Film Review: Arcadia of My Youth (1982)

Also known as: Space Pirate Captain Harlock: Arcadia of My Youth (English title), Vengeance of the Space Pirate (US dubbed version)
Release Date: 1982 (Japan)
Directed by: Tomoharu Katsumata
Written by: Leiji Matsumoto, Yoichi Onaka
Based on: Captain Harlock by Leiji Matsumoto
Music by: Toshiyuki Kimori

Toei Animation, 130 Minutes, 101 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“At the end of their lives, all men look back and think that their youth was Arcadia.” – title card

I never really knew who Leiji Matsumoto was. As a kid, I loved Star Blazers though and I had heard of Captain Harlock but I never knew that they were associated. Had I known that, I probably would’ve watched this film when it came Stateside.

Now, I’m trying to rectify the injustice of not watching Matsumoto’s other work. So I started here, as this was free for Prime members and because I’ve always been intrigued by Captain Harlock, even though I’ve never seen any of his shows or films.

Maybe I should have watched the earlier anime series first but this does serve as a prequel to it, as well as a prequel to one of Matsumoto’s other creations, Galaxy Express 999.

This is a space opera at its core but that was Matsumoto’s modus operandi and he was able to craft fantastic tales within the genre. Arcadia is no different and ultimately, this made me want to watch the earlier Harlock series.

The thing that really works and makes this so compelling is the tone and the atmosphere. Visually, it’s both dark and fantastical.

The opening scene with Harlock in his biplane being confronted by the spirit of a witch that haunts the Owen Stanley Mountains of New Guinea is pretty breathtaking and lures you in like you’re being pulled by a powerful phantom’s grip. And maybe that’s the witch coming through and having an effect on the audience. Point being, the opening is so well crafted that it made me a fan of this picture from the get-go.

Everything that follows is also pretty fascinating. This is a story with a lot of drama but most importantly, high adventure.

The hero is cool, most of the other characters are great but most importantly, the design of the ships, vehicles and the universe they inhabit is imaginative and stunning.

The audio is presented in mono and I’m not sure if a remastered stereo version exists but the mono sound kind of adds to the atmosphere. Granted, that could also be nostalgia triggering in my brain, as it gave me the same experience I had watching old VHS tapes of Star Blazers and Voltron.

If anything, this feature film sold me on the franchise and further strengthened my appreciation for Matsumoto.

I’m not sure where my odyssey through Matsumoto’s oeuvre will take me next but watching the original Captain Harlock series, as well as the Galaxy Express 999 stuff is a must.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Captain Harlock films and shows, as well as Leiji Matsumoto’s other work: Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato a.k.a. Star Blazers.

Vids I Dig 062: Toy Galaxy: The History of ‘Robotech’ (In 4 Parts)

From Toy Galaxy’s YouTube description (Part 1: Harmony Gold & The Birth of ‘Robotech’): On this episode we dive into the very messy history of Robotech.

A mash-up of 3 different Japanese animated shows imported to the US at a time when Transformers were just rolling out and Hasbro was looking to license any robots they could find, this caused some problems for Harmony Gold, the company behind Robotech.

From Toy Galaxy’s YouTube description (Part 2: The Movie, A Lawsuit & Government Trouble): Picking up where Volume 1 left off this is the History of Robotech volume 2.

This episode covers Harmony Gold’s efforts to get a Robotech movie into theaters with the help of Cannon Films and their efforts to create a season 2 of Robotech with all new animation.

Unfortunately, the governments of the world didn’t care about any of that.

From Toy Galaxy’s YouTube description (Part 3: Games, Comics & Licensing Nonsense): It’s the history of Robotech volume 3 as we continue on.

Harmony Gold starts to really enforce its license and Dan explores the Robotech RPG, all of the Robotech comics from all of the various publishers and the series of Robotech novels and talks about where they fit in the larger Robotech canon.

From Toy Galaxy’s YouTube description (Part 4: Lots of Lawsuits, Failed Kickstarters & the Future): The history of Robotech is very complicated. It is littered with failed projects, like Robotech Academy, Mars Force and Palladium Book Robotech RPG Tactics, and lots of lawsuits.

Lawsuits involving Battletech, Piranha Games, Hairbrained Schemes, Hasbro and more.

And a confusing spaghetti of rights involving Harmony Gold, Tatsunoko, Big West, Studio Nue, Battletech, Hasbro and others.

We do our best to tell that story.

