They’re Creepy and They’re Kooky (Tokyo Ghoul review)

Japanese culture is ripe with interesting examples of fantasy, science fiction, drama. And most importantly it’s always visually appealing no matter what the subject matter being tackled. This week’s review doesn’t hold back.

Tokyo Ghoul (2017)

Cast: Masatak Kubota, Fumika Shimizu, Nobuyuki Suzuki, Hiyori Sakurada, Yu Aoi
Director: Kentaro Hagiwara
released on blu-ray April 3, 2018
****** 6/10

IMDB: 5.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%, Audience Score 68%
The Guardian: N/A

Now, I don’t have very much information about this live-action film’s director, Kentaro Hagiwara, as he has managed to avoid appearing all over the internet with a solid measure of success. Thus I am resigned to believe he is something of a ghoul himself, hidden in a secret society and only emerging for brief periods of time to prove his existence.

Which is why I’m not going to assume that this is his first time directing, but I will grade the movie as if it were. So let’s talk about this adaptation of the hit manga by Sui Ishida.

Special thanks to Claudio for the IMDB summary (I corrected some grammar) –

In Tokyo, the shy student Kaneki Ken () finally lands a date with this beautiful girl Kamishiro Rize (). While in a lonely park, she does a gender-reversal on the classic monster movie and attacks him because she is in fact, a flesh-eating ghoul. Luckily, Kaneki escapes after a freak accident that kills Rize, but he soon learns that he has become a ghoul himself in an emergency organ transplant that happened while unconscious from his wounds. He then befriends a group of peaceful ghouls and tries to live his new life with them. However, they are hunted down by relentless two police officers from the Ghoul Division in charge of eradicating ghouls from their district.

My initial impressions after I watched this movie were pretty harsh. While I really liked the premise of an alternate reality where monsters were real and far more complicated then their appearance, I struggle with the CGI used to create this fantasy world. It constantly takes you out of the story, where literally any other distraction could take place and become more engaging.

It’s great to see an assimilation story for the contemporary age, and one that takes what could have easily been a horror film, and turned it into more of a supernatural drama. Lots of cliche ideas about families being found anywhere, and the importance of acceptance for people other then ourselves, but none of the major characters are presented as particularly complex, so the story then suffers.

Pros: It’s visually intense, unnerving and while the CGI itself is difficult to watch, they don’t replace the importance of a good story about mythological creatures that live in modern times.

Cons: It’s almost as if there is an expectation that the story adhere closely to its roots, which appears to be in conflict with the directors much more interesting vision. The primary character played by Masatak Kubota rarely emotes in the right moment.

Runtime: 1 hour 59 minutes

Points of Interest: The musical score is composed by Don Davis, who also did the music for The Matrix trilogy. The director has cited Kill Bill: Vol. 1, District 9 and The Last Samurai as major influences for the film.

If you can get past the bad CGI and the shallow characterizations, this is a very entertaining fantasy movie with some great commentary on social issues, including hierarchy in Japanese culture. The challenges that Kaneki (Masatak Kubota) face as he learns to accept his new lot in life are compelling, and might have been better accomplished with less fights.

theories Summarized

With all of that said, do I think you should run out and get a copy of this flick? No, I think it’s an acquired taste. But, I also recognize that exposure to films from other cultures can be incredibly satisfying, and give context to a broader film discussion. A timotheory if you would.

Now, this week’s Watch Culture video review is a little bit kooky as well, but I can endorse this movie over and over again. Super Troopers is one of my favourite comedies from the early 2000s and a potential spiritual successor to some of the classic Mel Brooks and Monty Python films of the 1970s and 1980s. If you haven’t seen it before, give our review a once over, and I bet we can change your mind.

And of course, please let me know what you thought of both reviews, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel (and email) if you haven’t already. With even more theories in the pipeline, you’ll have content to chew on for days.

Tim!

In Love With The Shape Of You (The Shape Of Water review)

Join us for a very special film review on this week’s episode of Watch Culture.

I say this because I’m about to drop some knowledge on why The Shape of Water holds a special place in my heart, so much so that I’ll also be running a deep dive on Cross Talk with Chris later in the month (read: sooner).

The Shape of Water (2017)

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones
Director: Guillermo del Toro
released on blu-ray March 13, 2018
********* 10/10

IMDB: 7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, Audience Score 74%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Guillermo del Toro is a Mexican film director, screenwriter, producer and novelist. His films have a strong fantasy element running through them, often using dark themes and gothic backdrops to convey both subtle and overt messages about human nature. Some of his more mainstream films are Pacific Rim, Blade II and the two Hellboy adaptations, but he also dabbles in spanish language focused stories like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth.

