Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Quick Movie Review

Death Trance (2005, Japan) | Rating: 2.5/5

I first watched this movie through a dear friend of mine that I'm sure some of you are familiar with from my old online show. The main appeal of this movie was 1) Dir en grey contributed to majority of the soundtrack, 2) Tak Sakaguchi is a lovely piece of eye candy and a pretty good action star, and 3) the story is quite interesting. I'll admit that this isn't the greatest movie in the world, but it is entertaining. The story might be a little confusing, but once you strip away the extra stuff then it's easier to digest.

Paris is Burning (1990, USA) | Rating: 4/5

With the slight mainstream popularity of drag queens through shows like RuPaul's Drag Race, this might open the minds further into the foundation and history of it for those who want to look a little further into drag culture. I've heard of this movie before, but I had no idea it had to deal with drag culture and homosexual minorities until I watched this in class last semester. It has a great insight on the lifestyle, mindset, and even vocabulary that came from these inspiring icons. After watching it, I hoped to find a follow up to this piece or at least an update on what drag culture has evolved to in present day.

Looper (2012, USA) | Rating: 4.5/5

I've heard some really good things about this movie and it seemed like Joseph Gordon-Levitt was one of the stand out actors of last year. This wasn't something I was rushing to see in theaters like some people due to my iffy feelings toward the storyline, but experiencing it at home was something I don't regret. I'm sure the impact of this movie would've been greater in a theater full of people, but even without those elements this movie surprisingly blew me away. I couldn't help but constantly praise it. As the movie states in the beginning that this isn't a time travel movie, the focus is elsewhere and I'm glad that that isn't the plot.

Please Vote For Me (2007, South Africa/Denmark) | Rating: 3.5/5

Just a little warning, you might see an awful lot of documentaries in these quick reviews from me. I'm taking two documentary classes. Anyway, this observational piece set in China was quite entertaining and it was much needed after watching such a heavy emotion filled documentary, which is below. It has a lot of comical moments as well as some that will make you want to hug the children immediately to comfort them. The crazy reality of this election process set in this school is that it accurately reflects politics here. Sad truths~

Children of Leningradsky (2005, Poland) | Rating: 4/5

I don't know if it's because Daichi Miura tugged on my heartstrings with his perfection or what, but I felt so weak watching this in class. It was so tragic. The situation seems worse since this is focused on homeless children. The documentary does a great job of convincing the viewers to sympathize for these children and their situation. Some of the students in my class and perhaps even other audience members felt upset with the lack of participation from the filmmaker during certain situations. To counter the sympathy you feel for these children, it also challenges your emotions when they do things that are wrong as well. I recommend tissues for this one.

If there's something you want me to review (or want a more in depth review of the movies above or previous ones), check out this post on how you can submit requests.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Anime Review: Princess Princess

Title: Princess Princess (プリンセス・プリンセス)
Alternate Title: PuriPuri, PriPri
Seiyū: Fukuyama Jun, Paku Romi, Kakihara Tetsuya, Kamiya Hiroshi
Genre: School, Comedy
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Episode Count: 12
Synopsis: When Kouno Tooru transfers late in the semester to an all-boys academy, he's shocked to find the warm welcome he receives. Little does he know that his warm welcome is about to get a little more complicated. Tooru has been nominated to become part of the "Princess System". Three beautiful freshmen boys are selected each year in order to provide moral support to their fellow students. In order to do this, they must dress like girls!

Before you start this series, please remember that it is not a yaoi/shounen-ai series. There are hints of it, but it's not the overall drive of the series. If you're expecting character A to start dating character B while character C gets jealous, you're going to be disappointed. This is a comedic school series where three cute freshmen boys are required to dress as girls to up the school moral. It's not an ideal situation for those boys, but there are perks to the job. Free meals, uniforms and essentials are among those perks. For our main character, Kouno Tooru, those perks are enough to get him to sign on.

His fellow princesses are the gorgeous blonde Shihoudani Yuujirou and the reluctant cutie Yutaka Mikoto. While Shihoudani seems to easily embrace his job as a princess, Yutaka is frequently rebellious. There's a reason why he doesn't want to dress like a princess, but he isn't given much of a choice. He's afraid that being a princess makes him less manly. On top of that, what would his girlfriend think if she found out he was dressing like a girl?

The princesses aren't without leadership though. They have a mentor in the student council president, Arisada Shuya. He's a former princess, having served in the previous year's group. Along with Arisada, the rest of the student council frequently interacts with the princesses. Each has their own unique talents. Their class president, Sakamoto Akira, is sweet and kind, but easily intimidated due to feeling he's in his brother's shadow. Another person who stood out was, fellow student, Natashou Kaoru. He steals every scene he's in as the flamboyant leader of the home economics club. He's also a genius costume designer who only thinks in terms of his designs.

Underneath the silly premise, the characters are all well-developed. They have problems and issues that are quite normal for most kids their age. The way they come together and approach these problems often lead to comedic moments. If you can get past what may seem silly, you'll find yourself wanting to invest in their lives. There was one big issue with the series though. By the time you reach episode 12, you're left feeling as if there should have been more. What happens to the Princesses through the rest of the year?

