday, 20 January 2020

The Addams Family (2019)

In 1938 Charles Addams created a cartoon family that would become his legacy. The Addams family was a satirical inversion of your typical American family of the time. The all American family was seen a certain way and this was Addams twisted view on the matter. Addams macabre little family of ghouls, misfits, and monsters has since gone on to become a staple of American pop culture alongside the similarly themed Munster Family with cartoons, TV series, and movies. This 2019 animated movie is apparently a reboot of the classic 1991 movie.

The plot is unfortunately you're average affair which has been played out many many many times before (including the 1993 film 'Addams Family Values' and the basis for the entire 1992 animated series). The Addams move into their new home (I'll get to that) and go about their daily strange lives. All the while Gomez and Morticia are keeping Pugsley and Wednesday unaware of the small local town nearby. Their reason is they know they will come across as weird outcasts to the 'normies' and they don't want Pugsley or Wednesday to deal with it.

As expected Wednesday does eventually discover the outside world and wants to explore it after meeting another local girl her own age. As expected Morticia is firmly against this but struggles to keep Wednesday from exploring. Meanwhile in the town there is an obsessive reality TV host who is wanting to turn the local town into the perfect community; as expected the Addams are getting the way of her vision. Her solution? Get rid of the Addams family.

So firstly as already mentioned, at the start of this movie we see Gomez and Morticia before they are married. We also see how they get the mansion and how they meet Lurch. None of this satisfied me in the slightest. Allow me to elaborate. Firstly where does Morticia live at the very start? It appears as though she's living in the sewers? Eh?? Where is this located? It kinda looks like a period set village. Secondly, after the newlyweds are run out of whatever town they live in, they reach an abandoned loony bin. This asylum becomes their new home, the Addams mansion. I hated this! Surely in Addams lore the mansion has been the family home for generations of Addams before Gomez and Morticia, right? But here they just stumble upon it and basically take it? Does this mean the Addams family are swatting in this abandoned asylum? I mean, they haven't bought it, surely it belongs to the state (?).

This leads me to the introduction of Lurch. Gomez hits Lurch with his car just before they find the abandoned asylum. Turns out Lurch is an ex-patient of the asylum and is somehow just wondering around in the wild. So how did Lurch get into this situation? What happened to the asylum? Why wasn't Lurch switched to another asylum with the other patients? (I'm guessing that's what happened). This also leads me to query Lurch's mental state seeing as he's a patient. He isn't working for the Addams by choice per se, it happened by accident and mentally he's not stable. So with the proper help, he could get well again and this could mean he wouldn't want to be a butler for the Addams. So if you wanna be technical and picky, this plotline basically has a mentally sick person being abused for the Addams gain, almost slavery. They should have just stuck to the original storyline.

Indeed the opening of the movie does lend itself to many questions as I've mentioned. I really didn't like how they handled it because I was left yearning to know more about the origins of the family. Where does Gomez hale from? What was Morticia doing in the sewers? What about the other Addams family members etc...Ripe for a prequel. Alas I really don't like the way they went with the origins for the mansion and Lurch. Also the fact they wanted to live somewhere dangerous and away from people who don't understand them, so they chose New Jersey. Yeah I know its a joke but obviously there are far better, more isolated places they could have gone.

I do like how the characters now resemble the original comic strips from Charles Addams from back in 1938. Neat touch although not entirely necessary to be truthful. As the two 90's movies proved the characters can be highly successful not looking exactly the same. I say this because I've never been a fan of the original look for Gomez. I loved how Morticia seemed to be portrayed as a bit of a gothic slut at the start of the movie with her black knee-high boots, black mini skirt, and black tight-fitting corset. Nice to see the Addams pet octopus (now named Socrates) make an appearance. Oscar Isaac did a great job with Gomez's voice and actually sounded like the late Raul Julia (unsure if that was intentional). But I would have liked to have seen a bit more of Uncle Fester. Must admit I didn't like some of the designs for other Addams family members.

I had been looking forward to this movie ever since I heard about it (I'm a huge Addams fan). And whilst I'm not totally disappointed, this wasn't quite as good as I was hoping for. Visually its gorgeous no doubt. I love how the mansion looks both exterior and interior (would have liked to see more of that really. Mores secret passages etc...) Would have liked to see more of the Addams estate too, the grounds around the house. 

