Paranoia Agent – A Beautiful Critique of Society, the Self, Life and Death

        “Paranoia Agent” is a fascinating anime that pulls you in almost immediately as it proceeds to critique and explore reality through the world it exists in and the characters who inhabit it. My friend had recommended this anime to me and I’m glad that I finally got around to seeing it as any story that explores deep concepts and ideas and does it through complex characters is a story worth watching. It helps that the director Satoshi Con is one of my favorites for his film “Tokyo Godfather.”

     The story takes place in Japan involves Tsukiko, a character designer who created a famous character named Maromi (after her childhood pet)  who is under pressure at work to create the next character just as famous. When she is walking home at night a young boy with a twisted bat and roller skates attacks her leading to an investigation that leads to questions about what really happened as this Lil’ Slugger grows into legend as more attacks occur.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is very much a reflection of our own but with supernatural elements as Lil’ Slugger proves to be a major break from reality beyond the breaks from reality our characters face in the show. This is part of what makes it so fascinating. All our characters are broken and it is through their fractured lenses that we view their world.

The Tone – The tone is dark with an element of unrealness. From characters like toys being able to talk, but only a select few hearing them, a guy who sees life as an RPG where people are monsters to be defeated and an actual monster in Lil’ Slugger. The tone is dark as all our characters are broken in different ways and that is established early.

The Animation – The animation is beautiful and does a great job capturing the twisted reality of our characters and the dark tone. It is beautiful and at times trippy as warped reality scenes appear on multiple occasions.

The Characters – The characters are complex and fascinating, with the Police Chief being my favorite as he is caught up in his old ways but it is in his finding empathy for others and their perspectives that helps him save Tokyo from Tsukiko whose fears and denial created Lil’ Slugger in the first. We get a lot of days in the life of characters too and their relation to the events unfolding and how they react to the Lil’ Slugger incidents.

Gossip and the Creation of Legends – One of the major themes of the episode is Gossip and how it can feed the darker aspects of already horrendous things (like the Lil’ Slugger attacks) we see a group of women isolate and pick on another as each tries to one up what they know about Lil’ Slugger…Through it all there is fear of the other and the woman who is quiet is constantly targeted by the gossiping horde who has turned Lil’ Slugger into Legend.

Consumer Culture and How it Feeds Isolation and Fear – Isolation and the things that feed isolation are a major theme of the show too. From Maromi being the isolating factor of consumerism that gives Lil’ Slugger a feast of people’s insecurities and their avoidance of others and responsibilities. The ending sets up Lil’ Slugger is likely to return as rebuilt Tokyo is just like the Tokyo before meaning the same culture of consumerism is likely to lead to another being overwhelmed and creating another Lil’ Slugger as no one cares about anyone beyond themselves.

Escape versus Obligation and Responsibility – Escape versus Obligation is another theme as all our characters are running away. Whether it is running away from life, suffering, responsibility, etc. The episodes are about reeling them back in and forcing them to confront their obligation or responsibility. IT is only in taking responsibility for the death of her pet that Tsukiko is able to stop Lil’ Slugger from completely destroying Tokyo.

How Denial Can Consume – Denial consumes a lot of our characters…and each instance Lil’ Slugger arrives and kills them or knocks them out. Sometimes he saves, sometimes he arrives after they’ve already done the damage, like the anime worker who kills his entire team or the Police Chief after he’s lost his position. In one instance he has a suicide group who chases him and it is the only time he’s afraid as his power comes from those consumed by guilt and fear and the three who chase him were not. In the end denial destroys Tokyo as even Tsukiko’s guilt was not enough to turn Lil’ Slugger into the darkness that consumes Tokyo.

Isolation versus Relationship in Culture – All our characters are isolated and it is only in moments of connections with others that they find relief and peace. Isolation is what feeds Lil’ Slugger as lack of communication leads to obsession and fear. In the anime the culture of Japan in the story is one where everyone is isolated on their phones and stuck in their jobs and not wanting any responsibility or obligation. It represents the own darker nature of humanity and our own contradictory nature of wanting connection but wanting to be alone. Wanting responsibility but wanting none at all. This anime is great at showing the two sides of wants and desires and does it so well.

