Combine And Transform (Batman Ninja review)

Not every movie is going to resonate with all audiences, especially when it deviates from expectations, when it shifts our ideas of what a franchise means AND when it embraces unpopular elements to make something better.

 

Batman Ninja (2018)

Cast: Roger Craig Smith, Grey Griffin, Tony Hale, Fred Tatasciore, Tara Strong, Yuri Lowenthal, Will Friedle, Tom Kenny, Adam Croasdell, Eric Bauza
Director: Junpei Mizusaki
released on blu-ray Apr 24, 2018
********* 9/10

IMDB: 5.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, Audience Score 47%
The Guardian: N/A

Junpei Mizusaki is a Japanese animator, producer, and newly minted director. Having previously worked on Mega Man games (Megan Man X8, Megan Man X Command Mission, Mega Man X7) a TV series called JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, a segment from the film Zoo, and a host of other anime content.

His anime resume should more then prove his ability to put together a solid anime film, but what is truly at stake is the mythos of Batman. And the question that remains is can Mizusaki properly fuse to elements of culture without bastardizing one to improve the other?

Special thanks to Warner Brosfor the IMDB summary of the film –

Batman Ninja takes a journey across the ages as Gorilla Grodd’s (Fred Tatasciore) time displacement machine transports many of Batman’s worst enemies to feudal Japan – along with the Dark Knight (Roger Craig Smith) and a few of his allies. The villains take over the forms of the feudal lords that rule the divided land, with the Joker (Tony Hale) taking the lead among the warring factions. As his traditional high-tech weaponry is exhausted almost immediately, Batman must rely on his intellect and his allies – including Catwoman (Grey Griffin) and the extended Bat-family – to restore order to the land, and return to present-day Gotham City.

If it’s not clear yet, I actually love Batman, which is why I’ve been so selective in my reviews on Batman related content, because at timotheories we really want to give you the best movies to watch, not just what is popular and trending. And so I can argue without a reasonable doubt that this is one of the best Batman movies since 2008’s The Dark Knight. Yes, I loved The LEGO Batman Movie, but there have been so many other properties distributed in recent years that fail to capture the discipline, absurdity, intellect, and intensity of The Batman.

Gotham By Gaslight was pretty good too, but this resonates much more strongly. I’m not sure that’ve made this statement properly before either, but I believe that Batman should be a public domain property at this point. Sure DC Comics can retain the right to produce movies, make stories and sell merchandise, but other creators should have the ability to tell stories with a character which is almost a century old at this point.

And this is why I loved Batman Ninja. An untested director took the mythos, respected it, and also added to it. Now, I will admit that the movie gets stranger as it moves along, but if you watch any anime, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the film would enter into weird tangental discussions and feature ridiculous plot threads.

This is common in anime, and Batman Ninja delivers on the absurdity of Batman’s history.

Pros: The Japanese animation team that constructed this story honours the history of Batman, while also elevating his mythos and injecting something new into the mix, something that is far more interesting then many of the previous DC animated films. The backdrop of the story is lushly crafted, and the zaniness of the comics is amplified with Japanese samurai, ninja, and feudal era culture.

Cons: The premise of the story is unique, but it is somewhat rushed to resolution in the final act, and how everything progresses to reach that resolution (spoilers: robot castles) is somewhat bizarre when considered through the lenses of western standards of filmmaking.

Runtime: 1 hours 25 minutes

Points of Interest: All of the fight scenes were performed and filmed with live actors first and then animation was created from that footage. The Batman figure formed from the bat and monkey armies in the final battle is very similar to his first costume in Detective Comics.

Ultimately, my major disappointment with this film is that I expected a more serious exploration of Batman trapped in feudal Japan. Learning and improving upon samurai and ninja disciplines was an awesome plot thread, but why wasn’t it explored more?

theories Summarized

In summary, if you are willing to accept the flaws of Batman, and go into this film expecting it to defy traditional western filmmaking, then you’ll have a really great time seeing a properly made Batman anime. In fact, I hope DC makes more of these types of films, or all of their flagship characters. If you’re a collector this needs to be on your shelf.