Beautiful, sparkling characters are combined with soft coloring to create a romantic feel to the series. The voice actors were mostly people I recognized from series like Hunter x Hunter (2011), Bakemonogatari, Bleach, and Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Give this one a try if you want a sweet, comedy series filled with pretty boys who happen to wear dresses. You may find yourself wanting to run off and buy the manga just so you can read more about them.

Rating: 3/5

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Quick Movie Review: Classroom Edition

I've mentioned this plenty of times that I am a film major, so I get to watch a lot of different movies that I wouldn't normally watch or know of. So, here's some films that I watched last semester.

The Machinist (2004, USA) | Rating: 3/5

I've heard of this movie before and the extremes that Christian Bale put into his body for the role, but I wasn't completely sure what it was about. On the surface, it didn't seem like my type of movie, so it was interesting having to watch it in a classroom setting. First of all, I was shocked by Bale's body image and the story, for me, was pretty easy to keep up with. It may take a couple watches who don't catch minor and perhaps major details though. The movie was quite enjoyable, but it reminded me of another cult classic which I can't mention without giving away a major spoiler.

The Dreamers (2003, France) | Rating: 2.5/5

I immediately groaned at the sight of a certain actor from Funny Games U.S., but I slowly got over my little grudge from the movie. This movie has some interesting plot intersections that probably require a second viewing to fully grasp everything the movie is trying to tell its audience. It has an incestuous relationship between a brother and sister, but then we have this third character squeezing himself it which is more or less the focus of the movie. It also caters to film buffs as it references a lot about film culture. The movie is decent and the relationships didn't make me uncomfortable, but the ending was a little disappointing.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2005, USA) | Rating: 3/5

This is definitely not a movie I would've seen on my own, but this movie was quite good. It's based off a true story and I believe a book that one of the daughters wrote. It was pretty cool that they incorporated the actual family at the end as well. Although it may be a bit frustrating to watch with the time period difference, it gives a realistic and perhaps even a more accurate depiction of housewives back then. It's an inspiring story and I doubt this strayed too far from the truth.

Trekkies (1997, USA) | Rating: 3.5/5

If you want an accurate depiction of a dedicated fanbase, this is the documentary for you. Watching this documentary had me mentally reflect on being part the cosplay life at anime conventions. The standards and treatment is very similar. I think this is a good film to watch for those who don't understand nerd/geek culture and their obsessions. They might not be able to completely grasp everything that comes with being involved in a fandom, but they will have some sort of idea. I know I learned a lot from the Star Trek universe through this.

Good Hair (2009, USA) | Rating: 4/5

I could probably do a full length review of this comedic documentary, but I'll leave that up for request for anyone who is interested. I've seen this many times before watching it in class and I still find this film full of some good information about ethnic hair and black perspectives on beauty. This also might explain why it takes a whole day for black women to get their hair done. Not only is this informative, but it is entertaining through the interviews and Chris Rock's commentary and delivery. In a way, I hope this brings up discussions about controversies with ethnic hair care and beauty standards in the black community.

If there's something you want me to review (or want a more in depth review of the movies above or previous ones), check out this post on how you can submit requests.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Review: Django Unchained

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Language: English
Rating: R
Running Time: 165 minutes

I probably should've posted this earlier, but I guess it isn't too late to say something about this movie. I wasn't in a rush to see it, but my mother convinced me otherwise.

Dr. King Schultz, a former dentist and German bounty hunter, sets out on a trip to find Django and set him free from slavery to help him identify three men. After succeeding with the goal, their bond becomes stronger and Django becomes Schultz's deputy bounty hunter, collecting profit from each body. Soon they set their sights on a ruthless plantation owner by the name of Calvin Candie where Django's wife has been held for quite some time.

I must admit that I had some concerns with this movie. It had nothing to do with the subject matter of slavery or the fact that Tarantino was directing, but it was the usage of the word "nigger" (the infamous "n-word"). I don't particularly like this word at all. I don't care who says it either, but I was afraid that the "n-word" would ruin my enjoyment of this movie, especially with Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson being part of it. Despite Leonardo DiCaprio being uncomfortable with saying it, which he should, I knew that Foxx and Jackson would have no problem tossing it around here and there. Much to my surprise, it wasn't carelessly tossed like a lot movies with profanity. I don't care for excessive profanity unless it has a purpose. It sounds odd and it's a little hard to explain. Anyway, it didn't bother too much, whether accurate or not, unfortunately my mother thought otherwise and felt uncomfortable with the language at times.

Anyway, I was really happy I saw this movie in theaters instead of waiting for the DVD release. It was quite a pleasant experience! This wasn't a movie about slavery or the hardships of being in that era. This was a revenge film. A topic that Tarantino has retold many times, but in very entertaining ways. He even cameoed with a small part.

