Hell Girl Fourth Twilight Episode 8: Delivering Vengeance

Review:

This episode again starts with all the side characters playing around and then reminiscing on a previous case of revenge. In this case it involved suburban housewives (or I guess they were living in some kind of company compound) pretty much playing petty politics with the Queen of the area making life hell for the new arrival after the new arrival saw her involved in an affair.

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It is a pretty straightforward story really and ends rather predictably. However, it also highlights some real issues as the victim’s husband does not talk to her about what is happening or believe her when she tries to explain anything. The victim’s daughter complains that her family is already ruined, but to be honest with that lack of communication going on between the parents the family wasn’t exactly going well except for superficial appearances anyway.

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All and all, while the story is pretty ordinary this might be an uncomfortable watch for some as this show finds just the right pressure points.


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John Wick 2 Movie Review: Once Was Enough

Last week I reviewed John Wick and despite some sarcasm in the overview, I actually quite enjoyed that film. Enough that I bothered to watch the sequel so how did it fare?

Review:

Picking up pretty much directly from the end of the first film, John Wick returns home once again with his new dog and there encounters someone from his past that he owes a favour. Apparently refusal isn’t an option because the guy blows up his house. Seems extreme. What follows is another by the numbers walk through some action set pieces as John Wick first finds the target and after paying off his favour then decides to take the asker out. As you do.

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Revenge as the sole plot point stringing a bunch of action sequences together worked in the first film. It was entertaining enough. However, this sequel felt repetitive, uninspired, and mostly unnecessary. We do get more of a glimpse at this underworld society but it isn’t enough to make up for a protagonist that doesn’t even want to kill his target (but will anyway) and villains who probably don’t even belong in a B Grade film.

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By the time Wick goes on his revenge streak you have already checked out and emotionally disconnected. This isn’t aided by the character’s absolute tunnel vision (which he suffered from in the first film but there it was a little more understandable).

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Basically, this film isn’t any fun. Sure there’s still guns and fight sequences but they all either mirror ones we saw in the first film or feel less impressive. Visually, Keanu is still standing in the centre of the shot, a lot, and he’s still using a range of moves to bring down his opponent and is still quite effective, but once again he doesn’t really make us care about his character and this time they aren’t even hammering the wife just died so grief card.

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All and all, this is one to miss unless you watch anything action or anything Keanu. It isn’t that the movie doesnt’ function, it just isn’t anything special.


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Hell Girl: Fourth Twilight Episode 7: Who’s Fault?

Review:

This episode starts very strangely but quickly falls into the usual pattern of meet horrible person doing horrible things leading to tragic results, and someone deciding that some sort of justice is needed.

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And it is hard to argue with our would be curser this week. The guy is a jerk. He killed a teammate and blamed another and felt absolutely nothing but smug satisfaction that everything went the way he wanted it to.

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What’s even worse, is that he would have gotten away with it in this case without supernatural intervention. While I feel bad for the guy who ended up calling Hell Girl, I can’t help but think he made the right call given he really didn’t have all that many options left at the point in time. So, the obvious message here is don’t tell silly lies in the first place because if you’d just told the mother what had happened in the first place, everyone would have known who was responsible right from the start.

All and all, a pretty standard episode.


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John Wick Movie Review: Is Revenge Actually Enough To Carry a Plot?

Overview:

John’s just an ordinary guy who has recently lost his wife and been given an adorable puppy. Too bad about the Russian guys who come in to his house, beat him up, kill his dog, and steal his car. Turns out John wasn’t such an ordinary guy and also turns out he does not appreciate home invaders.

Review:

While it might sound from the overview that I’m being a little bit sarcastic, John Wick is actually exactly what you would think from looking at the cover art. It is a truly interesting action film with some great set pieces, some great fight sequences, and enough of a plot to thread together the main character’s progression through these set pieces and fight sequences. It’s a lot of fun to watch. What John Wick isn’t is a masterful piece of story telling or characterisation. So as long as you go in knowing what you are getting, you should have a really great time with this film (I’ll get to the sequel in a later post).

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To be honest, John Wick is at its weakest when it attempts to humanize the title character. No offense to Keanu Reeves, but he doesn’t carry grief well in this film. Admittedly, he had the added challenge of having to grieve while still portraying a stoic killing machine and to be honest the combination didn’t really work so great. But even the moments where he was reconnecting with old ‘friends’ and was slightly more relaxed were probably the weakest moments in terms of entertainment that this story offered. Basically, it is really hard to see John Wick as anything other than a robotic killing machine. Even though the film starts with him in the role of grieving husband, that role never sits well and is quickly discarded allowing the audience to breathe a sigh of relief that they aren’t having to watch that pained expression on Keanu’s face for any more of the film (I think he was going for grief but he hasn’t quite hit it).