And if you want another genre-defying film to fill your film-watching needs, then it might be time to either dust off The Descent or pick it up if you haven’t seen it yet. Chris has all of the details in this Watch Culture video movie review

Lastly, please let me know what you thought of both of these reviews on love, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel (and email) if you haven’t already. Lots more theories to come!

Tim!

Good Vibrations (Leon Bridges, Good Thing review)

As a collector of good music, it’s incredibly satisfying when a bid continues to pay off. Despite all of the odds telling me that the music well can only dig so deep before coming up dry. Luckily for me, Leon Bridges planted more derricks and is establishing his reputation. It’s a Good Thing.

 

Leon Bridges – Good Thing

released May 4, 2018
******** 8/10

Todd Michael “Leon” Bridges is now 28 years old. I reviewed his 2015 album Coming Home, almost exactly two years ago. I love that kind of symmetry in life, it’s poetic when things work out good, and it’s a good thing. Good Thing is also the name of Bridges sophomore effort and like his previous work, it’s full of soul, gospel, R&B and blues influences.

The major difference you’ll hear between his two albums is the production value, but that doesn’t mean that one is better then the other. Coming Home is something of a time capsule (read: recorded with vintage equipment), whereas Good Thing feels a lot more like Bridges falling in with the times, though the times are represented by several decades rather then just the sixties. That, and he is proving yet again he knows how to pull on our heart strings. But where Coming Home was cohesive and distinct, this record is more of an exploration, one that still flows in and out of tracks well.

Not everything on the album works perfectly, with a couple of tracks in the middle softening the ambience, but I bet if you listened to this half a dozen times you wouldn’t know which ones I am referring to without some consideration. Proving yet again, that Mr. Bridges deserves his Mrs. and I am thankful that he included a closing track that gets the juices flowing.

The first four songs are particularly entertaining, and rightly so given that Bridges stays within his established zone for them, and Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand, Bad Bad News, and Beyond are also singles that play more like A tracks then B ones.  When we get to the end of the album, you have to wonder where the past 34 minutes went, but luckily enough, hitting repeat is a simple solution.

Shy could be an anthem for me, for you and for anyone that’s ever felt a bit inhibited in life – a problem quickly solved with some liquid courage and a gentle guitar. It’s a solid nod to the 1990s and the production chops of Danger Mouse.

Be still, my beating heart.

Now we get into the meat of the album, and this is where it gets gooey an a little soft. Forgive You and Lions are both free of the past, and they sound like something contemporaries Pharell, Bruno Mars and Sharon Jones would make, with smooth tempos and jazz samples. But then you get You Don’t Know and If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be) and I have to wonder what happened, because those tracks sound a bit more like drafts then final cuts.

I personally think he needs to continue to explore the sounds of the 1950s and 60s, and draw in the new when possible, but this is a good start to something more mature.

Pros: As previously mentioned, Mrs. is the biggest surprise of the record, it’s got depth, breadth and some sauce. But Georgia to Texas is solid runner up for my favourite song and a beautiful tribute to Leon’s mother.

Cons: I already mentioned how If It Feels Good, and You Don’t Know feel rather simplistic and raw in their presentation, and it doesn’t matter how wrapped they are in 80’s synth, catchy isn’t necessarily good either. And man is You Don’t Know a catchy song.

Runtime: 34 minutes

Points of Interest: Good Thing debuted at number three on the Billboard 200. It is the second album to be produced by Columbia records and Ricky Reed, who has worked with Meghan Trainor, had a major hand in the album.

Crooning is a difficult game, and while I can appreciate the fact that black artists who dabble in the past need to represent their forefathers with care, it’s not exclusively their responsibility either, and Leon Bridges doesn’t exactly need a reminder of what soul music means, he wouldn’t be able to make it without some pain.

theories Summarized

And that’s a Good Thing. But in all seriousness, I think this a really solid album and have no hesitations in recommending you take a listen or five. It’s a more adventurous outting to be sure, but Bridges has taken it upon himself to demonstrate that he understands the history of the music he references, and is layering more into the lyrics.

Love, religion, family, and personal battles all feature with great tenderness.