Although the movie is quite lengthy, it wasn't bothersome as the story was very intriguing and yet again...entertaining. The atmosphere was realistic and everything transitioned smoothly. There is a great balance of comedy, action, and a little drama for audiences to grasp onto characters and feel something for, even if they were small. There might be a couple parts that drag a little, but it's usually worth it for the action. It's good to slow down, because oversaturating your movie with flashy explosions, high octane chases, and countless fight scenes can bring a good movie down to a bad one.

Lastly, I want to commend the actors of this movie. They went beyond my expectations. Foxx and Jackson toned themselves down, but still kept their energy and themselves through their characters. As I mentioned before, I was afraid of their language the most. Foxx was very subtle, but still maintained a lot of power as Django. He also made a smooth transition as the front man of the movie when it called for it. Christoph Waltz also did a great job as Dr. King Schultz. For part of the movie, he seemed more of the main character than Django, but still maintained a good balance of focus on Django through majority of the movie. The person who people are most impressed by is DiCaprio as the evil Calvin Candie. He did an amazing job showing no mercy and staying in character when he cut his hand during a scene. The supporting characters were also very enjoyable. Jackson surprised me with his role, which I won't go into detail about. Kerry Washington didn't have many speaking parts, but her role was pretty good as well.

If you haven't seen this movie, I have no idea what you're waiting for. This is a very entertaining and enjoyable movie to watch. I will give warning on the language if you're sensitive to profanity, but to me I don't think they over did it or anything. This is a great revenge flick that I'm sure Tarantino is proud of.

Rating: 4/5

If there's something you want me to review, check out this post on how you can submit requests.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Review: JYJ's Jaejoong's "I/Mine"

JYJ Jaejoong - I/Mine (2012, South Korea) Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: One Kiss, All Alone

Jaejoong's solo EP was at the top of my list of highly anticipated releases the moment I read that it'd be rock-influenced and self-composed. The pre-released track, entitled “One Kiss,” generated a lot of buzz as soon as hit the airwaves, but I opted to wait for the full album to give it a good listen. With the exception of “Maze,” Jae's solos have never really stuck with me, but the orchestral arrangement in this song, reminiscent of the classic rock ballads I grew up listening to, instantly drew me in. I can play this from start to finish and find no evident flaws aside from a few awkwardly delivered notes. Those are more than offset, however, by his raw, emotional vocals that begin on almost an even-keel level, then gradually build up as they move towards the chorus where they eventually take wings, soaring above the instrumentals. 

The mv for  "Mine" was beautifully filmed, borrowing many of the dark, vampiric elements found within your average visual kei pv but somehow adding a unique twist to it. The strong themes seem to allude to his personal and coughverypublic struggles. The brilliance of this music video is that it provides a lot of complex imagery for the viewer to interpret however they please. I was already formulating theories a minute into my first watch.

Unfortunately, the song itself fell a little short for me. Though I enjoyed the grand symphonic accompaniment and piano interlude, the vocal transitions were awkward and disjointed. Even the aggressive metal riffs and dynamic drum sequence couldn't make up for that. I'm usually a fan of unconventional vocal styles but I didn't appreciate the strained edge to Jaejoong's voice as he belted out the chorus. It sounded inauthentic to me.

A mid-tempo alternative to the previous track can be found in 내안 가득히”. Jaejoong shows off his impressive range over a softer modern pop rock sound thats accented by a simple, steady beat. Overall, it's a pretty pleasant track to listen to if you're in the mood for song with an inspirational and hopeful vibe to it. 

나만의 위로” begins with an introspective acoustic balladry which carries on for much longer than necessary. After the second chorus the song progresses into an intense guitar driven symphony arrangement. Jaejoong's powerful vocal presentation offers much needed depth to an otherwise typical kdrama insert song but the track ends so abruptly it seemed unfinished.

Here it is – the last, and final, song on the album. “All Alone” is a great choice to finish on with its poignant melody supported by soft, layered harmonies.  Though some of the lyrics are repeated ad-nauseam, that can easily be discounted because its sung with such conviction.

With the exception of "Mine," this album is a commendable effort of a seasoned musician experimenting in a genre outside of what currently sells well in the industry. It might not be my personal favorite, but it's definitely worth listening to - and might even convince more listeners to try out k-rock, a good thing, right?

Monday, February 18, 2013


Greetings,  cult-followers

My names Emi, and I'm another writer that'll be contributing to Muddy Cult this year. I expect that all three of us will collaborate well to bring you material that is both curated and original in its content. With that said,  I think I'll leave you with a short intro.

I'm a twenty-something college student who is passionate about Asian entertainment, social justice, and art in its many forms. My interests fly all over the place but mostly revolve around music, books, fashion, and film. I'm easy-going, open-minded and willing to respect peoples' opinions, even if they differ from my own. It's an honor to have been granted the opportunity to share reviews with you and I hope you enjoy them. As always, feel free to ask us questions, make requests and send feedback. Thank you for your wonderful support!

Friday, February 15, 2013

V-log: First V-log of 2013 & Im Yoon Taek Passes Away

I had such a hard time getting this uploaded for some reason. Anyway, here's an update on everything that's going on with Muddy Cult, my YouTube channel, and any other projects or postings I've mentioned in past v-logs or posts.

