Mad As Hell (2014)

Currently sporting a weak 30% on the film rating site Rotten Tomatoes, Mad As Hell shows the rise of Cenk Uygur and his political web series The Young Turks, or TYT. The film has been criticized for lack of objectivity on Cenk, as well as being uninteresting for those not familiar with his work. Clearly this was a not the sole creation of the director, Andrew Napier, but a Young Turks project meant for fans of the show. With that in mind, it shouldn’t be seen as a political doc, but rather a documentary on Cenk and his projects, which happens to involve politics.

Cenk has been known to try and be objective, to explain both sides. He also makes a point of telling the other when their point is “bullshit”, which upsets some people. At one point in the film, he tells a guest to “shut up”.

The film follows Cenk Uygur’s challenges in following his dreams, giving up a lucrative career as a lawyer to become a talk show host. Mad would have benefited from outside perspectives (those not affiliated with TYT) however it still does very well. It ultimately feels like something that would be posted on the TYT Youtube channel, which fits within their style. For Youtubers looking to make a feature length film, this is exactly what fans will want, and what viewers will ultimately be interested in.

The footage used is from various sources, from VHS, shitty flash video, to the new high def footage. The contrast between them is somewhat jarring, but ultimately that was the content they produced. Worth checking out, and a must see for fans of The Young Turks.

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (2012) Episodes 10-11

More masks, more evil, 50 years later.

The opening changes but the 80’s ending song, “Roundabout” by YES, stays the same. The “Battle Tendency” arc follows the grandson of Jonathan Joestar from previous episodes–Joseph, who also goes by “Jojo”. It’s safe to say that each arc of Jojo will focus on a different generation, which works quite well. It falls within the battle genre, but isn’t afraid to kill off characters either, which is nice.

These few episodes add some ridiculousness to the battles which are really fun to watch. Grenades and tommy guns are added to the list of weapons, as Jojo faces a new enemy, Straizo. It’s fast-paced, and set in New York during World War II. As episode 11 comes to a close, the Nazi’s begin to hatch a clever scheme involving an unknown immortal man still in slumber. Very engaging, and exciting plot twists! Recommended.

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is available to watch on Crunchyroll, as well as the second season Stardust Crusaders. The 1987 manga by Hirohiko Araki is available digitally and in print from Viz Media.

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (2012) Episodes 1-9

This initial set of episodes covers the “Phantom Blood” arc of the Jojo manga of which this anime is based. The music is particularly good as well as the animation, which uses very appealing textures in place of solid blocks of color. Also of note are the manga style lettering to indicate sound effects in some scenes, as well as in the opening titles. The modern animation coupled with great style choices make this a wonder to look at. It seems to capture the spirit of the classic Japanese manga, bringing it to a new generation of viewers, admirably.

Now on to the plot. Joseph Joestar, a perfect english gentleman, takes in and raises a boy named Dio, as a favor to the boys lowlife father. Dio goes on to live with his new brother, Jonathan Joestar, or “Jojo”. Dio proceeds to be a complete fucking asshole in every way imaginable, while managing to conceal it from Mr. Joestar. The boys compete and grow up together, and this is so far the more interesting and engaging part of the plot, in comparison to the battle sequneces. Jojo is extremely over-zealous and hammy, but I cant help but wish it wasn’t part of the battle genre. Either way, it does quite well within those bounds, especially in how deliciously evil Dio continues to be.

My least favorite episodes are 8 and 9, which fall into the pits of plot holes. In episode 8, Dio fails to kill Jojo while holding his carotid artillery in his hand. In the ninth episode, Jojo is unable to breathe, yet is somehow able to talk to his wife Elena FOR THE WHOLE EPISODE. Yet he cannot breathe. Bullshit. I love Jojo, and I really enjoy its comedic and hammy levels of drama, but I simply can’t ignore bullshit when I see it.

I really like this show and most everything about it. It occasionally drops in quality, but is overall very enjoyable. Hilarious to watch.