TV Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996)

Original Run: October 4th, 1995 – March 27th, 1996
Created by: Hideaki Anno
Directed by: Hideaki Anno
Written by: Hideaki Anno
Based on: Shin Seiki Evangerion by Hideaki Anno
Music by: Shirō Sagisu

Gainax, Tatsunoko Production, TV Tokyo, 26 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I wanted to revisit this and review it some time ago but I heard that Netflix was bringing it to their streaming service. Granted, at the time of that announcement, I didn’t know it’d be like another year.

Anyway, that’s probably how most people have seen this show now and I’ll say that I’m not super keen on the dubbing of the Netflix version. I like the original dubbing better, even if it’s been said that the new dub is more accurate. I just don’t like the voice work as much.

However, this is still a pretty good anime but is sadly undone by its bizarre ending that thankfully, got retconned later. Or that’s what I’ve been told anyway, as I haven’t seen the films that followed. But if you are really, really into this and don’t know what’s coming, expect a Patrick Duffy in the shower moment.

If you are a fan of stuff like RobotechAlita: Battle Angel and Ghost In the Shell, then this should be right up your alley. Even if you’re not a big anime or manga fan but like kaiju or tokusatsu shows and movies, you’ll still find something to connect to here.

I mostly like the characters, their dynamic and the insane world that they live in. However, Shinji can become grating with all this yelling, whining, emo storms and absolute immaturity. Sure, he’s a kid but my homies would’ve smacked me if I acted like he did 90 percent of the time.

What I love most is the creativity that went into the design of the giant monsters. They aren’t traditional kaiju like those in a Godzilla movie but are more akin to monsters from the most bizarre episodes of the many Ultraman, Super Sentai or Kamen Rider series.

This is also full of a lot of religious iconography, primarily of the Christian faith. I wouldn’t call this show Christian, by any means, but it does tap into elements of its symbolism.

At its core, this is a coming of age story that sees young kids forced into adult situations. In fact, they’re thrown into war against these giant creatures. Piloting giant mecha and having to always be on the go, instead of going to school and playing sports (or D&D), these teens have to be saviors of the world.

While for some, the animation may feel dated now. I still think it looks fantastic. But this also came out at the height of my anime watching when I was still a teen. I’ve heard that the films after really upped the ante, visually.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is definitely an anime series worth watching, if you haven’t yet. It might not connect with everyone but there is a reason why it has been held in the highest regard for over two decades. In the end, fans of anime should walk away with something highly worthwhile.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Ghost In the ShellMacross and Robotech related stuff, as well as Alita: Battle Angel.

Film Review: Vampires (1998)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Vampires (complete title), Vampire$ (working title)
Release Date: April 15th, 1998 (France)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Don Jakoby
Based on: Vampire$ by John Steakley
Music by: John Carpenter
Cast: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell, Tim Guinee, Mark Boone Junior, Gregory Sierra, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

JVC Entertainment Networks, Film Office, Storm King Productions, Largo Entertainment, Spooky Tooth Productions, Columbia Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Can I ask ya somethin, Padre? When I was kickin your ass back there… you get a little wood?” – Jack Crow

James Woods is cooler than any of us could ever be. And frankly, this may be the coolest he’s ever been. I mean, shit, he’s a vampire slaying, foul mouthed, badass, ready to burn down hordes of undead bloodsuckers.

Then you have Daniel Baldwin, who is always very convincing as an overweight piece of shit that isn’t afraid to punch his way through problems.

Both of these guys inject so much testosterone into this picture that it truly is cinematic Viagra.

Now I’m not saying they’re good people or even heroic. But that’s what makes this movie so badass and chock full of the best ’90s action movie cliches.

This also features Thomas Ian Griffith as the big evil vampire that they have to kill. Griffith was born to play this part, even if he’s given better performances elsewhere – The Karate Kid, Part III is still my favorite thing he’s ever done. But he is absolutely convincing, has the right build and physical presence and is able to terrify the audience. I remember people in the theater being in absolute awe during the scene where Griffith crashes the vampire hunters’ motel party, ripping everyone and everything to shreds.

What I really enjoy about this movie, is that it is a vampire movie with a real hard edge to it. In the ’90s, vampires were still scary and this does a good job of tapping into that while reminding you how cool vampires can be when used as legitimate monsters. This, along with Blade and From Dusk Till Dawn used these mythological terrors in the way that God intended.

This isn’t John Carpenter at his finest but it’s the second best movie he did in the ’90s after In the Mouth of Madness. It’s tough as shit, blue collar as fuck and it shows you that being a vampire slayer means that you’re probably going to die a very early death instead of just being a cool teenage girl that talks like all her dialogue is written by a balding middle aged guy pretending to be a teenage girl.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn and John Carpenter’s ’90s movies.

