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VOL. 2 ISSUE 2. JAN - JUN 2018

Reviews of movies including 'Thoroughbreds' and 'Ready Player One'

My opinions on the 'Isle of Dogs' controversy as a full-blooded Japanese

HIT OR MISS BY LUKA MAEDA (FEAT. AILEEN, AUSTIN, ELINDA, JASMINE, NOAH)


Watched on Jan. 23

MARY AND THE WITCH'S FLOWER Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi // Release Date Jan. 18, 2018 Starring Hana Sugisaki (JP) and Ruby Barnhill (ENG) First off, congratulations. “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” is studio Ponoc’s first fulllength project, animated by several former Ghibli studio employees and led by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, a former Ghibli director. The film reached sixth for the highest-grossing Japanese films in 2017 and earned a box office of $41 million. The animation is painfully similar to Ghibli’s, but the style itself is more rounded and less detailed and they outright avoid heavy colors. Maybe my eyes have been polluted with flashy colors from Disney and sharp, exaggerated movements from most animes, but studio Ponoc’s animation didn’t leave a big impression on me. It’s not up to par, but it’s still fantastic from any angle. Yonebayashi joined arms with Riko Sakaguchi to write the screenplay, but he let me down. The story bled cliche. The love interest was so weak and the entire motive to save Peter was brittle. There’s just zero charm to Peter. I’m at least glad I watched it in dub. It may as well be the only anime best in dub, considering how the entire story is set in England. Though I practically bashed on “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” instead of praising it, I have tremendously high hopes for studio Ponoc. First movies are hard and I get that; they did an awesome job on this one if you take that into consideration. It may not even be long before it catches up to Ghibli soon.

2.5 OUT OF 5 1 |

HIT OR MISS


Watched on Feb. 20 Snack of the night: popcorn and some of Elinda’s garlic pretzel bites

THE 15:17 TO PARIS Directed by Clint Eastwood // Release Date Feb. 9, 2018 // Starring Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone

Director Clint Eastwood is the mastermind behind historical classics like “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Flags of Our Fathers,” but “The 15:17 to Paris” is the polar opposite of any other Eastwood films. In fact, the notorious action scene takes up only two minutes of the film’s 96 minutes, and violence happens only within the 10-minute span of the last few minutes of the movie. But the 87-year-old director is still capable of cooking up intriguing concepts. “The 15:17 to Paris” recreates the surreal 2015 terrorist attack on the Thalys train to Paris, France, using the actual American heroes who stopped the gunman in the attack as actors portraying themselves in the film. It’s Eastwood’s little experiment to let the true heroes reenact and tell their own stories. Needless to say, the dabble of authenticity shines light on the film, but it’s hard to take anything seriously when their acting falls flat. With as little as three weeks to prepare for production, amateurs Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos received no acting classes, and it shows. But what was worse were the three middle school boys who depicted Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos in their younger years. Awkward, phony acting paired with a cheap script provided by Dorothy Blyskal made what could have been a flavorful film incredibly muddy. Even though the attempt to use real-life heroes was enlightening, it failed to make up for the unresolved moral, lousy acting and bone-dry cinematography. A change in the script could have at least made the movie bearable to watch.

1 OUT OF 5

2 |

HIT OR MISS


G A M E N I G H T Directed by John Frances Daley, Jonathan Goldstein // Release Date Feb. 23, 2018 // Starring Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams

“Game Night” without a doubt won my soul for having the best comical content, thanks to their spot-on humor that left me howling with laughter. Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, both screenwriters for “Spider-man: Homecoming,” conjoin to cook up “Game Night.” Both Goldstein and Daley are arising directors, but yet to produce a hit film. Even with their only handful of screenwriting experience, they manage to present refreshing dark comedy that’s wholehearted at the same time, induced with surprisingly good humor that all can enjoy. (Fun fact: Daley played the notorious role of Sam Weir in “Freaks and Geeks”) “Game Night” had a fit line of cast and characters, each with unique elements that stand out in contrast with each other. Goldstein and Daley also refrained from exercising each character their stereotypical qualities. Although Annie was a late-20s white female and an avid yogic while Ryan was a dumb blonde, they never really pressed any further than that. Unlike most mainstream comedy, they rejected racist and dirty humor altogether, except when Ryan’s match-made-in-heaven dumb blonde girlfriend who shouted “white people!” when they played a game of charades that described “something superior.” Both video and sound editing were not bad. Although none of the soundtracks stood out or memorable, they did the bare minimum to at least to match it with moods of each scene. The shift between laid-back bossa nova and suspenseful music, when they panned from the quiet outside to the rambunctious inside of the house, was absolute genius. It locked in another layer of humor to the entire scene. “Game Night” is the perfect Friday night movie to laugh with friends. My pal and I got large popcorn and vanilla soda to top it off, and it was easily the best night I’ve had at a movie theater.