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is available to watch on Crunchyroll, as well as the second season Stardust Crusaders. The 1987 manga by Hirohiko Araki is available digitally and in print from Viz Media.

Mobile Suit Gundam I (1981 Film)

While I am somewhat more used to the Canadian actors in Gundam English dubs, I didn’t mind seeing this one with an alternative cast, especially with good performances from Steve Blum and others in this movie. The dub is better than many, and worth seeing, but some of the characters have unnecessary accents which don’t fit their roles. Overall, its a nice way to step into the Gundam franchise without watching an entire TV series. Solid movie.

In contrast to other action anime, Gundam is more of a strategic and political war drama than an action series. For some viewers, like me, it comes off a little slow and not quite as interesting as I would like. I’m still determined to “get into” the franchise however, and i’ll be viewing the rest of the Mobile Suit Gundam Movie Trilogy, as well as the their sequel film Char’s Counterattack, in the future.

The Mobile Suit Gundam TV series (created by Yoshiyuki Tomino) ran in Japan from 1979 to 1980 for 43 episodes and gained popularity internationally with sequels, films, and popular additional series like Gundam Wing and Zeta Gundam. This movie in particular was released in 1981, and presumably compiles the events of the first third of the TV series, and was released as part of a trilogy. The later films depart more from the show itself, adding in new animation and plotlines.

So far, it’s kept my interest, but it still seems a bit too complex for its own good. The main draw here is the captivating character, Char Aznable, the arch-enemy of the hero Amuro. The fights are intersting, and they do a nice job actually showing some of the casualties of war (even a fictional one). At one point, the main chatacter’s mother calls him a murderer. This truly has a raw power, without taking pleasure in the fighting on screen, which is somewhat rare.

Mobile Suit Gundam, and its many sequel and spin-off series’ are currently planned for North American distribution by Sunrise and Right Stuf International. Some of them are available to view for free on their website, gundam.info

Paranoia Agent (2004) Episodes 2-3

EPISODE 2 “The Golden Shoes”
The story of Yuichi Taira is an extremely silly one, but also sad and familiar. What makes him so engaging is how much his aspirations align with most viewers, while also being despicable and childish. He wants to be the best, to have friends and to do well in school, desires shared by just about everyone. When the new kid Ushiyama, enters his school and “disrupts his plans”, Yuichi begins to hate him as his friends start ignoring him. This so common when negative things happen to people, they look for someone to blame. It can lead to a lot of imagined hatred, and of course paranoia.

With Yuichi and Ushiyama butting heads–Yuichi being mean, Ushiyama being nice–Ushiyama makes a lot of friends which further angers Yuichi. This cycle continues, as Yuichi is ignored and picked on for having roller skates and a bat like Lil Slugger. The combination of the issue of bullying with Yuichi’s childish and cheesy ambition really makes this episode engrossing.

After being questioned by the police, his friends get scared leave him alone at his birthday party, with only his mother and tutor in attendance. When the episode ends, Yuichi misses his big student council election, staying at home in bed to watch a tape of one of his old baseball games.

Yuichi. Holy shit. Perhaps my favorite episode of this show, and maybe of any anime.

EPISODE 3 “Double Lips”
“Double Lips” focuses on Harumi Chono, the tutor from the previous episode, and her struggles with identity and mental well being. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Chono is someone who lives with multiple personality disorder, and communicates with her other self through an answering machine. The concept is similar to that of Kon’s famous film Perfect Blue, but executed differently. I personally prefer this to the film.

Chono the tutor, who also works at a local university, is more academic and conservative, while at night, the sexually active Maria lives uninhibited, and works for an escort service. At first, the two communicate and butt heads, but generally don’t interfere with the other’s life. However, after Chono’s engagement, she throws out all if Maria’s clothes to try and take control. This angers Maria, thus increasing her influence.