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The fights on the other hand, are excellent. While John Wick is spoken of by others as some underworld bogeyman, the reality is quite refreshingly different. He isn’t flawlessly taking out his opponents while receiving zero damage. He is human and he is fighting. He takes hits but he executes his own moves with efficiency and accuracy. As a result, he comes out on top but it isn’t at zero cost and without the rage of revenge burning through him for most of the film you would have to wonder if he could have continued  in the way he was. Still it means that outside of guns blazing we get rolls, dives, sharp punches, ducking, using the environment and a number of other factors to make each fight seem a little bit different then the last, which is important in a movie that essentially exists to string fights together.

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However, one thing that must be noted is the direction and some of the choices made. Most notably the fact that John Wick spends an enormous amount of time dead centre in the shot. While I kind of get the effect that they are going for and at times it creates a truly imposing view of the character as he walks dramatically down the centre of the carnage, the overuse of this means that visually a lot of the movie becomes repetitive. Which is a shame, because each set does have a unique look and feel and that could have been used to better effect.

I should note the ‘villains’ of the piece, being the Russian mafia and that the ‘boys’ who originally instigate the crime against Wick are pretty pathetic. They are supposed to be, but again it makes it hard to get behind John Wick and his crusade of vengeance. If one of the boys hadn’t been the son of the boss, this would have been a non-event. Which is kind of something the film agrees with after allowing the boy to flee like a rabbit from several confrontations before being shot down in a fairly unremarkable fashion. Of course the movie doesn’t end there and at that stage the cycle of death, killing and vengeance is well and truly moving with a will of its own, but you really do start to wonder if it wouldn’t have been better for John to have been killed in that initial home invasion.

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That said, the setting for the story is pretty cool. There’s an elaborate underworld with its own rules and values. We get a glimpse at the edges of this world but John Wick had ‘retired’ before the film started and really only dips his toes into the water around the edge of the world in the film. For the audience this makes the entire society being constructed far more interesting but at the same time it is kind of frustrating because at times you aren’t sure about how something should work or play out. Basically they give us enough information but there’s a lot of gaps in our understanding of the world.

As I said at the start of the review, this is a really interesting action film and worth watching if you love action. For anything else at all though the movie is not going to really impress. While there are some other subplots, the revenge story is basically all that holds these sequences of mayhem together, and it works well enough but it isn’t doing anything other than what it says on the label.


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Hell Girl Episode 5: All About Perspective

Review:

This episode contains content that is definitely designed to be confrontational to the viewer. While it starts with the funeral of the three boys they aren’t going to leave it there and you the viewer will sit through the flash back as you see precisely how they came to their end. While you won’t feel particularly sorry for them, their young age and the fact that they don’t shy away from showing you the bodies will probably leave you feeling just a little queasy. So here’s a light hearted moment amongst the support cast.

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Yeah, even I’ll draw a line on screen caps including dead children. However, the more interesting story is happening behind the scenes as we are finally going to see a little bit more about the spirit in the green dress who has been hanging around (and while it is more interesting it is no less tragic than anything else this show offers up).

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So, a confronting but fairly riveting episode and looking forward to the next one.


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Izetta: The Last Witch Episode 9

Review:

Finally a second witch shows up and finally Izetta gets an actual taste of defeat. It would be nice if this meant that some of her naivetĂ© will now wear off and she will actually deal with the reality of being pretty much the only line of defence for a country at war. Of course, only next episode will tell us what they will actually do with this development. My only complaint about this episode is the white witch and the fact that she’s clearly a psycho. We get it, you were betrayed and the legend they tell has been given a nice happy ending that didn’t exist. However, introducing a second witch who just wants to burn down the kingdom Izetta wants to save isn’t exactly the most innovative or interesting thing they could have done and possibly it would be nice to see a bit more to this new character’s personality than revenge against the descendants of people who did her wrong.

Izetta is available on Crunchyroll.

91 Days Series Review

Overview:

Set in the fictional city of Lawless during the prohibition era, the story follows Avilio (Angelo) as he seeks revenge against those who killed his family.

I reviewed 91 Days week to week so if you are after individual episode thoughts click here.

Review:

Revenge stories are always a bit of a problem because right from the start you have a fairly narrow range of options from a plot point of view. Either they will succeed or they won’t. You can throw in as many loops and twists as you like about who they need to extract revenge on and the manner in which they will get their revenge, but the story itself is pretty much set. That means you are dependent upon your characters and setting to carry your story and to make people care.

And this is where 91 Days failed for me. Initially I was very interested in Avilio and his quest for revenge. He’s an interesting character and a fairly tragic one right from the word go and he draws you into the fairly generic world of Lawless (generic in terms of giving all the look of prohibition era America without ever really capturing the feeling that other movies set in this era have – not so generic from an anime point of view). However, by the time we hit the mid-point of the series Avilio feels like he has lost his way and while they attempt to justify the drawn out nature of his revenge on a number of occasions it really comes down to the fact that they needed 12 episodes when they had about 6 episodes of actual plot driven story.

