Anime represents a blind spot in my nerdity, but its sense of community and wide variety of colorful series have long piqued my interest. Despite its apparent overlap with the comic books and SF/Fantasy that make up an uncomfortable part of my psyche, there's almost a separate-but-equal vibe to these worlds. Just as I complain about not knowing who any of these characters are at Animazement, one bunny-hatted girl complains to me that she had no idea who any of the superhero characters were at a New York convention I attended and enjoyed last fall.
While I am still taking furtive steps into the medium of anime, the combination of Netflix Instant, Hulu and a Roku device has allowed me to blast through a few complete series over the last few months, and where better a place to find out about quality series than a massive gathering of anime fans? Through some chit-chat, I find a number of names occur over and over.
Combined with my own experiences, here's the first episodes of 10 different anime shows that are available in the entirely for free on Hulu. I had certain grounds for inclusion: Nothing based on a card game, a bare minimum of giant robots and no schoolgirls and/or tentacles. Yes, this limited the playing field. Yes, there's still plenty of good stuff.
Gurren Lagann is a more recent series that combines many an archtypical anime trope (big robots, scantily clad girl, rebellious teenage protagonist, post-apocalyptic wasteland), but transcends them with a healthy dose of self-awareness and strong characterization. Its tale of a couple of "bros" who find a battling robot head and use it to find similarly-armed mutants on the Earth's surface takes some surprising turns, with major characters dying and a poignant ending, combined with a punkish exuberance. If you must watch one giant robot show, let this be it.
In the rather startling CORIOLANUS, new to DVD, Blu-ray and standard digital platforms this week, actor-turned-director Ralph Fiennes smuggles an obscure Shakespeare tragedy into the contemporary war movie genre.
Epic and bloody, Coriolanus tells the tale of Caius Martius (Fiennes), a fierce military general in “a place calling itself Rome.” In the Bard's original play, Rome is actually Rome (and Martius a historical Roman general). In Fiennes' update, though, Rome is a depressingly modern and familiar sight: a city in the midst of war, coming apart at the seams. Time and place are deliberately indeterminate. This Rome could be Beirut in the '80s, or Belgrade in the '90s, or Damascus today. In the DVD extras, Fiennes says he threw in bits of Brooklyn and Shanghai, too.
After Martius conquers the rival city of Corioles—swords and shields replaced with guns and tanks—he is given the title Coriolanus, and eventually appointed Consul of Rome. What happens from here falls squarely in the realm of Shakespearean epic tragedy.
If you don't know the story of Coriolanus already, you're better off going in without too much advance information. As his name suggests, Martius is a creature of war and has little time for notions of popular rule. Pride is his tragic flaw, and the film connects some dots between military culture and tyranny; ancient Rome and tomorrow's headlines.
The script by John Logan (Gladiator, the upcoming Skyfall) retains Shakespeare's original dialogue, of course, and it's a joy to watch the veteran cast deploy such musical language. Shakespearean dialogue can be hard to follow, even for us recovering English majors, but Fiennes gives each scene such a sturdy structure and arc that the narrative thrust is never lost. The language comes in from unexpected vectors, too—exposition is sometimes provided by the anchorman on the TV in the background.
Gerard Butler stars as Martius' rival warlord Aufidius, Brian Cox is the general's right-hand man and Jessica Chastain plays noble Virgiilia, the lovely Missus Martius. But Vanessa Redgrave steals the show, absolutely chewing it up as Martius' mother, the ambitious Volumnia.
Coriolanus features convincing and quite violent battle scenes, with plenty of bullets and blood. Some sequences are a little too stagey, though, and the film's modest budget shows in generic art design and underpopulated crowd shots.
But overall, Coriolanus is a remarkable achievement, a classic epic tragedy that looks for all the world like a gritty, contemporary war thriller.
Formats: DVD, Blu-ray and standard digital platforms.
Extras: A short, underwhelming behind-the-scenes featurette and a director's commentary track from Fiennes.
Also New This Week:
TRUE BLOOD: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (DVD/Blu-ray/digital) comes to home video with the usual excellent array of extras, including cast and writer interviews, production mini-docs and audio commentaries. Perfect for a binge-watching weekend of vampires, were-panthers and necromantic witches.