One sophomore album review not enough for you creative cuties? How about this recommendation of Sound of Silver by LCD Soundsystem? It’s a really great record and features all of the absurdity and comedy you’ve come to love from the New York group, but with a maturity that was expressed on their self-titled effort. I think you’ll like it too.

And if you like either of these album reviews or both of them, please like and share the video, and of course, please subscribe to the blog and channel for more awesome theories on the arts! Tomorrow I have some thoughts on Batman Ninja.

Tim!

Films That Have A Profound Psychologist Effect (Cross Talk Ep. 35)

In preparation for today’s episode, I decided to do a little research about the psychology of film, and in the process, I learned a few things.

For instance, did you know that film and psychology have been connected since the late nineteenth century? With research labs studying the mechanics of perception and how our visual recall works, and producers like Samuel Goldwyn working to lure the psychologist Sigmund Freud in to help determine the subtext of his films. He actually offered Freud one hundred grand to secure a meeting with Freud in Vienna in 1925. And then Hugo Munsterberg posited that film actually allowed the inner working of the mind to become visible, thus shifting our way of thinking about thinking.

Other academics like Gordon Allport have even gone so far as to indicate that cinema is a standardized daydream, which is kind of horrifying when we consider the implications against mass consumption. In the world of marketing, there is a very real fear of being led towards a product decision without conscious consideration and there is evidence that many marketers employ tactics to get such a response, so why wouldn’t a two hour video create a far stronger impression then a 30 second commercial?

But maybe that’s actually a good thing. In fact, I really do believe it to be the case.

It is the role of the critic to give the viewer the tools to think differently about art, and it is the role of the artist to give meaning to life. So by all accounts, films that affect us should be considered to be instrumental in shaping our world views and when we feel something during a movie, but are unsure of what it means, a critic can help to deconstruct that film for us, which in turn allows us to better understand ourselves and others.

There are many examples of stories out there which have parents, groups, and government campaigning against film, television, games and other art forms, because of the suggestive nature of that content, and in some cases, blaming the content for how children behave. Again, I agree that there is a lot of evidence that suggests such an outcome, but what if we exposed children, youth, and even adults in need of rehabilitation towards content which depicts a more empathetic worldview? Say Sling Blade, K-PAX, Moonrise Kingdom or the very recent films Get Out and Hostiles, the later of which I did a review on last week!

Maybe in those cases, we can learn something about the world and be less inclined towards hatred. Which is what Chris and I set out to do in coming up with a list of ten movies we collectively agree are incredibly impactful, and how each of those films personally effected us.

I think you’ll get special interest from the films Manchester By The Sea and The VVitch, as we focused on them in case studies from our lives. This is episode thirty seven of Cross Talk – movies which had a profound psychological effect.

theories Summarized

Were you surprised to learn how we each felt about these choices? I wasn’t especially taken back to discover how Chris feels about Manchester By The Sea, it is a very dark film, and Casey Affleck deserves all the awards he got for playing a depressed man. But I bet you weren’t expecting me to open up about The VVitch the way I did, now were you?

Sharing is caring creative cuties, hopefully you’ve got some examples that we’ve never even considered. And we’d love to hear from you, so please comment below with your picks, and if you’re up to it, please share a little bit about why these movies have left a mark.

Until next time, please like and share the content! And subscribe to the mailing list if you haven’t yet. I’ll be sharing some insights on a new Leon Bridges album!

Tim!

Traumatic Disorder (Hostiles review)

The life of a soldier is oft met with tragedy, both on the battlefront, and at home. But what happens when his battlefield is in his hometown? Prejudice, trauma, and an unhealthy mixture of isolation abound.

 

Hostiles (2017)

Cast: Rosamund Pike, Christian Bale, Wes Studi, Jonathan Majors, Stephen Lang, Jesse Plemons, Ben Foster
Director: Scott Cooper
released on blu-ray Apr 24, 2018
******* 7/10

IMDB: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%, Audience Score 72%
The Guardian: ***

Scott Cooper is an American Director, screenwriter, producer, and sometimes actor. His list of director credits include Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace, Black Mass, and now Hostiles. Having been active in the industry since 1998, Cooper spent the first decade of his career in the television industry, taking small acting roles before fully realizing that writing and directing was far more rewarding.