As said the plot is a bit deary and unoriginal leading to screentime with 'regular characters' which, for me, were the boring parts because I just wanted to see the Addams getting up to spooky hijinks. Yes it's for kids but not overtly so, there are some nice tiny touches here and there that will make older folks smile. The small 'IT' gag was appreciated. A quick exorcist visual reference and a clever and quite adult-themed visual gag surrounding Thing being online was amusing. So yeah its solid but I hated what they did with Lurch and the mansion origins, can't get past that. Oh and  the rap song over the end credits is nowhere near as good as MC Hammer's 'Addams Groove'.


Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge (1997)

So back in the mid 90's I was a teenager and only three things mattered in my life, football, movies, and videogames. Twas back in 1996 that I was in the ownership of the much-touted Playstation games console and as it happened I was obsessed with 2D fighters (you see where I'm going with this). Yes anything Capcom was considered an absolute must have if possible. After years of being teased with Street Fighter II in the arcades and only eventually getting to taste the real deal at home via the SNES, I was a Capcomoholic.

So along comes this wacky looking new fighter Darkstalkers. It has all the hallmarks of something I should love, a 2D fighter with the same game mechanics as Street Fighter II but with classic Universal monsters (albeit knock-offs). I gave it a try and predictably loved it. Yeah sure it was essentially just a Street Fighter II clone with different characters but I didn't care. Capcom were (and still are) the masters of 2D fighters and this was no exception.

Moving on a few years and this anime was released in four parts or episodes. Once again at the time I vaguely remember seeing this around in the shops but never seeing it. As I have explained before in previous anime reviews, whilst growing up anime wasn't really my thing. It's only now I have come to appreciate this genre (this review is my first viewing of this particular anime). Once again top anime studios Madhouse Inc ('Wicked City', 'Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust') were in charge so I knew I was in for a solid looking adventure.

The Plot: When it comes to videogame adaptations this is always a sticky issue. Obviously the plot behind most of these fighting games is ridiculous as they have to include all the fighters. But for a videogame no one really cares because no one buys the game for the plot. When it comes to an animated movie things start to get tricky. In this world humans coexist alongside various monsters and ghouls known as Darkstalkers (cos it sounds cool). 

These Darkstalkers (or at least some of them) are in a constant war with each other to see who is the most powerful. Humans are generally terrified of them and tend to hunt them or try to ignore them. Some of the Darkstalkers claim not to be monsters but are misunderstood and simply want to blend in and live their lives. Naturally some humans are OK with this, some are not. Other Darkstalkers are bad and merely use humans for food or slavery or whatever.

The main basis is the Earth hasn't seen sunlight for hundreds of years and has returned back to the days of the horse and cart (for some reason). This is because Dimitri the Vampire was exiled from the dimension where demons/Darkstalkers live and he has basically ruled the Earth with an iron fist. There are some Darkstalkers who are willing to fight back against Dimitri such as Felicia a catwoman hybrid and Donovan, a dhampir (half human half vampire). But wouldn't you know it, a powerful alien arrives on Earth to wipe everyone out who stands against his power, so the Darkstalkers find themselves working together, kinda.

So let's just get right into it. If you're a fan of this franchise then you might like this for the fighting and that's it, maybe, anyone else I'm not so sure. Unfortunately whilst the fighting sequences are pretty good (in places) that's all that's on offer. The rest of the movie is padded out with lots of aimless dialog and timewasting. The animation is, for the most part, top-notch and moves smoothly across the screen. All the characters look fantastic and are very faithful to the original source material including their individual moves. Watching characters face-off against each other is very satisfying to see and it's not disappointing. What was disappointing was the lack of the full roster of characters and how other characters seem to come and go.

The whole story only revolves around a few of the main characters, kinda. Felicia, Morrigan, Demitri, Donovan, Pyron, Phobos (Huitzil), Hsien-Ko (Lei-Lei), Anita, and Bishamon. Out of these characters only Morrigan, Felicia, Demitri, Pyron, and Donovan are actually around for the bulk of the plot. Others merely appear for a scene and then disappear altogether (Gallon/John Talbain and Zabel/Lord Raptor being typical examples). Unfortunately Sasquatch, Viktor, Anakaris, and Rikuo are killed off in quickfire sequences at the start of episode four.