Director Daniel Stamm, who made a pretty good faux-doc horror film with 2010's The Last Exorcism, returns with an even darker concept in A NECESSARY DEATH (DVD and digital), concerning cinema verite and suicide.
The heist thriller MAN ON A LEDGE (DVD/Blu-ray/digital) wins this week's Truth in Labeling award, thanks to Sam Worthington's performance as a man on a ledge.
Plus: Sex, drugs and 1970s fashion in ULTRASUEDE: IN SEARCH OF HALSTON; James Cromwell in the soldiering drama MEMORIAL DAY; and Amanda Seyfried's gigantic eyeballs in the abduction thriller GONE.
So when you find a new science fiction movie with a relatively fresh concept, it becomes a kind of commodity in and of itself. Such is the case with the apocalyptic romance PERFECT SENSE, new to DVD and various digital platforms this week. Starring Ewan McGregor and Eva Green, the film was a minor hit on the festival circuit but only opened on a handful of screens in the U.S. last fall.
The hook: A mysterious epidemic is sweeping the planet, gradually causing the population to lose sensory perception. Taste is the first to go, then smell. As a side effect, each wave of the epidemic is preceded by an intense emotional hysteria—grief, or joy, or rage.
Green plays a Glaswegian epidemiologist (almost poetic, that) tracking the phenomenon as she unexpectedly falls in love with her neighbor, a raffish gourmet chef played by McGregor. The film narrows its focus to their love story, letting the end-of-the-world details play out teasingly in the corners.
Scottish director David Mackenzie gets good mileage out of his small budget, deploying scenes of local chaos to suggest worldwide devastation as the planet slowly freaks out. This frees up the film to work on the level of parable, as screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson muses upon what is truly abiding in this vale of tears.
I appreciate this kind of imaginative moxie in my sci-fi movies, and Perfect Sense is careful to keep the nature of the dilemma ambiguous. The epidemic might be a virus, or bio-terrorism, or the wrath of God. No one knows, and in the end it doesn't matter. The cataclysmic details are designed to resonate emotionally with the characters, and their ideas and feelings at the end of the world.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that McGregor and Green—who share several delightful sex scenes—are two of the more impressive physical specimens on the planet. They're also both strong, charismatic performers. McGregor seems endlessly versatile in his roles, and Green brings a damaged vulnerability to the standard chilly scientist role.
Perfect Sense shares some cinematic DNA with Alfonso Cuaron's 2006 dystopian thriller Children of Men, which deals with a near-future infertility epidemic. Mackenzie's movie doesn't have the visceral power of that great film, but it traffics in similar circles of thinky science fiction.
Formats: DVD, Blu-ray and various digital platforms.
Extras: DVD and Blu-ray feature a single meager behind-the-scenes “featurette,” plus the film's theatrical trailer.
Screechy-voiced comedian-turned-dark-comedy auteur Bobcat Goldthwait once again attempts to mix the extreme with the profound in his new, bullet-ridden satire God Bless America.
He casts Joel Murray (Bill’s brother and Goldthwait’s co-star in that long-lost ’80s comedy One Crazy Summer) take the lead as Frank, a miserable divorcée whose life goes down the drain even more emphatically once he gets fired from his job and receives news that he has a brain tumor.
Already holding a pretty strong contempt for the uncivil times we live in, Frank forgoes putting a bullet in his brain in favor of putting one in the head of some spoiled-brat teen he sees on a reality show. This spur-of-the-moment execution gets him a fan in the form of Roxy (chipper newcomer Tara Lynne Barr), an enthusiastically antisocial teen who wants to tag along and join him on a righteous murder spree.
Together, these two roam the highways of America (surprisingly undetected by the authorities), busting caps in the asses of rabid right-wingers, reality-show douches, people who talk in movie theaters (my fave!) and dickheads who take up two parking spaces.
With God Bless America, Goldthwait gives us both a bloody indictment on our shallow, self-centered society and his very own, serial-killer road movie, occasionally getting his two stars to resemble classic, cinematic criminal couplings. (Am I crazy, or does Goldthwait have Murray and Barr dress up like Pumpkin and Honey Bunny from Pulp Fiction in one scene?)