+ V-log: Im Yoon Taek (Ulala Session) Passes Away

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Recommended Music Videos: Anti-Valentine's Edition

I'm a little late. I'd intended to get this up yesterday, but here it is. As with the last entry, please think of it as something silly. Enjoy the music for what it is. I hope everyone had a good day whether you had a valentine or not. Remember to tell the people you care about that you love them today! It might just brighten the day of a friend who needs that little pick-me-up!

If any of you remember the song 'In Vain', Hizumi was more than ready to dominate you with sex. I don't think he's quite ready for that commitment ladies. However, you can always use your submissive side to your advantage and try to win him over. Proceed with caution. I bet he likes whips and bondage.

The ladies of miss A aren't ready for a man to take care of them. In fact, they don't need one. Trying your luck with these independant ladies might hurt your pride when you attempt to pay for the dinner bill. I know, I know. These girls aren't the typical Korean type you're used to. If you want a girl to whine and act cute rather than take care of herself, you're looking in the wrong place. 

In order to get Yuuki to settle down and stop showing off his thong, you're going to have to tie him up. That might not even help your situation though. Try taking away his access to devices with cameras. You'd better be prepared for a long fight with this one. It's going to be an uphill battle. 

Jui isn't quite ready to settle down. He's having a bit too much fun hanging out with Jun. Keep a watch on your heart. Those pretty boys may try to seduce you with just a look. Be extra careful with your virtues around these two!

Not all vampires are out to draw you into an eternal love affair like Asagi. Jin is more of the type to draw you in and seduce what he needs from you. Don't worry. You'll love every minute of the attention that he'll give you before leaving your bed cold. 

Ryouga and his friends aren't ready to fall in love right now. Let yourself explore desire and see where it'll lead you. It may not end up giving you a half naked woman with a giant bug. Whatever it leads you to, enjoy the ride while it lasts.

Byou's ready to star in your personal fantasy. He's brought you a rose. Everything is all set and ready. Climb onto your bed and relax. Before you know it, you'll have slipped into that fantasy world where he's waiting for you. When you wake up, he'll be on to the next fangirl that's waiting for him.

When Ikuma decided to spend time with the beautiful vampire, Exo-chika, I doubt he knew what would be waiting for him. Follow her into the world of darkness that she's led Ikuma into. This is a world of sin. Liberate yourself from your fears. Hold onto the hope that you can keep them both when the sun rises again.

G-Dragon isn't expecting any relationship with you to last. He's ready for you to break his heart. This is your chance to prove him wrong. Can you do what others haven't? Show him that you won't hurt him and maybe, just maybe, he won't run in the end.

Proceed with caution with these ladies. Loving one might be exciting. Wronging one could leave you with more than just a woman scorned. It could end with your untimely death in the end. If you're willing to take the risk, then you might get what you want in the end. One mistake and...too late for you.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Recommended Music Videos: Valentine's Edition

Happy Valentine's Day!

Whether you're involved in a relationship or not, Valentine's Day is often a time of mixed feelings. It may be because you can't be with the person you love. It may be because you have no special someone. Then again, it may be because your special person is being annoying. Love is a very complicated emotion. It's not all good nor bad. Most of us just enjoy the holiday because it means a lot of chocolate and candy hearts.

Regardless of your feelings on the holiday, I've decided to do something a little fun. I've put together nine eligible bachelors and one bachelorette in the form of music videos. Take this with a grain of salt. I don't intend to be offensive to any fangirls who may read this. There will be a second half to this post that I'll get up tomorrow. That one will be the opposite with songs that feel very anti-love and commitment. Feel free to comment as always. I'd like to hear feedback from the Muddy Cult readers!

Leave it to Kirito to paint a the scene of a lover who will destroy everything to leave you lost and alone. Once he's accomplished this, he'll rebuild the world and show you his vision of the future. It's unclear whether this is a healthy relationship to be in, but it's certain that Kirito isn't the type to give up on what he wants. Approach your future with Angelo's dictator frontman with caution.

This is a man who will love you forever. No matter what the future brings, he's willing to walk hand in hand with you toward it. Even if the time comes when you forget him, he'll still stand by your side and strive to reach your heart. Don't let his age fool you. His life experience only adds to his charms. Kiyoharu won't play around with your heart like some of the younger men will.

Oh Asagi. It was inevitable that a creature of the night would sneak his way onto this listing. Our dear vampire vocalist will condemn you to an eternity of endless darkness. Yet, he won't abandon you along the way. He'll guide you through every step of your damnation with a firm, loving hand. If you want commitment ladies, this is the one for you. To escape his love, you'll have to endure a big stake through the heart or burning alive in the sun! You can't get much more committed than that!

Hyde might be gone for most of your relationship. You can be assured though that every night before he goes to sleep that he's thinking of you and the life you have together. He might not come home tomorrow or the next day. His friends may take up more of his time than you'd like, but eventually he'll make his way back into your arms. You can sleep well knowing that you own his heart even if he's miles away from you.