Looking back, his most recent film before The Shape of Water was Crimson Peak, a strong indicator and launching point toward fairy tale narratives.

Special thanks to Huggo for the IMDB summary.

1962 Baltimore. Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), found abandoned as a baby with scars on her neck, has been mute all her life, that disability which has largely led to her not having opportunities. Despite being a bright woman, she works a manual labor job as a cleaner at a military research facility where she has long been friends with fellow cleaner, Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer), who often translates her sign language to others at the facility. And she has had no romance in her life, her major emotional support, beyond Zelda, being her aging gay artist neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), the two who live in adjoining apartment units above a movie theater. Like Elisa, Giles is lonely, his homosexuality complicating both his personal and professional life, the latter as a commercial graphic artist. Elisa’s life changes when Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings a new “asset” into the facility, Elisa discovering it being a seeming mixed human/amphibious creature found in the waters of the Amazon. Secretly visiting with the creature, Elisa is immediately drawn to him, and despite he having a violent side as part of his inherent being, the two find a way to communicate with each other and end up forming a bond with each other. Elisa has to decide what to do when she discovers that although the reason for bringing the creature to the facility is to test the possibility of him being sent into space, Colonel Strickland, who has always had antagonistic feelings toward the creature, ultimately wants to kill him, this following the systematic torture he has inflicted on him. Elisa may have to balance her feelings on wanting to be with the creature against what may be the greater benefit to him of being set free back into the wilds of the water. Complicating matters are that the Soviets are also aware of the creature, they having a secret agent who has infiltrated the facility.

Smarter people then I have reviewed this film to death already.

So I won’t pretend to impart the same learnings as them in my review of this film, but I will acknowledge that there is some derivation at work here. As Chris will rightly point out in his own thoughts on our upcoming Deep Dive; this is a story that effectively borrows from other films. The Beauty and the Beast story arc is the bones of this film, it also throws in homages to monster movies (Creature from the Black Lagoon), musicals (Shirley Temple, That Night in Rio) and biblical stories (The Story of Ruth).

But where the brilliance comes in is in altering the arcs of these stories. The beast doesn’t transform to be loved, the creature from the black lagoon doesn’t die AND gets the girl, the mute girl and her two minority friends save the day, and love of the arts is celebrated.

That said, even if you don’t know these things, this film challenges the notion of fearing the other – it fights fear with love, and I think it smartly uses Giles (an artist), as a narrator of this ideal, in a time when those ideas couldn’t even exist in popular culture. Giles is a closeted homosexual, someone who dreams and imagines how things could be, and I have a theory that a lot of the film actually happens in his mind.

Pros: It carefully crafts all of it’s themes and ultimately tells a universal story of acceptance, love, and celebrating what is, rather then what should be. del Toro is at his personal best, and he poses some great questions.

Cons: While beautiful to behold, and universally clear in the truths it wants to share, to fully appreciate the story, you might actually need to love all of the things it references – the subtle historical shifts at play. And if you want character nuance, the characterizations could be frustrating to watch.

Runtime: 1 hour 55 minutes

Points of Interest: Guillermo del Toro wrote lengthy backstories for each of the major characters, giving them each the option to use the information or ignore it. Some opted to take the direction, while some, like Richard Jenkins, refused it. The poem at the end of film has been paraphrased from works by Persian poet Rumi and his predecessor Hakim Sanai.

I really do see why Chris struggles with this film. And believe it or not, I’m not picking apart his thesis before he’s had a chance to defend himself, but rather I want to show you that his perspective is key in understanding my own theory.

The derivative themes, the abstracted characterizations, and the reliance on style as a vehicle for the underlying substance are important. If we consider that the whole story is told from the perspective of an artist character (Richard Jenkins) who has had to hide so much of himself in a time and space of persecution and judgment, then I think the story takes on new meaning. Not to mention the fact that his chosen form of expression, painting, is being supplanted by photography in advertising. Giles loves musicals, lives above a theatre that shows biblical films, and draws the creature he does not understand lovingly. He wants to see a fairy tale realized because his own story did not come through as he wished.