Film Review: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

Also known as: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life (working title)
Release Date: July 27th, 2010 (Canada – Fantasia International Film Festival)
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Michael Bacall, Edgar Wright
Based on: Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Music by: Nigel Godrich
Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Brie Larson, Aubrey Plaza, Mae Whitman, Ellen Wong, Nelson Franklin, Thomas Jane, Clifton Collins Jr., Bill Hader (voice)

Universal Pictures, Marc Platt Productions, Big Talk Productions, 112 Minutes

Review:

“When I’m around you, I kind of feel like I’m on drugs. Not that I do drugs. Unless you do drugs, in which case I do them all the time. All of them.” – Scott Pilgrim

I haven’t watched this since it came out in theaters. From memory, I liked it at the time but strangely, I’ve never felt the urge to rewatch it until now, nine years later. And that was mainly just to review it, as I’m a fan of Edgar Wright’s work and Scott Pilgrim still seems to be beloved by comic book fans after all this time.

Well, I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I had hoped. Maybe I’m older, or since I’ve seen this, I sort of know what to expect from it so the razzle dazzle doesn’t awe me as it once did or maybe it just isn’t a good movie as far as its story, characters and purpose goes.

To start, this is an amazing looking picture on its surface. I really dig that the filmmakers committed to the bit and gave us a true live action version of the comic without trying to rework it into something more realistic. The special effects are spectacular, the musical numbers are cool and this film is really impressive in that regard. I love it for its style and how it is all conveyed on screen.

However, the whole story is focused on one of the worst romances I have ever had to sit through in a film. Scott is obsessed with Ramona, but she acts like that girl who is too cool for everyone at all the parties she feels the need to keep going to. But really, she’s just a broken person with bad hair that delivers packages for Amazon Canada like a total twentysomething normie just trying to pay for hair dye, thrift shop clothes, avocado toast and her 1/9th of the rent.

Still, her personality is off putting as fuck but then so is Scott’s, as he just acts like whatever he thinks she wants and he even treats his current girlfriend like shit and doesn’t really seem to know who he is, what he wants or where he’s going. He just knows that he’s obsessed over some hipster douche with weird hair and now has to fight a bunch of her exes in order to maybe date her. But she is so indifferent and noncommittal for almost the entire picture that Scott just comes off as a dopey puppy that needs to have his heart crushed.

Normally I wouldn’t be so harsh on something like this but it is this budding relationship that is the framework for the entire narrative. Sad pussy puts it all on the line for salty nihilist weirdo bitch that kinda maybe likes him right this minute but has no idea how she will feel in five minutes.

There is no lesson to be learned on this journey.

I’ve never read the comic because I don’t have much interest in it but I hope the relationship in the source material isn’t this shallow and stupid.

The only reason why this doesn’t get a terrible rating from me is that the visuals and the style of this film are so alluring and perfectly presented in the film medium that the picture does put me in awe in that regard. This is a really cool and fun movie to look at and I dig the music. The surface is superb, it just turns to crap when you get past the polish, bright lights and groovy tunes.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, as well as the Kick Ass movies and Zombieland.

Film Review: Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

Also known as: Chikyû saidai no kessen, lit. Three Giant Monsters: The Greatest Battle on Earth (Japan), Monster of Monsters: Ghidorah (Worldwide English title), Godzilla vs. Ghidorah (Finland), Frankensteins Monster im Kampf gegen Ghidorah (Germany)
Release Date: December 20th, 1964 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Yosuke Natsuki, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yuriko Hoshi, Akiko Wakabayashi, The Peanuts, Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata, Kenji Sahara, Susumu Kurobe, Haruo Nakajima, Shoichi Hirose

Toho Co. Ltd., 92 Minutes

Review:

“Yes, it is possible for someone to be saved from an exploding aircraft. If we understand the curvature of space, we know that the continuum surrounding any spherical body such as our world is composed of different dimensions. The force of the explosion created a gap between these dimensions, and fortunately for her, she fell into it.” – Alien Expert

I’ve put off reviewing this film in the Godzilla franchise for awhile. The main reason, is that I wanted to save it for the week that the new American Godzilla movie was coming out, as that one features the same four monsters featured in this film. So if the new American film is remaking anything, it is closest to remaking this film.

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster isn’t just one of my favorite Godzilla movies, it is one of my favorite monster movies… ever.

King Ghidorah is, hands down, one of the coolest and most iconic monsters ever created. While he might not be as popular as Godzilla or Mothra, he is most definitely the best villain in Godzilla lore and the true king of Toho’s baddies. He’s also much better than any of the evil kaiju creatures from any other Japanese series whether it be GameraUltraman or anything else. Personally, Gigan is my favorite but I can’t deny the greatness and dominance of Ghidorah.