But yeah the plot is nonsense because you simply cannot make a decent plot out of a videogame fighter (unless you maybe focus on one character and even then...). And alas that's where this anime falls down because it's just a load of boring guff until the next fight. I mean there is never any explanation as to how these characters have come to be. I mean vampires, werewolves, and zombies are easily explained, but catwomen? Also, Morrigan's and Ksien-Ko's outfits have always looked ridiculous. Some characters you can work with because they look good (Bishamon), others look stupid. But where did they all come from? Why have humans gone back to the dark ages just because of a lack of sunlight? etc...

I also found Pyron to be outrageously over powerful and the fact he was beaten in the end seemed inconceivable frankly. He is able to defeat almost all the Darkstalkers quite easily, often with the same powerful move. Yet then at the end he is beaten with one supernatural move from Donovan (which I didn't quite follow). I still don't really understand why Pyron needs the Huitzil robot drones either. He built them and in the end destroys them all, why not just switch them off?

Don't get me wrong this isn't an outright fail of an anime, not by a long shot. It's definitely not a masterpiece for sure but its certainly a solid effort and adapting this videogame. Overall the visuals are great and really atmospheric. Like I said all the characters are beautifully recreated and some of them do get some great sequences. Donovan vs Bishamon is probably the best fight both visually and from a story point of view (Bishamon is probably my fave character after Gallon). If you like the videogame then you might like this, its leagues better than the US cartoon series that's for sure.


Friday, 3 January 2020

Ninja Scroll (1993)

Ah another anime movie I saw back in the 90's because I felt I had to see it as it was seen as the right/popular thing to do/see (so easily influenced when you're young). Yes in my early to mid-teens (can't remember) I did see this anime (somehow) after seeing and hearing lots about it...probably mainly in Forbidden Planet. As I recall I didn't actually like this film upon seeing it (same with most animes at the time) because it simply wasn't really my thing at the time. Back then my young self was all about Arnie and JCVD so this didn't really fit into my wheelhouse.

So seeing as I'm on this little anime binge right now its time to revisit this supernatural samurai epic. Firstly what's it all about? Well like other anime films the plot is actually quite simplistic. Taking place in feudal Japan, Jubei Kibagami is a Ronin of sorts, a wandering masterless samurai looking for work. Upon rescuing the female ninja Kagero Jubei finds himself caught up in a battle against the eight devils of Kimon who are a team of supernatural ninjas hired by the Yamashiro clan to protect their secret gold mining operation. The gold are payments to the Toyotomi Shogun of the Dark for protection. In turn the Shogun of the Dark wants to use the gold to buy Spanish weaponry to overthrow the current Japanese government. Bottom line, Jubei and Kagero must defeat all the bad guys to protect the government.

Visuals and Animation: So let's just get down to the nitty-gritty. This film looks amazing, stunning, sumptuous. The director is once again Yoshiaki Kawajiri (of 'Wicked City' and 'Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust' fame) and it is obvious in the style. The animation is silky smooth throughout with tonnes of tiny details. For example there are many simple shots of nature, such as fireflies, rippling water, trees, birds etc...which are there merely to add atmosphere in the moment but at the same time are beautifully drawn and animated. There is absolutely no slacking on any frame of this animation I assure you. Every frame looks like an exquisite watercolour painting from the bamboo forest to the mystical woodlands to the shimmering bodies of water. Add to that various striking  sequences that utilise only one or two colours such as red and black or shades of blue which look very dynamic and comicbook-esque.

Violence and Non-Consensual Sex: As you might expect with a sword based anime feature there is indeed a lot of violence...and it's amazing. The ninja based action is nothing short of breathtaking as characters whizz around the screen slicing and dicing in super-smooth animation. I think the first fight we see sets out the stall for the film. A group of ninja is massacred whilst investigating an attack on a local village by one of the eight demons of Kimon. They are brutally cut to pieces by his flying blade which then culminates in their leader having his arms ripped off (out of their sockets) in a shower of claret. Said demon does actually eventually get his own blade firmly implanted in the centre of his skull. There are some amazing katana fights between Jubei and various villains which are heightened by the sound effects which really add some weight to the proceedings. And of course you have the obligatory supernatural elements of gore and trickery that are a staple diet of these productions.