Chono and her fiancé choose a modest wedding ceremony, and she prepares to eventually settle in with her new husband. Maria retaliates getting rid of Chono’s belongings, and she falls into panic. People begin to notice, and she consults her psychiatrist for a new treatment. Frustrated and out of options, she believes that being attacked by Lil Slugger might solve her problems. And so it happens. It becomes clear that Slugger may provide temporary relief from everyday woes. Perhaps.

Paranoia Agent (2004) Episode 1

Its hard to describe Paranoia Agent and actually make sense, so I’ll try to stay focused and not look too much into symbolism. One thing that stays true in every episode, is that the show constantly reverts expectations. The mood shifts back and forth between realism and pure dream and fantasy, and likewise between drama and comedy. This balance is tough to pull off, because if it is done incorrectly, one side may seem less important. This is not the case here.

While tension and frustration builds in this city, some of the characters are introduced, but this episode mainly focuses on Tsukiko Sagi, the creator of the popular character Maromi, who is attacked on her way home. Most episodes will focus in on a new character, with the police investigation in the background.

While some of the events happen in a humorous way, they are all very real and serious topics such as a pressured work environment, bullying at school, struggles with mental health, and sexual exploitation. Terrible and unfortunate things happen to these characters, and the show keeps moving. Their lives grow more complex and the paranoia grows. The comedy allows viewers to experience catharsis, and the street assaults connect the large cast together.

EPISODE 1 “Enter Lil’ Slugger”
Frustration builds and rumors spread. Tsukiko Sagi is attacked, which causes hysteria about the infamous attacker “Lil Slugger”. The validity of her story is called into question, and a sketchy reporter follows her story as well as the ongoing police investigation. A homeless woman disappears. Sagi is bombarded with hate from fans and coworkers, finding comfort only from her character Maromi. Rumors spread further, and the “Lil Slugger” story grows. When the reporter follows her home, he is attacked by Lil Slugger, as if to protect Sagi, or for a just purpose. This of course, is not the case.

The previews for the next episode  are total nonsense, so don’t sweat the details. They’re presented by a senile old man, and somewhat describe the episode, but it isn’t worth figuring out. Agent is cryptic at times, but it doesn’t detract from any enjoyment at all. Dare I say, masterpiece?

Paranoia Agent, created by Satoshi Kon and animated by Madhouse, aired late at night in 2004 on the satellite network WOWOW. It was later translated, and the English version ran on Adult Swim in 2005.

Stella (2005) Episodes 1-5

Stella, the TV series based on the 3-man comedy troupe of the same name, ran for one season on Comedy Central before being cancelled. It starred Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain, who previously appeared in MTV’s The State and Wet Hot American Summer. Despite being cancelled, they’ve garnered a cult following and continue to perform live, as well as collaborate on other projects. All three are set to star in the Netflix adaptation of Wet Hot American Summer, written by Wain.

Right away, it’s clear that their style of comedy is not for everyone. As Black puts it, their characters are “gleefully ignorant”–acting childlike, dancing, and doing most activities in suits. Black is the sinister one, Showalter the emotional, and Wain is usually left out by the others. Their formula works well, especially when dealing with the reactions of normal people.

In the first episode Black threatens “If you don’t stop that, I’ll drive this car right off that cliff!” and proceeds to do exactly that. Throughout Stella’s adventures, they dance frequently, break the fourth wall, and engage in very hammy drama. The main premise is that the characters are over-dramatic and stupid, as well as lifelong friends.

Notable guest stars include Edward Norton, Janeane Garofalo, Paul Rudd and Alan Ruck. My only complaints here are that some scenes drag on too long, and the music becomes repetitive very quickly. It isn’t the most straight-forward or fast-paced comedy, but it’s still very enjoyable. Obscure, but a must see.

Black and Showalter star in Comedy Central’s Michael & Michael Have Issues. Black has seen a bit more popularity, appearing in VH1’s I Love the 80’s, as well as the Adult Swim show You’re Whole, and guest stars on Maron, among others.

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