It appears that Goldthwait has a lot on his mind about how cruel, mediocre and asshole-ish our culture has become; he’s written preachy monologues that enable Murray and Barr to rant about our decaying society and its most corrosive inhabitants. However, for a director that has no qualms depicting the blasting away of a wailing baby in the opening minutes, Goldthwait seems to cop out when it comes to taking down bigger fish. Since we’re living in an age where 99 percenters want to see bankers, Wall Street tycoons and greedy corporations royally get theirs, aiming at easy targets like Bill O’Reilly and American Idol feels so 2008.
As with most of Goldthwait’s post-Shakes the Clown directorial work, God Bless America’s transgressive premise is merely window-dressing for the sympathetic, humanistic story that’s lurking underneath. And yet, this mash-up of violently unnerving shock and heavy-handed sincerity is uneven. You get a sense that Goldthwait—who, as weird as this may sound, is quite the impressive filmmaker—would rather make a movie where he didn’t have to do some quasi-anarchic, crazy shit to get people’s attention.
While Goldthwait’s heart is in the right place, it’s unlikely the blood spilled in his film will make annoying, loathsome people finally straighten the fuck up. Besides, some of us would rather see those people bitch-slapped instead of gunned down. Now, that would’ve been an awesome movie!
As his fellow students protest and march—Tokyo had its '60s radicals, too—brooding college student Toru Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) falls into a romantic affair with the delicate, damaged Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi). The two come together in unspoken grief after the suicide of their mutual friend, Kizuki, who was also Naoko's first love.
The young couple's first sexual encounter leads to a emotional breakdown for Naoko, who retreats to a countryside sanitarium. Watanabe, meanwhile, executes a retreat of his own—into books and ideas and the new vistas of college life. He soon encounters the beautiful, free-spirited Midori (Kiko Mizuhara), whose sunniness seems a light at the end of his tunnel. Then things get complicated.
Norwegian Wood is a beautiful and melancholy film that moves to its own unhurried rhythms. Not much happens, but when it does, it's tidal in force. Young love, the film suggests, is the same in any era or place—baffling, euphoric and occasionally scary as hell.
One fascinating aspect of the film's love stories is that, for the central characters, the sex is anything but casual. The young adults in Norwegian Wood are suspended between Japanese cultural tradition and the glad tidings of the sexual revolution drifting in from the West. For them, sex is decidedly liberating—but also inseparable from honesty, responsibility and loyalty.
Director Tran Anh Hung (The Scent of Green Papaya) uses music to underline themes of past versus future; yesterday versus tomorrow. The traditional orchestral score by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood is punctuated by snippets from the Doors and the Beatles. Keep in mind this is 1960s Tokyo, back when Japanese hipsters shopped for American vinyl records, and not the other way around.
Norwegian Wood is one of those great little films you can usually find migrating to home video in any given week. The film had a limited release in a few North American cities earlier this year, but otherwise you'd need to have attended a festival in Toronto or Venice to catch this one.
The Extras: English subtitles, an hour-long making-of doc and a featurette on the film's premiere at the 2010 Venice Film Festival, where it was nominated for a Golden Lion award.
Formats: DVD and various digital platforms.
Also New This Week:
- Liam Neeson continues his oddly convincing makeover into hard-guy action hero with THE GREY (DVD/Blu-ray/digital) concerning planes crashes, wolves and Dermot Mulroney.
- The acclaimed indie doc WE WERE HERE (DVD/digital) documents the AIDS crisis in 1980s San Francisco through archival footage and eyewitness accounts.
- The sci-fi drama CHRONICLE (DVD/Blu-ray/digital) was a surprise critical and commercial success earlier this year, and suggests that the found-footage gimmick isn't totally played out yet.
Plus: Glenn Close and Janet McTeer in their Oscar-nominated roles in the historical drama ALBERT NOBBS, Woody Harrelson in the cop drama RAMPART, Old Scratch in the exorcism thriller THE DEVIL INSIDE and the Criterion Collection's reissue of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH on Blu-ray and DVD.
Usually, a plot synopsis does not service either a decent movie review or the movie in question. But speaking of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, it might just do the trick.
Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is out to get his. He wakes up from a centuries-long slumber to find out that the market in the fishing town his family once controlled has been monopolized by the same witch who cursed him to immortality and locked him in a coffin way back in the day.