3 |

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Watched on Mar. 9 Snack of the night: large popcorn and vanilla soda

"'Game Night' is the perfect Friday night movie to laugh with friends."

4 OUT OF 5 4 |

HIT OR MISS


T H R

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Directed by Cory Finley Release Date Apr. 6, 2018 Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke

O UG

Watched on Mar. 17 Snack of the night: Jasmine green tea ice cream

5 |

HIT OR MISS

H

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Fresh into the film industry, Cory Finley has already written and directed his first cinematic work with “Thoroughbreds.” It's a brilliant work of thriller that has swept the audience off their feet with meaty writing and enigmatic characters . “Thoroughbreds” depicts sick behavior from two teenage girls, Lily (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (played by Olivia Cooke), who reunite their childhood friendship years later. When Lily explains her frustration towards her step-father, Amanda brings forward a ploy — to kill her step-father. Inspiration from murderous classics like “Pulp Fiction” and “Perfect Blue” are present throughout. Even the most anticipated murder scene isn’t shown, and that’s fine, because “Thoroughbreds” isn’t about a great murder plan. It’s more or less an extended metaphor for satisfying greed and questioning meaning in one meek life . Lily is a full-on bourgeoisie who has been granted with every object she could ever wish for and the next bullet point on her wish list is her stepdad dead. But Lily can’t get her hands dirty, so which worthless being can? Amanda, on one hand, finds solace in expressing zero emotions, even when killing her prized horse, but Lily is the exact opposite. The abrasive contrast between the two creates a drip of eeriness and an oddly favorable relationship. Both actors ace their provided roles and accentuate the characters’ personalities. Taylor-Joy is known for her notorious role in “The Witch” and Cooke will be one of the starring actors for “Ready Player One.” The minimalistic soundtrack fits seamingly with every scene. Although the majority of the film is percussive and more tribally rhythmic than melodic, the last scene features an acoustic guitar that plays so lovingly and with so much care. The screenplay laced with dark humor and weirdly lovable characters is worth every penny spent. Gashful, cold and sinfully fun, “Thoroughbreds” will be a future classic for murder-thriller fans alike.

4.5 OUT OF 5 6 |

HIT OR MISS


Watched on Mar. 30, my 18th birthday!

ISLE OF DOGS Directed by Wes Anderson Release date Mar. 23, 2018 Starring Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson There was big controversy circling around “Isle of Dogs” because: 1. The story was on how an entire population lost love for canines and threw every dog in the country to Trash Island 2. Said story was set in a fictitious city in Japan I’m Japanese, full blood. I am the result of my Japanese parents who were both born and raised in the prefectures of Shizuoka and Fukui. I attended Japanese school every Saturday, otherwise known as the dreadful “Hoshuuko,” for eleven years and I’ve attended both an elementary school in the outskirt of Yokohama and a high school in Shizuoka. When my mom and I saw the trailer for “Isle of Dogs” in theaters, she turned to me and sighed. The concept sounds great, she said, but she was more disappointed at the yellow katakanas that lit up on the screen. The majority of the cast was white who probably don’t know a lick of Japanese culture.