  This is easily one of my favorite animes now. Like “Tokyo Godfathers,” Satoshi Con created another classic that gives us complex characters and deep things in an overarching narrative that is willing to push the boundaries of understanding and comfort and in the process creates a masterpiece well worth your time. I’m extremely grateful to my friend for recommending this anime, and I plan to watch it again. There are so many deep themes that are covered and the complex characters are the perfect way to present these ideas. This is a perfect anime that sets out and achieves it’s narrative ends.

Final Score: 10 / 10

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Mr. Holmes (2015): A Reflection on Mortality, Regret, Class and Empathy

Mr. Holmes

    Part of the problem of Sherlock Holmes as a character is that in his stories he never grows. He is the super hero who is static while those around him change, this is a problem with the Sherlock of “Sherlock” too as he never grows beyond his sociopathic tendencies or how he relates to others. This film answers the question of what it would take for Sherlock Holmes to grow and develop and what would happen if he lost the ability to use his mind as he once did before…it is beautiful, tragic and so much more. I will not be surprised at all if this makes my Top 5 Films of 2015 list at the end of the year, it tackles so many issues and does it through showing rather than telling us. What a way to end the first “Sherlock Holmes” week.

      “Mr. Holmes” was directed by Bill Condon, written by Jeffrey Hatcher, produced by Anne Carey, Ian Canning, Emile Sherman and is based off the book A Slight Trick of the Mind (which I really want to read now) by Mitch Cullen.

        The story involves a retired Sherlock Holmes trying to solve the case that made him retire as he is losing his memory and strength as he builds a relationship with the Monro’s (the mother and her son Roger) who are taking care of him and his bees out in the countryside.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning and captures the beauty and wonder of the English countryside. We see Sherlock when he was old and still active and it captures how broken he is as an old man and how for the first time, he truly has to depend on others for help…all this in how a scene is filmed. Tobias Schliessler did a great job.

The Soundtrack – Carter Burwell also did a great job on the soundtrack, capturing the very classic mind of Sherlock (the violin Motif in most Sherlock stories) and the moments of sadness are punctuated by the score.

The Writing – The writing is amazing and actions have consequences. Every scene leads into the next and we are given a story that does not know the meaning of static. Every scene is action which provides a masterful tale.

The Characters – There are only a few characters of importance (some small parts appear to give us new information) the core characters all reveal more about themselves and change through the course of the film.

Roger – Usually child actors don’t do a great job, but an exception can be made here. Milo Parker does a good job as Roger who begins to take on Sherlock tendencies. In this Sherlock keeps him curious and his desire to learn while his mother reminds him to feel for others and that he has responsibilities beyond himself. He has a good arc and is set up to eventually become Sherlock’s replacement as Sherlock teaches him his methods.

Mrs. Munro –  Mrs. Munro distrusts Sherlock for much of it until he shows emotion that he does care about Roger (after wasps attack him) and shows her that her son was a hero trying to protect the bees from the wasps (reason he was hospitalized near the end). It is a powerful scene and we see her want to learn from him after that and also him make her inheritor of his will, showing respect that he had never shown her prior. Laura Linney does a great job.

Tamiki – Tamiki is the man seeking his father and helping Sherlock face death (their time in Hirishoma seeing the victims of the bomb and the bomb site) which help Sherlock face death in the long run as he finds a way to honor the dead. Tamiki treats Sherlock with nothing but respect and sees him as somewhat of a surrogate father figure. it’s a good relationship and it’s great seeing Hiroyuki Sanada outside of “Helix.” He’s a fantastic actor who I want to see more of.

Mr. Holmes – Ian McKellan is truly a master of his art! We see him as classic Sherlock (detached, intuiting and solving cases), broken Sherlock (cut off from the world and living in regret) and a Sherlock losing his mind and body who has learned to live for the first time. It’s powerful and he truly this role. Ian McKellan is one of my favorite actors and this film would probably not be a favorite were it not for his performance as he shows a character who has never really gone through a character arc, go through a powerful one where he learns to empathize, face death, live and grow.