While Avilio’s story (once you trim it down to what is needed) is still interesting and his character progression (admittedly not positive progression) is enjoyable to watch, there are too many characters in this show who exist just to exist. We have a mafia setting so we’ll be introduced to all the usual stereotypical gang members and sycophants. We’ll even have a minor sub-plot of dealing with a new police guy who after a minor bombing incident will quietly slip away and the law enforcement will effectively disappear from the remainder of the story. But none of these characters matter in any meaningful way and they don’t make you care about what is happening. By the time we get to the inevitable tragic ending where the vast majority of characters (who are still alive) start dying, I really was indifferent. And mass murder should never leave you feeling indifferent even if they are trying to create a point about the futility of revenge and murder.

Nero and Avilio are a great duo to watch on screen together. The double meanings behind Avilio’s statements, Nero’s genuine humanity under the mafia don’s son mask that he has worn for far too long, and the real friendship that develops despite the situation Avilio is in makes this one of the more compelling parts of the series. Yet for the vast majority of the series these characters are given nothing to do. Nero in action is reactive to the world around him and is given few moments where he can actually make a choice. The few choices he makes are almost always deferred to Avilio. Avilio on the other hand has some sort of plan that he amends on the go but as we are not really privy to the plan his actions remain fairly inexplicible for the vast majority of the episodes. Neither character seems in any rush or driven to get somewhere and that really affects the overall feel of the show.

Before I move on from characters I just want to touch on Corteo. Outside of Avilio he was possibly the only other character I was really interested in seeing progress. While I’m not going to go into detail, I am still not convinced about the choices Corteo made as a character. They fit with the plot and drove Avilio nicely into the final corner that triggered the ending, but based on Corteo’s personality and actions earlier in the series it all just seemed too much like a plot contrivance rather than the real actions of a real character. Coreto’s death at least gave an emotional impact but left me at least with more questions about whether we were supposed to be taking these characters seriously as people or whether they were all just stand ins for various ideals.

It is really hard to review 91 Days. It is one of those anime that I look at and know from almost every point of view is a good anime. The plot makes sense and is resolved. While I didn’t feel connected to the characters, there are some well written characters here. The dialogue, while a little generic at times, never falls into the completely bad. There is forward thinking and ideas that are foregrounded early return with significance later (even when we preferred they didn’t). While the mid-season episodes suffer from poorer animation than the early and later episodes, they aren’t poor compared to the vast majority of the other anime I watched during the summer season.

That said, I still don’t much like 91 Days. While I may watch this with a particular friend (because I actually think they’ll really enjoy watching it and it is hard to talk them into anime usually), I probably won’t ever rewatch this by myself because I’m just not that interested in it.

A final recommendation: If you want a serious story about revenge, then 91 Days will deliver. For anything else, you may need to look elsewhere.

91 Days Episode 12

Review:

Now the weakest part of this series so far was the diversion from the whole revenge thing to go on a road trip. So, for a final, how about we get a taste of the war going on and then send our main characters on an echoing road trip again only this time it will be really depressing? Sounds fun, doesn’t it? While I appreciate that all the way through, 91 Days has attempted to ensure it was building consistent metaphors and themes, being reminded of my least favourite moments from the mid-season and the general feeling of failure and pointlessness that permeated this episode really just made it a little bit flat.

I’ll admit, this anime is going to be hard to review because it is a good anime but I have not enjoyed it very much.

91 Days is available on Crunchyroll.

91 Days Episode 11

Review:

Turns out we have one more episode but this was a highly entertaining episode. The first half was all semi-ironic statements about planning for a future (that we should all know by now was never going to exist) and the second half was metaphorically about burning everything down (though less flames and more knives and bullets involved). I do question how incredibly lame you have to be to have two guys stabbing someone else multiple times and still not actually succeed at killing him, and worse, allowing yourself to be killed by the wounded beast. Anyway, this episode brought us to the conclusion that everything (right from the killing of Avilio’s family) has been for nothing because nothing is going to survive the war that has now been ignited. I’d ask if Avilio is happy with this outcome but the answer to that is obvious.

I still think this whole story would have been more affective with less episodes as the middle really felt stretched out, but I am very satisfied with where we are going for the conclusion.

91 Days is available on Crunchyroll.

91 Days Episode 10

Review:

If I wasn’t sure before this episode more or less confirmed that Avilio has no intention of surviving his revenge quest. With that piece of information in mind, his actions throughout the whole series make a lot more sense because at no point could I see what his exit plan was going to be. This isn’t to say that his death is guaranteed, but it does make it clear that beyond his revenge he has no plans, and the number of death flags raised this episode make it very doubtful the anime has any plans to save him last minute. Who else will end up dead? Or more importantly, will there be anyone or anything left when the flames from this revenge burn out?

Corteo’s death this episode is not tragic as it is definitely the result of his own choices and has been inevitable for awhile now, but the execution of this death was perfect for the tone of this story. While this episode is slow moving it hits all the right notes to draw us back into the story after a middle that seemed to lose its way.

91 Days is available on Crunchyroll.