7 |

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Snack of the night: ice cream sandwich

When I actually counted the number of Japanese people in the 27 person cast, there were only eight. I get the sense of discomfort towards that, but 8 isn’t a bad number. If you really think about it, “Isle of Dogs” is geared towards the American audience, so American voice actors are naturally the kind of voice actors Wes Anderson would consider. Unless “Isle of Dogs” was entirely in Japanese, there isn’t a need for Japanese voice actors. So why isn’t “Isle of Dogs” in Japanese? Why didn’t Anderson conjoin with a Japanese production company? Because Anderson is American. He practically set the story in Japan to reel in the “quirky” aesthetic he wanted to portray. There are animes like “Black Butler” and “Ancient Magus’ Bride” to name a few, that are set in a foreign country. There isn’t any point to that, but it adds a layer of unique oomph that astray from other typical animes. I liked “Isle of Dogs.” I don’t see what’s wrong with it being set in Japan. Though the movie doesn’t even show half of what Japan is, could you really boil down the entire face of a country in a single movie? It’s also not Wes Anderson’s intention to push the idea that Japanese citizens hate dogs. We don’t (we also don’t eat dogs). We even have a statue of dog outside of Shibuya station to honor Hachiko. Not many people noticed how delicately Anderson handled the setting being in Japan. He did his research and accurately represented kabuki plays, fish cutting and wadaiko in the opening and ending scenes. I appreciated the care he put into creating “Isle of Dogs” altogether and the care with implementing Japanese culture into his film. “Isle of Dogs” was one breathtaking animation that we only emerge once in ten years and I don’t think it should be dwindled or beat up for something that wasn’t the director’s intention. 8 | HIT OR MISS


READY PLAYER ONE “Ready Player One” (RPO) gave me hope. It gave sophomore me the reassurance that a safe haven like the OASIS would someday overrule reality and that every fleeting second of awkward small talk will be filled with a more heart-racing world. After three years of relentless daydreaming, Spielberg finally served RPO to the table. It’s smothered in some glossy, unappetizing CG syrup and dotted with screenwriting to wince at, but it stole my heart anyway and electrified my spring break. The theater was like dim sum; we were cramped next to one another in this high sixty room, sweating from eyeball to toes. Even the sound quality was faint and the screen dimensions were a hair smaller than it usually is in other theaters, but I had a blast. Maybe the excessive CG was meant to mimic those high-quality video game graphics out there but whatever it was for, Spielberg did it right. The stunning visuals tugged the audience closer into this almost three-dimensional world as if we’re witnessing this through a pair of VR goggles. It’s punchy, gleaming and eye-candy. I was glad that the movie didn’t follow word for word from the book. Even the three “riddles” were immensely different (holy moly, I didn’t expect “The Shining” tribute!) and they definitely left out that one part in the book when Wade Shwatts fucked a sex robot (what?). But let’s not forget about those god-awful scenes that really brought out nervous laughter from the general audience. Disco dance-off? Any scene with Art3mis and Parzival in general? Those definitely deducted some points off. Aside from the weird screenplay, the horrible scenes that should have been left out altogether and knowing RPO belongs to Ernest Cline*, I had crazy fun. The surge of adrenaline, beads of sweat on our foreheads and the entwined “Jump!” track by Van Halen defined RPO a popcorn and cherry coke movie (though me nor my friends Noah and Eric got either of those).

9 |

HIT OR MISS


Watched on Apr. 14

*In the book “The Importance of Being Ernest,” published in 2003, Cline includes a poem called “Nerd Porn Auteur” written in the late 90’s in which he criticizes and marginalizes female porn stars into “objects.” Here’s an excerpt of that very poem: All the porn I've come across was targeted at beer-swilling sports bar dwelling alpha-males Men who like their women stupid and submissive Men who can only get it up for monosyllabic cock-hungry nymphos with gargantuan breasts and a three-word vocabulary Adult films are populated with these collagen-injected liposuctioned women Many of whom have resorted to surgery and self-mutilation in an attempt to look the way they have been told to look. These aren't real women. They're objects. And these movies aren't erotic. They're pathetic. These vacuum-headed fuck bunnies don't turn me on. And then: But do you ever see that kind of a woman in a contemporary adult film? No. Which is why I'm going to start writing and directing Geek Porno. I shall be the quintessential Nerd Porn Auteur. And the women in my porno movies will be the kind that drive nerds like me mad with desire. I'm talking about the girls that used to fuck up the grading curve. The girls in the Latin Club and the National Honor Society. Chicks with weird clothes, braces, four eyes, and 4.0 GPAs. Brainy articulate bookworms, with MENSA cards in their purses and chips on their shoulders.