Additionally, he is the most detailed of the characters, which is often how we see ourselves, as opposed to how we simplify others in our own life stories.

theories Summarized

I think The Shape of Water is an amazing film, and to be honest, I haven’t even given you the full expression of my thoughts on it yet, but I believe that the upcoming Cross Talk deep dive episode will reveal even more about it. A fairy tale for adults is an amazing thing to behold, indeed.

If you want another fairy tale for adults, then you should check out this video review of 2010’s Scott Pilgrim VS the World, an anti-thesis to rom-coms told from the perspective of a video game geek. It’s a blast to watch, and whether you grew up between the 1980s to 1990s or not, the nostalgia callbacks are insightful.

So please let me know what you thought of our review, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel if you haven’t already. There are even more theories coming up next week, y’all come back now.

Tim!

The Unredeemable Hate (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review)

You’ve heard that love conquers all, and that all you need is love. But in a real world, love is not the obvious emotional outpouring, hate is far more common. But I have this interesting theory.

In a time when instant gratification runs rampant, a film that interlaces three character arcs, can accomplish a larger thematic goal.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges, Caleb Landry Jones
Director: Martin McDonagh
released on blu-ray February 27, 2018
********* 10/10

IMDB: 8.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, Audience Score 87%
The Guardian: *****/*****

Martin McDonagh is a playwright, writer and director. He has dual citizenship in England and Ireland, having spent most of his childhood in London, and is widely regarded as an Irish playwright legend. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is his third turn in the directors chair, but In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths are both amazing films too.

While he has written far more plays then films, McDonagh has admitted that he has always felt connected to film, that it’s something he appreciates on a personal level. And I think that comes through with Three Billboards.

Special thanks to Fox Searchlight Pictures and their IMDB account for the summary.

After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is only exacerbated.

This might just be the greatest performance of Frances McDormand’s career.

The plot is entirely driven by anger – McDormand’s Mildred Hayes is empowered by righteous anger to seek justice against the police for her daughter’s rape and murder, but it never really gets any easier for her. Harrelson’s Chief Willoughby commits suicide to spare his family the pain of watching him succumb to cancer, using violence to demonstrate compassion and love. Rockwell’s second-in-command Officer Dixon then enacts his grief through violence against a billboard salesmen, losing his job in the process, and spiralling towards the bottom of the barrel.

The friendship that Willoughby shows Mildred, despite the public believing they hate each other, is the first major act of love we see.

The second major act of love also comes from Willoughby, this time post-humously, in the form of a letter encouraging Dixon to use love rather then hate to become a detective.

The third comes from Red Welby, the ad man that Dixon had beat within an inch of life in his grief-fueled act of brutality. Welby forgives Dixon and offers him a glass of water when Dixon is recovering from burns; burns Dixon got after Mildred lit the police station on fire in her continuous attack on the police.

The final act of love comes from Dixon himself. He overhears a man bragging to a friend about a women he had raped, a woman who was dying from being lit on fire. He then gets into a brawl with the rapist, scratches the man to get his DNA, and hopes to reveal the man as the Hayes murderer.

When Dixon tells Mildred it wasn’t the guy, she forgives him and appreciates the very-delayed attention from the police, even if Dixon is no longer an officer. But the pair decide to seek justice against the rapist anyway, ending the film as they take a road trip.

Pros: It balances the humour ever so carefully with the drama, and each of the three leads do their part to see the story to it’s unobvious, but completely realistic ending.

ConsOn your first pass it might seem like female aggression is totally acceptable or that racism can be redeemed. Upon subsequent viewings, the layers come through.

Runtime: 1 hour 55 minutes

Points of Interest: Frances McDormand won an Academy Award for Best Actress for this film. Woody Harrelson described the movie as Super Troopers meets Seven Psychopaths.

While the narrative of the film is amazing to witness, and gets even better upon subsequent viewings, what I find even more impressive about this film is that it features elements of westerns and intelligent comedy about life in a small town. These are a people in a constant of re-evaluation.

theories Summarized

This drama happens in a fictional town, but the real social issues presented can forgive any fantasy elements being presented. In short Three Billboards is an amazing film and well worth the attention. You should totally watch it.

And if that story didn’t whet your whistle, Mike and I made a really cool video review about the film Nightcrawler. One of my favourite Jake Gyllenhaal movies, and an interesting peek into the world of stringers and documenting violent crime.

So please let me know what you thought of our review, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel if you haven’t already. With so many more theories coming up in April, you’d have to be a fool not to check out even more great timotheories content.

Tim!