His directorial debut, Crazy Heart is nothing short of captivating, and shows a side of country music most of us miss. Plus, Jeff Bridges is amazing in it, so obviously Cooper recognizes casting quality over quantity. Hostiles also features a smaller cast and as it takes place in the late 19th century, has an authentic western flavour, but it’s not a misguided cowboys and indians kind of flick.

Special thanks to Nick Riganas for the IMDB summary of the film –

In 1892, after nearly two decades of fighting the Cheyenne, the Apache, and the Comanche natives, the United States Cavalry Captain and war hero, Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), is ordered to escort the ailing Cheyenne chief, Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi)–his most despised enemy–to his ancestral home in Montana’s Valley of the Bears. Nauseated with a baleful anger, Joseph’s unwelcome final assignment in the feral American landscape is further complicated, when the widowed settler, Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), is taken in by the band of soldiers, as aggressive packs of marauding Comanches who are still on the warpath, are thirsty for blood. In a territory crawling with hostiles, can the seasoned Captain do his duty one last time?

What I loved about this movie is also what I ultimately hated about it. If I might be so contrarian. I’ve always been a fan of westerns as a young boy, and I attribute a lot of that love to the relationship I have with my father and grandfather, who were both small-town farmers. It wasn’t until my dad moved to the “big city” in his late twenties, met my mom, and had me that the lifestyle cycle started to shift. Either way, they both love westerns, and I have a kinship with anything associated with it.

Hostiles is not your classic John Wayne, Yul Brenner or Lee Van Cleef story – where the heroes and villains are depicted by how long their shadows cast. There is serious consideration of the effect of colonization on indigenous peoples and no ethnic group is cast in a particularly strong light of altruism and rightness, instead each character is morally ambiguous, having both good and bad qualities, just like life should be. But lines are drawn to show both groups and the impact each has on the other. And Cooper does an excellent job of depicting the effects of war and colonization.

Now, what I hinted at about loving, is that in it’s longer run, it tells a great western story, but for that same reason, it doesn’t give characters like Yellow Hawk room to breathe. Which is incredibly frustrating to watch, because Wes Studi is such a legendary actor. Sure Christian Bale and Rosamond Pike are great, and it’s awesome to see how their characters evolve, but if a third protagonist had been given due exposure, this movie would have been phenomenal.

Pros: It challenges our conventions of history and the stories constructed to retell that history. It’s by no means flattering to any party, but as a result it simultaneously feels more raw and empathetic. While not an innovation of the form, Rosamund Pike and Christian Bale deliver great performances.

Cons: The pacing is incredibly slow, and the inclusion of additional characters in the third act feels forced, drawing away from an examination of characters, and into a broader back story for Blocker, which is unnecessary at that point. But again I ask, where is the development of Chief Yellow Hawk and his family?

Runtime: 2 hours 14 minutes

Points of Interest: The film was shot in chronological order, and because it takes place mostly outdoors, the cast was exposed to the elements a lot. Production was shut down on a few occasions to account for weather. This is the second western Christian Bale has starred in – the first being 3:10 to Yuma remake.

It’s amazing to see how the life of Blocker has been shaped by living on a battlefield, and that because the American frontier is filled with tribes and peoples all trying to find their space, he never really gets to rest. Even more interesting that his final mission means escorting one of his early enemies home, and that they come to a better understanding of each other in the process, is very meaningful. I just wish I had seen more perspective from the Chief.

theories Summarized

A couple of final thoughts from me. Whether or not you enjoy westerns, this film is a great candidate to exposure of what western films have meant for American citizens for over a century now. They are effectively a propaganda told through the eyes of the victors. What hostiles does, is try to tell the story in a more nuanced way.

Yes, it does ultimately fall short of it’s goal, both due to pacing and character development, but the parts it succeeds at are well worth the struggle.

Speaking of struggles. I wanted to share this Watch Culture video I did on one of my all-time favourite animated classics – The Last Unicorn. Heavily influenced by classical literature, this is another movie which features Jeff Bridges in a voicing acting role, is directed by the team of Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. AND the band America did the soundtrack.