Your blossoming relationship with Atsushi Sakurai may be the last one you ever have. Life with a gothic prince such as Sakurai-san is bound to have some side effects on your health. Whether he's a vampire or another sort of demon, it's quite certain that his darker charms will keep you spellbound for centuries to come. If nothing else, that hypnotic stare and smooth voice will lure you into his web.

Gackt is capable of having deep affectionate feelings for a person. The trouble is getting him to narrow this down to one person. He may hurt your feelings by flirting with that cute girl down the street. He may break your heart over and over by stealing a kiss from the hot guy he's been spending a questionable amount of time with. In the end, no matter how much he hurts you, he always tries to make up for it. If you can handle his playboy ways, Gackt will always come back to you in the end. 

Beni is the type of woman who'll support you even if you don't fall head over heels for her. She's scared of rejection, but she's hopeful that you might give her a chance. This is a woman with a big heart and a lot of love to give. Her heart is open to you. All you have to do is reach out and make the first move. 

Kyo is a complicated man. He's rarely one to let his emotions spill to the surface with the weight of truth behind them. However, that doesn't mean he is incapable of feeling nor telling the truth. He's a man who will protect himself with a carefully crafted lie. If you break his heart, he'll keep his pain secret. It'll take a bit of work for you to find a way through the shell he uses to protect himself. Once you have, he won't let go easily.

Inaba Koshi is a simple, honest man. If you fall in love with him, you can be guaranteed that he'd be loyal and dedicated to assuring that you're happy. The safety and happiness of his loved ones are the most important things to a man like this. He's a protector, a nurturing soul. Loving such a man is likely as close to having your own Prince Charming as you're going to get. 

Tatsurou is usually a fun, outgoing guy. You're guaranteed to never have a dull moment with him in your life. He's also capable of being romantic. Tatsurou will share his umbrella with you when you're caught out in the rain. It may take him awhile to recover if you decide to leave him. He has a deep heart that could be easily broken. Treat him with care and remember to enjoy the small things in life. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Movie Review: Cinderella (2006)

 Alternate Title: 신데렐라
Starring: Do Ji-Won, Shin Se-Kyung, Ahn Gyu-Ryun, You Da-In, Jeon So-Min
Directed by: Bong Man-Dae
Genre: Horror
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
Rating: Not Rated
Run time: 97 minutes
Synopsis: Seeking the much-desired quality of ul-jjang (the perfect face), 17-year old Hyunsu's friends are envious that she has a plastic surgeon for a mother. On their summer vacation together, she watches as her friends get plastic sugery and then one by one begin to mysteriously die. Hyunsu's mother holds the key to dark secrets that have been tucked away until now.

Cinderella is, on the surface, a horror film about women who die after having plastic surgery. Beneath this first impression, the movie is about the lengths that a mother would go to in order to protect and care for her child. Yoon-hee is a very overprotective mother. She's a successful plastic surgeon who operates her business out of the lower floor of her home.  Her daughter, Hyunsu, isn't allowed to go do the things that her friends are. She can't go clubbing with them or skip her classes even though it's summer vacation. Yoon-hee doesn't want to risk that anything could happen to her daughter. This overprotective nature extends even down to Hyunsu's beauty care routine. Often, her mother will even bathe her or apply spa treatments to her face.

Over the course of summer vacation, Hyunsu's friends begin to come to her mother for plastic surgery. These girls are by no means ugly in terms of physical beauty. At the most, they would be average in Korean societal standards. The only one of her friends not to go under the knife is the tomboyish Seong-Eun. It's Seong-Eun that Hyunsu is closest too and often confides in. The other girls seem to hate Seong-Eun, but Hyunsu ignores their feelings toward the tomboy. It's unclear whether the other girls have shunned Seong-Eun because she's uninterested in the typical Korean obsession with beauty or because of Hyunsu's closeness with her.

As the girls have their surgeries, they begin to see and hear strange things under the influence of the anaesthetic. These strange things happen even after their surgeries are over. 'I'll make you pretty.' It's the common theme through out as the ghostly figure of a girl is seen. People begin to die after having the overwhelming desire to injure their recently altered faces. What is Yoon-hee's connection to these deaths other than having operated on the teenagers?

Hyunsu has never been allowed down in the basement of her home. It's a place that her mother has never wanted her to go. What's hidden in there? Exploring the basement, she finds a photograph of a severely burned child that has been labeled 'Hyunsu before surgery.' Was this her? Will visiting her father, whom her mother divorced years earlier, give Hyunsu any insight into what's going on?

At this point in the film, we're beginning to realize that all is not what it seems. The most important themes are the obsession with beauty and a mother's love. How many secrets are hidden from Hyunsu? How will these secrets effect her as things begin unravelling? Again, this wasn't a film that I found frightening. However, it did provoke some feelings on a different level. I found myself feeling sympathy for Hyunsu, despite how spoiled she was. However, it was the ghost that made me feel the most sorrow. I won't go into detail as to why because I'd rather not give any further spoilers. Was the price for beauty worth the pain that it causes?