3.5 OUT OF 5

Isn’t that swell?!?!?!??!??!?!?

10 |

HIT OR MISS


Watched on May 18

1 OUT OF 5

CHAMPION Directed by Kim Yong-wan // Release date May 18 // Starring Ma Dong-Seuk On prom night, Noah and I went to AMC to watch "Ready Player One" again instead of going to the actual prom venue. We got piss poor front row seats because we were ten minutes late (your eyes are too close to the screen that even your peripheral vision can't catch anything outside the middle part of the screen. So we ditched RPO in the middle of it and hopped to "Champion" instead. I fell asleep ten minutes in, so here is Noah with his review of the movie instead: Since Luka fell asleep not even halfway through “Champion” By Kim Yong-wan, I was left to sit through the film by myself, and as a result, I will be delivering the review for this one instead. Anyways yeah, I think at this point, Luka’s ability to fall asleep during bad movies is a natural defense mechanism of sorts, because holy hell, this movie was bad. I couldn’t even remember the one-word title, let alone any of the characters names. The movie begins with little boi in an American club or something, and he starts making a fuss. Big boi has to come in and get his ass out of trouble but ends up arm wrestling instead which gets them a large sum of money (money little boi uses to fuck even more shit up with). After that, they go to Korea and meet single mom and her two annoying kids. Little boi then stirs up more trouble and somehow gets everyone involved. Now the first scene gave me that weird indie film vibe and I don’t know if that was an aesthetic or a bad production value, but it just felt cheap. The plot progression in this film is so predictable. I saw everything from a mile away, and the single plot twist which was probably slapped in at the last second can easily be picked out right after our first encounter with single mom. "Champion" was overall was terribly monotonous and forgettable. This review wasn’t very detailed, not because I suck at movie reviews (actually yeah it probably is), but because I simply could not remember anything after stepping out of the theater. 11 | HIT OR MISS


Skarlatos, Sadler and Stone in "15:17 to Paris" (top) Mary finds an enchanted flower in a forest in "Mary and the Witch's Flower" (bottom)

12 |

HIT OR MISS


HEREDITARY Directed by Ari Aster Release Date Jun. 8, 2018 Starring Toni Colette, Milly Shapiro, Alex Wolff Two middle school girls sat next to Noah and me. They were cackling loudly and practically screaming over some dumb shit during the previews while stuffing popcorn and M&M’s into their mouths. They were still yelling even when the movie started and continued to stomp their feet on the ground, laughing maniacally. Ten minutes later, they were dead silent. “Hereditary” is a son of a bitch film. It has the generic normal-family-ends-up-insane pathway but it’s far more terrifying and… weird. They seldom rely on jump scares; just genius camera pans and uncomfortable lingering. Nothing is ever rushed, just hauntingly slow... Let’s talk about soundtracks for a minute. Over the years, American horror films have gradually dwindled their soundtracks to something minimalistic. They play with the small leg space they purposely give to themselves to see just how much terror they could extract. It’s the exact opposite of Japanese horror films in which they most often utilize opera tracks that symbolizes grace and freedom to create this rubbing contrast with whatever blood on the screen. I like the idea of a minimalistic soundtrack a lot, because it works. It’s the first thing that I notice in trailers like “Hereditary” and they execute it the way it should be. (P.S. the trailer for “Hereditary” was insanely well done and is worth watching if you think you’d poop your pants watching the actual full length of the movie). Characters were also well portrayed in the film and the distinction between who’s innocent and who isn’t was unanimously clear and made the movie a hint more realistic (you know what they say, the more realer the more skoopier). Alex Wolff rendered true heart-to-heart acting as Peter and accurately illustrated the character’s weakness when fear emerged within Peter. Toni Collette (as Annie Graham) really hammered down the personality of a lunatic mom in her midlife crisis. Her desperate begging and yelling seemed way too real for her to not know what motherhood is like. The theater was nothing over fifty degrees, but I was sweating. There were times when the audience collectively gasped, laughed, yelled, and it truly made the film more special. Deranged, ludicrous and plain creepy, “Hereditary” wins the best horror for 2018. ...Also on another note, I haven’t been sleeping well since I’ve seen “Hereditary” and I can’t tell if it was because the movie was genuinely a prize winner horror film or if I’m a pussy.