What’s also really interesting about this film is that it is where Godzilla really becomes a good guy and a protector of Japan and Earth from worse monsters. He teams up with Mothra, after the two of them fought in Godzilla Vs. The Thing and he also encounters Rodan for the first time, which starts off as a big fight but eventually ends with the two of them becoming strong allies.

Ghidorah has three heads, so I guess it makes sense needing three good monsters to fight him. Also, it sort of helps to build up the mystique of the new villain. For the first time ever, Godzilla alone can’t take on another monster. Granted, Godzilla, over time, would evolve to be far more powerful than the standard Ghidorah.

The story of this one is also interesting in that it introduces a monster threat from outer space, as well as bringing in alien races and a new sort of dynamic to the Godzilla franchise, which changes all the movies going forward.

Additionally, this movie was helmed by the A-team of Toho tokusatsu: director Ishirō Honda, writer Shinichi Sekizawa, special effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya and composer Akira Ifukube. It also features the top Toho actors, the real core of the studio’s talent at the time: Hiroshi Koizumi, Kenji Sahara, Takashi Shimura, Akiko Wakabayashi and Akihiko Hirata.

While I like the original Godzilla and King Kong Vs. Godzilla more than this, this chapter in the franchise is almost a perfect storm where everything just sort of went right. It ups the ante in new ways, is a hell of a lot of fun and it’s the one film that really sells you on how menacing and dangerous King Ghidorah is.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Shōwa era Godzilla movies.

Film Review: Seven Samurai (1954)

Also known as: Shichinin no Samurai (Japan), The Magnificent Seven (US premiere title)
Release Date: April 26th, 1954 (Japan)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni
Music by: Fumio Hayasaka
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima, Isao Kimura, Daisuke Katō, Seiji Miyaguchi, Yoshio Inaba, Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara, Kokuten Kōdō, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Eijirō Tōno, Jun Tatara, Atsushi Watanabe, Yoshio Kosugi, Bokuzen Hidari, Yukiko Shimazaki

Toho Co. Ltd., 207 Minutes, 160 Minutes (international), 202 Minutes (2002 re-release), 150 Minutes (original cut), 190 Minutes (1991 re-release), 207 Minutes (restored), 202 Minutes (DVD)

Review:

“What do you think of farmers? You think they’re saints? Hah! They’re foxy beasts! They say, “We’ve got no rice, we’ve no wheat. We’ve got nothing!” But they have! They have everything! Dig under the floors! Or search the barns! You’ll find plenty! Beans, salt, rice, sake! Look in the valleys, they’ve got hidden warehouses! They pose as saints but are full of lies! If they smell a battle, they hunt the defeated! They’re nothing but stingy, greedy, blubbering, foxy, and mean! God damn it all!” – Kikuchiyo

Akira Kurosawa is absolutely one of the greatest film directors to ever live. Hell, he could be the best but there are other elite talents in that discussion and taste is subjective.

But for a man that is such a master of his craft, it is hard to imagine that there is one film that stands above all the others. This is that film.

Seven Samurai is at or near the top of most legit film critics all-time best lists. It is cinematic perfection, a film of the highest artistic caliber. I can’t call it my favorite of all-time but it is definitely the king of Asian cinema and boasts a story so rich and beloved that it has gone on to inspire countless other movies, television shows, novels, comics and stage plays.

I know that I am really talking the film up but what I’m saying is not an oversell. From top to bottom, everything about Seven Samurai is top notch. So good, in fact, that it is hard to break it all down and review it.

The direction is superb, the acting is captivating and convincing, the narrative and the plot’s pacing are intriguing and perfect, this boasts incredible cinematography, lighting, shot framing and employs an understanding of mise en scène that allows this film to exist on a level that most other filmmakers will never be able to achieve.

Seven Samurai is truly a perfect storm. It is one of those films that I assume that everyone claiming to be a “film aficionado” has seen.

Sure, it is very long, which is something I tend to be annoyed by with many films but there isn’t a dull moment and every scene has genuine purpose.

But I also get that a three and a half hour, subtitled, black and white movie about samurai and farmers in 1500s Japan won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s also not as action packed as action fans would hope for but the combat situations are still quite compelling.

This is a drama more than it is an action or adventure story, however. But that is also why this stands shoulders above other films in the jidaigeki genre. Seven Samurai is about life, perseverance and heroism. It is a tale that most people are familiar with and should love.

If you’ve made it this far in life and have never seen the film but fancy yourself a real film fan, you need to correct that injustice. You owe it to yourself.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other films by Akira Kurosawa: The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Kagemusha, Throne of Blood, Ikiru, Rashomon, etc.