2010: A Retrospective

A quick look back at what caught my eye over the previous year. This post allows me to wish everybody a Happy New Year.

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Doctor Who Christmas Special

Let me start by saying that this is the best Doctor Who Christmas Special in like… ever. Which is why I just have to post. If you haven’t seen it, watch it before reading this entry.

Matt Smith and Michael Gambon

Consider all of the Doctor Who Christmas specials so far. They tend to focus on over the top alien invasions and throw in a Christmas tree.  THIS Doctor Who, by contrast, is exactly what the Christmas season calls for. Observe…

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Scary Manga for Christmas

Christmas is coming and along with the festive cheer it is also a time for ghost stories. At least in Britain it is. Usually this means short stories by Charles Dickens and M.R. James. This got me thinking… When was the last time you were scared by a short story… or more specifically, manga?

Me? Never. I tend to read manga for humour – Welcome to the NHK/Excel Saga – or sci-fi action – Pluto/King of Thorns. I have read a lot of supernatural manga such as Claymore, Buso Renkin and Tsukihime and found them bland (apologies to anyone offended) so I have come to dismiss the medium in terms of scares… which is why I have been caught off guard by two recent reads – Biomega and Zashiki Onna. I just have to recommend them.

Biomega – Tsutomu Nihei

The N5S virus has swept across the Earth turning people into Zombies. Zoichi Kanoe is a synthetic human and agent of Toa Heavy Industries looking for a girl with the power to alter the virus. He rides into the city of 9JO on a motorcycle with built in AI named Fuyu only to encounter zombies and rivals also looking for the girl.

A Picture from the Manga, Biomega.

This is a bleak look at the future. The city and its architecture are very disturbing and labyrinthine. There is a lack of symmetry in the buildings and the spaces are all cramped and dark, cluttered with detritus and shadows. When spaces do open up, when you can see into the distance, what you get are post-industrial Escher nightmares stretching off into infinity – humanity created a hellish modernity for itself before the zombies showed up.

Tsutomu Nihei uses dense and dark imagery that imbues the settings with a disturbing quality which reflects upon the zombies. These walkers are genuinely chilling to look at, the human form bearing enough history from their past lives to make them individual but the disease distorting them physically. Seeing them in groups is just as unsettling.

The plot doesn’t give much away until it’s ready. Like Zoichi, we are venturing into this hell and discovering things at his pace. I found it very atmospheric and chilling. Reading this at night by the light of a small lamp across the room I felt a chilling physical and emotional response.

Zashiki Onna – Minetaro Mochizuki

Picture from the manga Zashiki Onna

College kid Hiroshi is living a relatively normal life, working a part time job, romancing a high-school girl and living alone in an apartment. One night he hears somebody banging a neighbour’s door and shouting. The knocking continues for a while but the neighbour isn’t in and Hiroshi wants to get some sleep so he goes outside. What greets him is a thin, tall bedraggled woman with torn, dirty clothes, messy hair. Bottom line: she’s disturbing. She sees him. So starts their ‘relationship’.

The manga goes from normal to chilling to absolutely deranged. What at first seems like a very realistic portrayal of stalking goes seriously off the rails into the psychological horror alley and then into the realm of the urban legend.

Japanese horror films have long since me primed for suspicion whenever a girl with Zashiki Onnaloooong hair pops up but at points I felt sorry for the poor woman. I believed in the characters and even if their actions weren’t totally believable I still found myself gritting my teeth at the creepiness, grinning with glee at the lunacy and crying out: 

“RUN HIROSHI! RUN!”

“DON’T DO IT HIROSHI! YOU FOOL!”

All without feeling the slightest bit of self-consciousness. Hell, I’m not embarrassed to admit it because I enjoyed the manga. Track it down if you can!

Monsters

I like the idea that the first film review on this blog was December 2009 and about that sci-fi epic Avatar and the last review of 2010 will be a film that can be considered the anti-Avatar, the low budget Monsters.

Six years ago a space probe was launched to collect samples. On its return, it broke up over Central America leaving in its wake new biological life. Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is a cynical photojournalist working for New World Chronicle in Mexico. He is searching for the perfect shot of a monster, especially one causing tragedy. He is asked to escort an injured Sam Wynder (Whitney Able), daughter of the man who owns New World Chronicle, to a sea port to get her back to America. Unfortunately, they have to travel overland through Central America to the US border.

Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able in Monsters

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Somewhere

The start of the film is a test for an audience: a black Ferrari going around and around a race track. It is being driven by the main character, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff). The scene goes on and on, the camera stationary even when the car leaves the frame. After a few minutes the car stops, Johnny gets out and looks lost.

Sofia Coppola has obviously demonstrated a metaphor about Johnny’s life and if you are bored then you have a short attention span or lack patience.

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The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader 3D

I saw this with my younger sister. That is my excuse for watching this film, otherwise I would not have watched it because the franchise has never interested me in the slightest (I have never finished the books either). Which would have meant that I had missed out on what (from my mid-20’s perspective) is a mildly enjoyable simple tale with swashbuckling heroes and a myriad of monsters from mythology.

Cambridge, World War 2. Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley) find themselves staying with their fastidious cousin Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter) while their older siblings are in America. One day, a painting of an ocean with a ship begins spraying water on the three. Soon they find themselves transported to an ocean in Narnia and rescued by King Caspian (Ben Barnes) and his ship The Dawn Treader. He is on a quest to find seven lost lords and save Narnia from an evil magic.

Lucy and Edmund

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The Warrior’s Way

Long, long ago in a land far, far away, Yang (Jang Dong-gun), greatest swordsman in the history of mankind. Ever. saves the life of a baby girl from a rival clan. Heading to America with the baby, he lands at the edge of the desert in a busted town full of broken people. The town of Lode, Paris of the West. Population 500,  mostly circus folk. Here he encounters Lynne (Kate Bosworth), a knife thrower who simmers for revenge after evil cowboys led by The Colonel (Danny Huston) murder her family. Yang teams up with the inhabitants to defend the town from the cowboys whilst falling for Lynne but soon his clan catches up with him.

Jang Dong-gun in The Warrior's Way

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Unstoppable

I am going to state that Unstoppable has an infranarrative about corporate America abandoning the working class of rust-belt America to save their company stock price and have a nice game of golf… Seriously. But first and foremost, this is a thrilling film about a runaway train.

Stanton, Southern Pennsylvania, veteran rail employee with 28 years on the tracks Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) is facing forced into retirement. He is called upon to train (hyuk hyuk) new employee Will Colson (Chris Pine) who is facing a restraining order from his wife preventing him from returning home. Elsewhere, a slack rail employee named Dewey sets in motion a driverless train which is carrying dangerous chemicals that could cause a huge explosion. Yardmaster Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) battles with her superiors and works with the police to try and stop the train before it hits a populated area… and a train full of school children… 150 school children actually. Really. Nobody quite realises that it will be Frank Barnes and Will Colson who will save the day.

Denzel Washington and Chris Pine in the film Unstoppable

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Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Maid

I hate moe. So if, say last month, you told me that I would be enjoying anime involving moe and maids, I probably would have punched you for insinuating that I enjoy all manner of near-pervy images that moe and maids conjure up in a Google search.

Yet here I am about to sing the praises of:

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru.

I wish my maid was as cool as her.

Soredemo is a gorgeously animated, adventurous slice of life anime replete with relentless upbeat humour and a lead character and supporting cast I really liked.

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Due Date

My 100th post. It’s when a day starts like this, it’s all up-hill from here

The road-trip movie. A perennial favourite with Hollywood. With this one, a highly-strung and hostile office worker and a friendly, weird, bear of a man are both forced travel together across America. It sounds like John Hughes’ 1987 classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but it is Due Date, a rather cruder and more extreme version of the road-trip from hell.

Atlanta, Peter Highman, (Robert Downey Jr.) is an uptight architect on his way to the airport to fly back to LA in order to be with his wife Sara (Michelle Monaghan) who is giving birth to their first child. Unfortunately, he encounters the human disaster that is aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) and his dog Sunny. Peter’s day go from bad to worse as they are thrown off the airplane and that incident sparks off the genuine road-trip from hell.

Robert Downey Jr and Zach Galifianakis in Due Date

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