The Dude (The Disaster Artist review)

To quote from The Big Lebowski, one of my comedy dramas of all-time –

Sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about the Dude here. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s the Dude, in Los Angeles.

In 2003, Tommy Wiseau WAS the dude in Los Angeles. And that’s a true story.

The Disaster Artist (2017)

Cast: Dave Franco, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson
Director: James Franco
released on blu-ray March 13, 2018
********* 9/10

IMDB: 7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, Audience Score 87%
The Guardian: ****/*****

James Franco is an American actor, filmmaker, and instructor. Comfortable behind the scenes as he is on camera, Franco has been involved in a lot of interesting projects in his career, most notably Milk, The Little Prince, This Is The End, the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, and 127 Hours.

The Disaster Artist is the first critical and commercial success Franco has achieved in the role of director.

Special thanks to IMDB user Kenneth Chisholm (kchishol@rogers.com for the synopsis.

In the 1990s, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is an aspiring actor, who meets the strange Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in an acting class. Together, Tommy inspires Greg to overcome his nervousness in acting so well that Greg agrees to come to Los Angeles with his odd new friend to pursue their dreams. However, their dreams seem to prove hopeless, especially for Tommy whose mysteriously strange accent and personality repels nearly all around him. Out of an inadvertent suggestion from Greg, Tommy is inspired to instead create his own movie, The Room (2003). What follows is a bizarre struggle to create that film, guided by Tommy, a man who has plenty of money, but not a trace of filmmaking education, experience, talent or even common sense. Along the way, Greg’s friendship with Tommy is put to the test as this project takes shape that would produce a film that ultimately becomes a bizarre accomplishment of a cult classic nature that no one, including Tommy, can see coming.

This is a movie about a movie that was made against all odds… Except for all of the mysterious money that Tommy Wiseau had on hand that allowed him the means to see his shitty movie to the finish line. And no, this movie never answers the questions of Wiseaus heritage, where he got his money from, or how come Greg Sestero was so drawn in by Wiseau and his aspirations.

At a high concept level, it’s pretty easy to see why James Franco aspired to make this film, he relates to the focus of his subject on a personal level, having lived on the edge of art and commercial success for so long. And little brother Dave dotes upon James to gain attention.

Pros: James Franco carries the films strength throughout; his portrayal of Wiseau spot-on. And to top it off, there is clearly a deep appreciation for the story of The Room at the centre of this film, which is emulated through the familial bond of the two Franco brothers.

ConsWhile it is clear that there is love for The Room when watching the movie, what is not demonstrated, is true affection for Wiseau, the author that inspired all of this to happen. He is never truly elevated and the stakes are not presented in a way to produce real drama.

Runtime: 1 hour 44 minutes

Points of Interest: Greg Sistero noted in the book, upon which the film is based, that Wiseau would only allow James Franco or Johnny Depp to portray him. This is the first time that James and Dave Franco have appeared on screen together in a feature length film. There was talk of having Dave appear in This Is The End, but he would have died which was too sad, and James was considered for a part in 21 Jump Street, that never came to light.

As is the case in The Room, the comedy of The Disaster Artist comes out of the tragedies of something that is meant to be dramatic. The absurdity of making films, starring in films, and attempting to get a production under control. It’s obvious why so many stars feature in cameos on this film, they see it as an important piece of history and a strong demonstration of what NOT to do when making a film.

It reminds me of Ed Wood, another triumph of will from someone with no desire to earn their stripes.

theories Summarized

Franco was the perfect choice to play Tommy Wiseau, and I’m glad to see him finally share screen-time with his brother. And I also find it fascinating that Sestero and Wiseau do share a resemblance. But while this is an entertaining film, about a so-bad-it’s-good film. It reminds me of an even more important theory, life is too short to eat bad  food / drink bad wine / insert appropriate example here.

But on the positive side. We have a video review of Whiplash to share, finally. It’ll make your neck crane, in a good way. Like The Disaster Artist, or like the The Room, I guess. If you liked La La Land, then this movie is for you. If you like drama, then this movie is for you. If you like J.K. Simmons, you know what I was going to type.

So please let me know what you thought of my review, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel if you haven’t already. I anticipate that our content will continue to grow much like the Marvel cinematic universe. A well considered theory on my part.

Tim!

Smoldering Fire (Thor: Ragnarok review)

I know some people are wondering how much longer the Marvel comic book movie train is going to run, but personally I think they are just starting to get into the great stuff that comic books are made of.