Rating: 3/5

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Review: American Horror Story: Asylum

Title: American Horror Story: Asylum
Starring: Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, Zachary Quinto, Lily Rabe, Sarah Paulson, James Cromwell
Language: English
Genre: Horror, Drama, Thriller, Mystery
Episodes: 13

Set in 1964 in Briarcliff Mental Institution, the story revolves around a handful of characters ranging from nuns, doctors, and patients. All of their stories, from the past and present, intertwine with each other to a dramatic and possibly horrifying experience for both the characters and the viewers.

I know normally wouldn't review a non-Asian TV series here, but this is something that deserves a review. As a fan of the first season of American Horror Story, I was pleased that they were starting something new and unrelated from the previous as I have no idea where they would've gone anyway. I was also pretty excited with the setting being in an asylum. There was plenty of potential and the series brought something new and somewhat daring to television. It wasn't a perfect series, but it satisfied me enough between walkers, drag queens, cupcakes, and pageant brats. Don't judge me!

The first episode began in present day with Maroon 5's Adam Levine making a cameo to lure more fans with his "sex appeal". The viewers are also introduced to the infamous Bloodyface as well as the characters that we will be following throughout the series. It was an uneasy start, but the first season brought on uncertainties as well. So, I stuck with it and realized that this season faces the same problems that many movie sequels have. Too much yet not enough of something. This problem causes me to compare with the first season, unfortunately, even though they are unrelated storywise.

While the first season had a handful of characters that you can distinguish by using their names and pointing out conflicts, Asylum went overboard with characters which caused the anthology of stories to become convoluted and extremely dialogue heavy. There is so much going on with each character, but none of it pushes the story forward or is clear enough to explain to anyone afterwards without using Wikipedia synopsis to cheat. I'm not sure how many viewers had problems following along with the story like I did (and Ophelia), but this was very problematic. With each episode, I came in with an open mind and optimism that maybe the season will pick up and pull me in like the first. Unfortunately, it never happened and I became frustratingly eager for the series to end by midpoint.

I understand what they were trying to do with the story set at that time in an asylum. There's tons of potential and I'll give some kudos for the attempt and being different from the usual asylum tales, but that's where the compliments end aside from good visuals and the Lana character. All good of the season was overshadowed by the negatives.

I suppose I could give some examples of what I mean. In the two part episode called "I Am Anne Frank", a subplot is form through a temporary character who believes that she is the real Anne Frank and mistakes Dr. Arden as a Nazi doctor. Once her character is "fixed", there is no reference to her ever again nor did it move the main story forward in any way. There's also the sprinkle of creatures here and there that are completely ineffective, ranging from the Angel of Death to aliens. Everyone went from normal to insane too quickly, which made it distractedly unrealistic. There's also the careless execution of gore and inappropriately placed sex scenes that made me cringe inside.

Lastly, my final complaint that I'll mention in this review lies within the last episode which I think was longer than it should've been. While watching it, there was a certain point where I was sure that the season was over, but it just kept going unnecessarily adding more ridiculous elements to an already convoluted but somewhat complete package. The writers just had to make it more dramatic and weird with character death, cancer, children making everything happier, and aliens. I think it possibly killed what little love I had left for Lana, which was probably the only character I felt anything for and could somewhat follow with minimal confusion.

Overall, I'm really hoping that the third installment is way better than this. Any award or positive recognition this season has received was undeserving...except maybe Jessica Lange's performance...kinda. By amping up what made the first season so great, caused this season to fall short and lose all appeal for me. I will definitely be cautious when the third season premieres.

Rating: 2/5

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Quick Movie Reviews

The Apparition (2012)/Rating: 1/5
Starring: Ashley Green, Tom Felton, Sebastian Stan
You'll find nothing frightening or particularly new about The Apparition. It offers no real scares or depth at all. The storyline seemed very rushed with the trailer actually providing more of a story than the film did. The premise that 'once you believe, you die" wasn't quite what it was made out to be. Watch this one if you want to see Ashley Greene and Tom Felton chew on some scenery.

The Possession (2012)/Rating: 2/5
Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Natasha Calis
As with The Apparition, I didn't feel as if the Possession delivered any real scares. The story is based upon the supposed true tale of a dybbuk box, but deviates entirely from that. Clyde and his wife have divorced leaving their two children hanging in the balance between them. The youngest, Em, is having the hardest time of it. Of course, she's the one drawn to the box and possessed. Needless to say, this felt more like an allegory on the horrors of divorce than a real horror film. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the typical tough, but loving father figure he made famous in Supernatural.

Flight (2012)/Rating: 2/5
Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman
I really wasn't too fond of this one at all. It's about an airline pilot who manages to crash land a plane that's malfunctioning. He also happens to be very drunk and high on cocaine at the time. I was rather repulsed by needless nudity and profanity. Another thing I disliked was how the storyline seemed to glorify Denzel's character's drunken escapades. I didn't feel like the movie was as much about overcoming addictions to find redemption as it was the main character being allowed to descend further into addiction. 