Under the cover of perceived good intentions, he sets out to put the wayward Collins clan back on top. He enters in on a secret pact with the family’s reluctant matriarch (Michelle Pfeiffer) to keep his immortality a secret (oh yeah, he’s a vampire), hypnotizes some of the town’s best fishermen away from the competition, receives blood transfusions and oral sex from the family psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter, a real sport), and kills construction workers and hippies without regret. This dude is busy: he does all this while simultaneously courting the Collins’ barely legal governess (Bella Heathcote, yawn) and having airborne intercourse with the witch who’s cornered the market (Eva Green, hubba hubba).
Forgive Barnabas if he doesn’t have the energy left to weed the clichés out of his voiceover narration: “Blood is thicker than water,” he tells us twice, in a lame iteration of (what should be) Dark Shadow’s primary concern. Heredity, no matter how long you’ve been out of the game, is the primary weapon of bite-throat, er, cutthroat capitalism. If Daddy had it, you should have it, and if some perennially single broad gets in the way for a few hundred years, you sink your teeth into the competition and get her out of the way with whatever means at your disposal. After you’ve gotten in her pants, of course.
Dark Shadows is not quite what I want it to be: a subversive commentary about the ethics of the free market and the bloodlines of the 1 percent, all masquerading as a campy soap opera. In fact, it’s hard to believe after having described it that it’s such a bombastic bore, all its compelling complexity ultimately just a simplistic pretext for childish jokes about Barnabas’ Victorian propriety and anachronistic manner of speech in the supposedly free-living 1970s.
Burton once was an artist you could recognize from the way he filled Hollywood’s weirdo quotient by telling mainstream yet personal stories. But now he's more relevant as a person inadvertently responsible for charged political and sexual content that seeps out of the otherwise sanitary and plastic commercial movie machine.
This afternoon, the company sent an email to members of the area theater community confirming that the company had ceased operations, effective immediately: "Following the unanimous adoption of a resolution by REP's Board of Directors, the company has filed for bankruptcy." The email was signed by C. Glen Matthews, the company's artistic director.
According to documents filed yesterday in the United States Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District of North Carolina, REP has $224,507.77 in unsecured debts.
The company has no real property, but its personal assets, including lighting equipment, costumes and props, were valued at $9,932.14.
According to a profit and loss statement for April 2012, REP's monthly expenses included $4,070 in rent and $3,523.65 in office and administrative expenses.
For the first four months of 2012, the company reported revenue of $31,734.78, with nearly 80 percent coming from grants and donations.
The two largest debts are owed to figures associated with the company's new performance space at 213 Fayetteville St., which opened in the summer of 2009.
The largest creditor is Alphin Design Build, the contractor hired to renovate the theater space, which is owed $110,000. The second-largest debt, $60,000, is owed to Jean Pauwels, the owner of the building. Raleigh Ensemble Players does not have equity in the building.
Also listed among more than 20 creditors is Vincent Whitehurst Architect, who is owed $2,489, according to the documents.
Whitehurst and Will Alphin are owners of Foundation, a popular bar located in the basement of 213 Fayetteville St. Whitehurst designed the Raleigh Ensemble Players space and Alphin served as the contractor. Pauwels, the building's owner, operates a business in the same building, a countertop materials supplier called Pyrolave.
Gary Williams, the company's managing director, is owed $10,000 for unpaid wages.
REP, the Triangle's oldest independent theater company, had performed in Artspace, located on East Davie Street, for 20 years prior to its move to Fayetteville Street. In 2011, it was recognized by the Independent Weekly with an Indie Arts award.
In a 2009 article in the Independent Weekly, company artistic director C. Glen Matthews cited a desire for the greater visibility that a permanent downtown home would bring them.
Pauwels, for his part, was looking for a tenant for the four-story building he was renovating.
"I wanted something I would enjoy having around, something more unusual, more fun than a clothing store or fast food," Pauwels told the Indy in 2009. "Some artistic activity in the building would be good for Fayetteville Street, good for everyone. It would make downtown more lively."
But in the same article, the company acknowledged difficulties in paying its contractor.
At the end of March, $100,000 in debt to its contractor, company management asked the builder to stop further work. "We didn't want to get in over our heads more than we already were," said Williams.
Calls to Alphin, Williams and REP board members Betsy Henderson and Don Davis were not immediately returned.