And Thor: Ragnarok proves that point.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch
Director: Taika Waititi
released on blu-ray February 20, 2018
********** 10/10

IMDB: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%, Audience Score 87%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Taika Waititi, sometimes known as Taika Cohen, is from New Zealand. He is a director, writer, actor and comedian. I first heard about his work with the 2007 gem Eagle VS Shark, but he also directed Boy, What We Do in the Shadows (check out Mike’s Watch Culture video for a great review!), Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and most recently, Thor: Ragnarok.

So he is comfortable making comedies, injecting comedy into things which are typically not comedic, and he has even been nominated for an Academy Award for his directorial debut, Two Cars, One Night.

Waititi makes odd films, and so it should be expected that Thor: Ragnarok would be a bit out there. And boy is that statement true in this case.

Special thanks to IMDB user Blazer346 for the synopsis.

Four years after defeating the Dark Elves and two years after the fight in Sokovia, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) now finds himself trapped on the other side of the universe on the wacky planet of Sakaar. Meanwhile, a new threat rises as the evil Hela (Cate Blanchett), Goddess of Death takes over Asgard and plans to conquer the universe. In order to get home, Thor must compete in a gladiator match against the defending champion of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Little does Thor know is that the champion is his old friend and fellow Avenger, the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Teaming with Hulk and his deceptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor must return home to Asgard in time to stop Hela and prevent the approaching Ragnarok, the apocalyptic destruction of Asgard.

This is a film which refuses to take itself seriously, no matter what is happening. Oh, Asgard is about to be destroyed by a fire demon whose sole purpose is to obliterate the planet? No problem. Oh, he achieved that result? Let’s move on. The irreverence isn’t actually an issue though, because Waititi recognizes the ludicrous nature of pairing all of these Marvel characters together, and infuses Hemsworth’s Thor with a much needed dose of self-deprecation.

From the outset, it’s tongue-in-cheek, and consequently we are able to accept many of the plot holes, the emphasis on CGI sets, and the odd cast of characters.

Pros: The blue rock monster, scene stealer, Korg (voiced by Waititi) adds another level to the humour, but even Dr. Strange, The Hulk, and Loki get in on the fun. I’ve seen this film three times now, and it’s all still incredibly entertaining. It does the job as an action flick, but shines as a comedy, better then Ant-Man even.

ConsAt the end of the day though, this film is pretty inconsequential to the arc being set up for Avengers: Infinity War. Yes, *spoiler alert* Thor and his Asgardians run into a foreboding ship at the end of the film, which is likely Thanos, there isn’t much emotional weight to the loss of Odin nor to the introduction of Hela, who by all accounts should be badass.

That said, I love the 1980s mix n’ match feel of the flick, and Jeff Goldblum fits in perfectly with the setting of Sakaar. The heart of the film comes in the way these characters intersect with each other in such a weird setting. And while the heavier emotional pieces are set aside for the most part, you can’t help but feel connected when Thor pairs up with Loki for a game of “Get Help.”

Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes

Points of Interest: .Waititi has admitted that almost 80% of the film was improvised, and even the line “he’s a friend from work” was offered up to Hemsworth from a Make-A-Wish child who visited the set that day and suggested that relationship. Chris Hemsworth’s older brother Luke Hemsworth plays Thor in the play within the film.

It’s a film heavily inspired by 1970s and 1980s science fiction fantasy, which might be another reason I loved it so much. Thor was born out of that time and his adventures have always been super strange. Even better that his connection to Earth this time be established WITH Dr. Strange, whose own comic and film were a nod those eras.

theories Summarized

Hitting the same narrative beats in a superhero movie is a common trope nowadays, and most Marvel flicks are a victim of this way of thinking. But luckily for us, we saw a glimpse of a potential future with Thor: Ragnarok, and I also think with Black Panther. I have this theory that superhero movies have a fair bit more longevity to them, and if Marvel continues to take chances on their directors, as they have with writers over the years, then this might not be the Ragnarok of the MCU.

And to freshen things up, I’ve decided to do a Watch Culture video on another classic superhero story from the 1980s, the much beloved, and reverrd Akira. This is the film that legitimized anime in western culture, and so if you have never seen it, spend a few minutes with me and I’ll explain why it’s awesome.

So please let me know what you thought of my review, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel if you haven’t already. I anticipate that our content will continue to grow much like the Marvel cinematic universe. A well considered theory on my part.

Tim!