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)/Rating: 3/5
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Peter Stormare
Go into this movie expecting to see a foul mouthed, strong brother and sister duo battling witches because that's exactly what you'll get. There's enough action to keep you going while the makeup and costumes are quite interesting. I'm always interested in the detail that's put into weapons in these types of movies. Keep an eye out for the character Edward. He's not cgi like most trolls would be in movies these days. Instead, he's an actor in an animatronic suit. Gemma Arterton is more than just a pretty face. She's capable in action scenes to stand up beside Jeremy Renner (more famous as the Avengers' Hawkeye). 

Hotel Transylvania (2012)/Rating: 2/5
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Selena Gomez
As an animated flick about an overprotective vampire father running a resort for monsters was bound to be a hit around the Halloween season. There are some cute moments with Mavis (Dracula's daughter) being a pouty little bat or the werewolf's multitude of puppies being terrors. Overall, there were quite a few jokes that would have gone over the heads of children. The real draw here is seeing what Genndy Tartakovsky could do with  cgi. If you're wondering where you know that name, it's because he likely created some of your favorite cartoon shows such as Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory, Samurai Jack as well as the Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Review: Warm Bodies

Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Language: English
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 97 minutes

I'm sure some people were quite skeptical about this movie. It's easy to compare this to Zombieland or Twilight just by looking at the surface. Either way, I was having some good feelings about this movie and I knew I didn't want to wait for the DVD release. Doesn't help that I've been theater deprive.

R is an unusual zombie who still retains some sort of consciousness inside. He can't properly talk, feel, or remember his past, but he narrates the story through his thoughts of what's going on in this world. He lives a somewhat normal life, living in an airplane and hanging out with his best friend "M". One day, R goes out with a pack to feed, even though he doesn't particularly like doing it, but he has to survive somehow. During the feeding, he sees Julie and instantly becomes interested in her. He protects her and brings her back to his makeshift home.

I know a bunch of people who enjoyed this movie are probably annoyed by the Twilight comparisons, but to me this movie felt like taking a jab at certain elements from the movie. Apparently, this harks back to the classic "Romeo and Juliet" story, which I didn't notice until afterwards. It does feature a romantic relationship with an undead, pale male lead and Juliet kinda resembles a better looking and expressive Kristen Stewart, but this is more of a comedy than anything else. You can almost call it a satire of previous films as it picks on some movie cliches. For example, the typical makeover montage with "Pretty Woman" in the background.

I wasn't familiar with any of the main cast, except John Malkovich...which doesn't mean anything. I'm terrible with actor names. I think they all did a good job and they were believable to me. Some might criticize a few ridiculous unnatural moments, but if you look in the context of the film and don't read into this movie like Citizen Kane, it's easily enjoyable. I also think I developed a tiny crush for Nicholas Hoult. The story is entertaining and amusing. It has a lot of charm and wit to keep you engaged in the story. I hardly had any problems with this movie. They made a good use of CGI, especially with the Bonies which were quite eerie and a huge contrast from the corpses or zombies that R and "M" are. It has some occasional cheesy moments, but they're enjoyable. Lastly, I want to commend the editing of this movie. It had a good balance of getting us inside of R's head quite literally without giving away too much.

Since I didn't know this was based off a book, I'm not going to groan over it joining the bandwagon of the usual adaptations/remakes/reboots/sequels/prequels we've been subjected to. It was a very good movie and I might pick up the book later. This was definitely a refreshing cinematic experience and a lighter one than the violent Django Unchained. Once I left the theater, I was very tempted to turn right back around the next day to see it one more time. If you want a good date movie or just an entertaining one with tons of charm, I highly recommend this movie. It'll put a smile on your face for sure.

Rating: 4/5

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Review: GTO (2012)

Alternate Title: GTO
Starring: AKIRA, Takimoto Miori, Shirota Yu, Yamamoto Yusuke
Genre: School, Drama
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Episode Count: 11
Specials Count: 2
Synopsis: Onizuka Eikichi,  a former bike gang member, goes to work for Meishu Academy as a part-time gardener. After witnessing Yoshikawa Noboru attempting to commit suicide, Onizuka scares the boy off the school's roof. He investigates further, learning that Noboru is being bullied by Uehara Anko and her friends. Onizuka befriends and helps Yoshikawa to confont Uehara. Seeing Onizuka’s unusually effective problem solving skills, the school’s director, Sakurai Ryoko, makes Onizuka a teacher despite opposition from her assistant principal. Onizuka is then tasked to straighten out the particularly difficult students of Class 2-4.

There aren't many who haven't heard of the manga, Great Teacher Onizuka. Some may even know Shonan Junai Gumi and Bad Company which also focus on the life of Onizuka with those series set before he becomes a teacher. As well as those mangas and an anime series, the 2012 version of GTO also has another live action to live up to. The previous live action outing was released in 1998 so there was quite a bit of time between the two versions. Perhaps later, I'll do a comparison of the two series or manga to series.