Another staple of Kawajiri's animes seems to be nudity and rape (gulp!). Yes once again the lead female character Kagero seems to be more of a sexual toy for certain fantasies rather than a strong female character (although she still is that). Now whilst 'Wicked City' was more bizarre with its body horror element this film feels a bit more realistic, almost. Sure the characters doing the rape are supernatural demons but they still have human form and are generally dressed in historic attire. So yeah there are nipples and sucking and fingering and rope bondage and licking...all whilst being unconscious. The fact that Kagero's body is covered in a poisonous toxic that can't be cured makes the porn aspects seem more dangerously kinky and vindicating if that's at all possible, or just me. 

The other rather hilarious and uncomfortable plot point is the fact that Dakuan informs Jubei that the only way to rid himself of the poison he gave him (Dakuan deliberately injects poison into Jubei via a ninja star to blackmail him into doing his bidding) is to have sex with Kagero. Apparently the toxins across Kagero's body will combat and reverse the poison in Jubei's body. So not much pressure there then! Unfortunately for Kagero Jubei declines (she fancies him) but later on he kisses her and cures himself that way (so why didn't Dakuan just say that?).

Representation: Yes there is LGBTQ representation in this old anime film. It seems in times gone by people have been happy to showcase gay characters despite what the far-left Twitterati try to force down our throats. Gemma's right-hand man Yurimaru is his male lover! He even pushes back on a fellow female villain's advances! How about that then! We don't see any man love, surprising when you think about it, but the representation and lovers angst is definitely there.

Old Wise Men: Another aspect of these animes that seems to keep popping up is the wise old man character, something I have pointed out in previous reviews. Yep in this story Jubei and Kagero are aided by the short, Yodi-esque, troll-like character of Dakuan. Dakuan is a government spy charged with helping Jubei kill the demons. As already stated he does so by poisoning Jubei and promising him the cure after he completes the mission. As you might expect Dakuan is one of these characters that hides much of his skills, only showing the odd glimmer of what he can do. We know he has some kind of special powers and we know he can move quickly (despite his appearance) and is an expert in stealth. Again, like other similar characters, Dakuan is also the comedic relief in the film.

As for the other characters, its the usual anime cliche truth be told. The main protagonist Jubei is your standard good looking western-esque anime hero with a slim wiry physique, lightning katana skills, and long flowing dark hair. His female partner is again your standard attractive western-esque looking heroine with a slim physique, a slightly tomboy-ish hairstyle, and also lightning fast weapons skills. 

Most of the main bad guys also have a very cliched look about them which we've seen many times now (thanks to films like this). Himuro Gemma is a large hulking handsome western-esque looking villain with a lantern jaw and almost invincible fighting skills (but he is a demon). Whereas Yurimaru is the typical calm but deadly handsome skinny villain who dresses all in white, has even longer flowing hair and looks almost religious. He is able to generate electricity through his body and conducts it down a steel wire he strangles people with. The other demons literally come across like a Capcom fighting roster. There's a ninja bloke who can utilise shadows. A sexy chick with living snake tattoos. A massive bloke who can turn his skin to stone. Another sexy chick who can manipulate gunpowder in all manner of weird ways. And a hunchback with a living hornet's nest in his back!

In short almost everyone is very good looking with lovely straight flowing hair and great muscle structure that is either just right, hulking, or monstrous. At the same time there is also that typical exaggerated facial anime style where characters have extremely strong jaws, chiseled cheekbones, and long chins. Their features are basically very prominent...with perfect hair. Oh and everyone is really fit, even the people that don't look it. Can make you a bit self-conscious.

As I've hinted at here and there, nowadays this film will come across as rather unoriginal. But that's only because many properties have more than likely been highly influenced by other properties that were originally influenced by this anime. You can spot so many ideas that will have popped up in so many flicks over the years, not to mention videogames. Hell this anime is almost like a
Samurai Shodown movie. That's not a bad thing, I love it! Overall the sizzling action sequences, hyper turbo characters, and absolutely gorgeous artwork and animation are just so good and engaging I can't not give this a perfect score. Thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this. A true cult classic, an all-round epic, a work of art.