It’s highly underrated, in my humble opinion, but I hope this review gives you a chance to check it out or dust it off, as it were!

Lastly, please let me know what you thought of both of these reviews on love, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel (and email) if you haven’t already. Lots more theories to come!

Tim!

Gotta Have It! (Young Fathers, Cocoa Sugar review)

I’m reminded of this skit from Aziz Ansari in a film called Funny People. He heads on stage to a midsized bar crowd and announces that Cold Stone Creamery is an incredibly fucked up place. People picks sizes called, Like It, Love It, and Gotta Have It! It’s like picking ice cream for recovering drug addicts.

But sometimes that’s how we feel about things we really like, it’s a sugar spike, and the crash is oh so worth it.

 

Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar

released March 9, 2018
******** 8/10

Young Fathers are a Scottish band that simply cannot be classified. A three piece act, Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham ‘G’ Hastings formed the group in 2008 after spending a ton of time together at clubs and challenging rap expectations. They love to explore social dynamics, as the title of the album would suggest. Many people have tried to fit them into multiple genres, but the truth is that they are willing to use lo-fi, soul, R&B, hip hop, dubstep, industrial, and pop to various effects in creating what has now become their unique brand of music. But Cocoa Sugar is a little more refined.

That, and they’ve switched to a higher fidelity sound. So that’s cool and sweet.

I’ll stop with the puns now.

Cocoa Sugar is their third studio album, and what’s incredible about it, is that not only has their sound actually improved from sophomore album White Men Are Black Men Too, but it’s also surpassed their genius debut Dead. I say this with both shock and awe – when many had thought that by revising their vision, it would dampen the music of Young Fathers, myself included.

But the sequencing is well considered, and overall the tracks gel incredibly well together.  Now,  unfortunately, some of the tracks do feel more like instrumental openers then anything (looking at you See How, Fee Fi, Wow and Wire), but that’s a minor loss for an enigmatic and charming disc. This album is entirely more accessible they’ve done before, choosing to focus on symbolism about biblical themes and political ones, but the politics never feel overt nor obnoxiously stated.

As I mentioned the religious themes, I also want to add that there are some more universal tracks too. In My View is the catchiest and easily most relatable song on the album, telling the story of a miser who is grossly rich and regrets his quest for power. It may be the second single from the album, but it works just as well as the quasi gospel song, Lord, which was released in the fall of 2017.

There is freedom in Cocoa Sugar, much like previous Young Father projects, but what I loved the most about it, is that it gets better and better on repeated listens.

Pros: There is an incredible and powerful focus in the vocals, lyrics and melodic choices, and if you are into off-kilter music with gospel tinged tips then In My View, Lord, Border Girl, and Holy Ghost will give you some sweet affection.

Cons: Fee Fi is a little too repetitive and can become grating to listen to, which made me wish it wasn’t included, but then there are also other songs with shorter track lengths that suffer, not because you strain while listening, but because the music builds up, starts to resonate, and then abruptly stops.

Runtime: 36 minutes

Points of Interest: In 2014, they won the Mercury Prize for their debut album Dead. Bankole and Hastings are Edinburgh born and raised, while Massaquoi was born in Liberia and moved to Edinburgh at age four.

Released on the Ninja Tune label back in March, Cocoa Sugar is one of the shorter albums I’ve listened to so far this year, and if it’s not clear yet, let me be more plain. My major disappointment with it, is how short it feels, but when we get songs, they are amazing to behold.

theories Summarized

It’s artists like Young Fathers, and their contemporaries The Weeknd, 3T, Micachu, and Foreign Beggars that live on the fringes. Their music makes a difference and informs the choices of more popular music to try new things, to experiment in the lab and come up with something appealing to digest. It might not be for everyone, but if you have a sweet tooth, my theory is that Cocoa Sugar is a great treat.

And speaking of treats, have you heard the new MGMT? I already did a written review of it, but in case you mssed that, here is a video endorsement from Brendon and I. There’s something incredibly appealing about dark pop right now, and these dudes are dialed into it.

And if you like either of these album reviews or both of them, please like and share the video, and of course, please subscribe to the blog and channel for more awesome theories on the arts.

Tim!