There have been very few Japanese dramas that I've enjoyed enough to watch more than once or twice. I went into this series expecting not to like it. There had been a lot of hype when this was being cast about Jin Akanishi playing Onizuka. I was very grateful when it was announced that Akira would be taking the lead role instead. Akira is perfect for the role of Onizuka. He visually fits the part as well as being able to pull off the physical demands of it due to his background as a dancer with EXILE.

From the first episode, it's clear how the series will be. Onizuka (AKIRA) is a tough guy with a soft heart. He's a simple man who sees things how they are. When Uehara Anko (Shinkawa Yua) tells him that there is a cold wall between her parents, I doubt that she was talking about the wall that separated their bedrooms. She was most likely referring to an emotional wall that the adults had created as they drifted apart. To bring about the collapse of that emotional wall, he creates a hole in the physical one. He tells the children that when they're faced with a wall, they'll need to take it head on, otherwise nothing will ever change. It's good advice, delivered in a way that they won't quickly forget.

Onizuka's straight forward way of attacking problems will ultimately cause him quite a bit of trouble as Class 2-4 tries to rid themselves of him. It's not exactly Onizuka that they hate. It's any teacher who happens to have the misfortune of being assigned to their class. They believe that teachers (and other adults) are only out to hurt them. This is a misguided way to try to protect themselves. It's not that they're truly bad children. Each has their own issues whether it's with family or feeling inadequate. However, it's often during the series that I found the kids to be overbearing and annoying.

His problems don't end with the kids in his class. The adults are often at odds with him from Uchiyamada Hiroshi (Tayama Ryosei), the assistant principal, to parents of the students. The only people who seem to be truly on Onizuka's side are Fuyutsuki Azusa (Takimoto Miori), the other teacher for Class 2-4, and Sakurai Ryoko (Kuroki Hitomi), the school's director. Aside from those two, Onizuka is supported by his best friends, Danma Ryuji (Shirota Yu) and Saejima Toshiyuki (Yamamoto Yusuke). Both men would drop everything to come to Onizuka's aid. Ryuji is often seen as the voice of reason whenever things get out of hand. Saejima, however, is quite a handful as a corrupt cop with a love for nearly every woman he sees.

The biggest downfall of the series is that sometimes the acting can get quite cheesy. I suppose this is true of most Japanese dramas. Despite that, it is still a very enjoyable series overall. Akira is very believeable as Onizuka. It was fun to see Shirota Yu and Yamamoto Yusuke in a series together after Hana Kimi. I'd happily recommend this to anyone looking for a school drama with a bit of comedy. Put your expectations aside and enjoy it for what it is.

Rating: 3/5

Friday, February 1, 2013

Review: Excision

Starring: Anna Lynne McCord, Traci Lords, Ariel Winter
Directed by: Richard Bates Jr.
Language: English
Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 81 minutes

I've been wanting to see this movie for quite some time. Once I saw the preview, I was instantly intrigued by the strong visuals and somewhat loose storyline. I came into this movie with an open mind, strong stomach to the abject, and little knowledge to the story.

Pauline is a high school student with aspirations to become a surgeon. She is an outcast not only at her school, but in her home as well. Pauline's mother is an extremely controlling woman and dominates her relationship with her husband Bob who tries to defend Pauline. Phyllis, the mother, is also very overbearing of her younger daughter Grace who has Cystic Fibrosis. Pauline also shares a strong relationship with Grace and in turn tries to defend Pauline as well.

Honestly, I didn't know what to expect from this film, but by the end I was stunned by the content. This movie is definitely not for the weak at heart. The execution is very intense and bizarre, but brings something different to the stereotypical high school outsider movies. Typically, the outsider is transformed to some beautiful or handsome being and finds love or some sort of social acceptance. In Excision, Pauline embraces her outsider status and focuses on her surgical aspirations. With this different approach comes with some mental intrusion, especially during the dream sequences. These scenes and the ending may be the most uncomfortable for viewers.

The actors chosen felt real despite a couple extreme traits found in Pauline and Phyllis. It still felt realistic and audiences can understand how and why the characters function the way they do. This movie does a good job of provoking some sort of emotion toward every character and even challenges those emotions, especially with the characters mentioned above. Viewers may be sympathetic or bias toward one character and conflicted at the end.

Lastly, the visuals are absolutely stunning. In reality, everything feels real and natural. The characters inhabiting the space reinforces this realness as well. The environment feels like viewers could lose themselves in and relate to the area. Once we enter Pauline's fantasies, the colors pop out more and the environment is more sterile and somewhat unreal. Adding the graphic and sexual content to this intangible space may give a sense of discomfort and maybe even self awareness for viewers.

It's rare for a movie to make me uncomfortable, but I definitely enjoyed the experience. The story was interesting and still resonates in my mind to dissect further. The ending definitely encourages discussion and I enjoy that despite the slight frustration I felt when the credits rolled. Of course, I can't recommend this movie to everyone. The content is quite morbid, graphic, and sexual. A lot of times these elements intersect and occur at the same time. If you can stomach these sterilized, grotesque sexual themes, which you can sample from the trailer, then you should be able to survive Excision. You might even have an advantage in getting involved in the story, which can still be a bit unsettling.

Rating: 3.5/5

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