4 OUT OF 5 13 |

HIT OR MISS


14 |

HIT OR MISS


OCEAN'S 8 Directed by Gary Ross Release date Jun. 5, 2018 Starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett

15 |

HIT OR MISS


Four of my friends and I went out to eat Korean food and thrift shop before we watched "Ocean's 8." Instead of hearing me babble about how fun it was, read their reviews instead:

AILEEN “Ocean’s 8” is an action-packed movie that keeps the audience on their toes. Not only are the cast phenomenal, but the plot and the jokes made were amazing and keep the audience interested. My only complaint is that the heist seemed to go too smoothly -- it could have been more interesting if they were going to get caught more than once. But I also understand that it would have made the movie longer than it already was. Overall, I recommend “Ocean’s 8” for those who love action scenes and comedy.

AUSTIN It was a good movie (not great, but it was a fun watch) yEET.

ELINDA I thought it was like a dumbed down version of “Ocean’s 11.” The plot was very simple, and yet poorly explained and executed, so that half of the movie was the protagonist hiring more people to cover up the many mistakes they made. This dragged the movie to be longer than it had to be, and several plot threads that were brought up were never mentioned again, leaving the ending unsatisfactory. Set design and costumes were very good, but they did not make up for the lackluster plot and cookie cutter characters.

JASMINE “Ocean’s 8” is a very fun movie where the women are able to pull off shenanigan after shenanigan. My favorite character is most definitely Nine Ball because of her laid back attitude, wit and because Rihanna. While it's no doubt entertaining, it's just not my preferred genre.

16 |

HIT OR MISS


A F T ER W O RD 17 |

HIT OR MISS


An Ode to Blue Lights and AMC Cupe In the past year, two of my closest movie theaters shut down due to their inability to pay high rent. Blue Lights cinemas was a small, run-down movie theater that showed documentaries, old classics and indie movies. My earliest memory I have there was watching a documentary of the Beatles with a group of friends from middle school and afterwards running down to the park nearby. They reenacted Romeo and Juliet in the play structure and I sat in the audience, clapping. I watched “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Now You See Me” with Casidy and “Baby Driver” with Noah my fourth time. I have been to AMC far more times than Blue Lights. I pedalled my bike there on summer nights while singing to “Debora” by T. Rex and grabbing two donuts on the way home (one glazed and one French cruller). I watched “Alice in Wonderland” for my tenth birthday, “The Gift” for Gavin’s sixteenth and “Baby Driver” the first time out of boredom. I felt brave after watching “The Adventures of Tintin,” full of love watching “Howl’s Moving Castle” and felt pain watching “Mother!” I ran late to watch “Happy Death Day” and “Flatliners” on the week of Halloween. Austin tore off my ticket and yelled behind, “Flatliners suck” while I ran to theater 7. I yelled back, “I know! But it’s for the Epitaph!” The theater closed off in late-March this year. The night before their shutdown, I watched “The Shape of Water.” It was all empty. I felt goosebumps prickling inside me and on my arms during the ending credits while “You’ll Never Know” flushed from the speakers. So here’s to Blue Lights and AMC. Sure, there’s another AMC a few miles down the road, but it won’t be the same. Both were my second homes and homes where I had my first experiences and lasting memories. Thank you both for being my escape and being shoulders I could lean on and thank you for the immersive pictures that will forever hold dear to my heart.

18 |

HIT OR MISS


OTHER MOVIES NOT MENTIONED Annihilation (watched on Mar. 11) Ponyo (watched on Mar. 28) for the 10th Anniversary A Quiet Place (watched on Apr. 17) Porco Rosso (watched on May 21) MOVIES I PLANNED TO WATCH BUT MISSED The Commuter The House of Tomorrow Love, Simon Tully Pom Poko

Letterboxd: crisis_feeder // luka.maeda@gmail.com

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