The Case that Broke Sherlock Holmes -In a side plot in Japan where Sherlock is getting the drug he needs to sharpen his mind. It is here he learns Tamiki said he knew Sherlock where Sherlock has no memory and that Sherlock became an adopted father in his stories that Watson wrote. It’s a powerful relationship and in the end we see Sherlock give the Tamiki the comfort he’s wanted since he was a child when his father went missing in his last letter to him.

Critique of Classicism – There is a subtle critique of classicism where Roger criticizes his mother for not being able to read and Sherlock calls Roger out on it (a nice call out on himself as in the books he was pretty classicist).

Growing to Empathy  – The main arc is one of growing to empathy as we see Sherlock learn emotional intelligence (what Watson always had in each case) and from here him to learn to comfort others and offer solace (even if it’s a lie). This is something that none of the other Sherlock’s has ever fully dealt with. Moffat’s kind of does but Series 3 forgets about it and “Elementary” seems to have the same problem of him returning to angry detachment and in the books he never progresses beyond detachment.

Remembering the Dead and Facing Death – The final scene involves Sherlock placing a stone as he saw a man doing at Hiroshima after World War 2 to honor the dead as he remembers all those he’s lost (Ms. Hudson, Watson, etc.) it is powerful and we see him facing death from the beginning as his home, body and mind are falling apart and it is a reality he must face every day and come to feel for himself and for those who have passed.

Okay: Pacing – In the first third of the film there were some slow moments but I won’t be too critical on this because it helps establish how the Munro’s and Sherlock live in the cottage, which sets up when things change.

 This is a film that pulls the heart strings in all the right ways. We see a man who never valued empathy coming to realize how much it means as he realizes just how alone he truly is. It is tragic and powerful as he takes actions to show the Munro’s how much he values them and in the last scene honors all the dead who were all apart of his life and realizes how very much he misses them all. Sherlock solves the greatest mysteries; how to die and how to live.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

The 12th Doctor – Series 2, Episode 12 – “Death in Heaven” – Of Lies, Consequences and an Impressive Finale

Doctor Who Death in Heaven

This was a great episode. The episode had consequences which changed circumstances for everyone and an emotional depth to it, in any of the scenes that had named characters. Suffice, to say it has been a while I’ve been this impressed by a finale in the new series of Doctor Who.

“Death in Heaven,” like “Dark Water” was written by Steven Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay.

SPOILERS ahead

The episode picks up with the Cybermen in the middle of London before UNIT arrives on the scene causing them to each go to a different city. From here the story unfolds as the Doctor is made President of the Human Race and must work to figure out Missy’s plan with the Cybermen before it is too late.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: UNIT – It is great seeing UNIT back! Especially Osgood and Kate Stewart. It is here we learn that they had a plan put in place to make the Doctor the President of the Human Race since he was the best at facing alien threats. This was cool and showed how UNIT and Torchwood mistakes had been learned from of treating the Doctor like a prisoner or threat.

Kate Stewart – She is only in the first half of the episode but she’s there helping the Doctor figure things out before the Cybermen attack their plan where they are holding Missy. she falls but is saved by her father who was resurrected as a Cybermen along with the rest of the dead. Jemma Redgrave is fantastic.

Osgood – A small part which ends up being a sad part, as her brains draw the Doctor in and he promises her to be a companion for her bucket list. Missy, not liking this kills Osgood shortly after, having broken out of her restraints. RIP Osgood. This episode had consequences out the door. Ingrid Oliver really was a great character. In this episode she had a bow tie to replace the large scarf and tells the Doctor, “Bow ties are cool.”

The Cybermen – The Cybermen are tools of the Master and only function as tools, but they are horrifying. All the dead throughout time made slaves by her manipulations and used to force the Doctor to make a choice. Use them to conquer in order to save Earth or surrender. The Doctor in the end chooses neither when he realizes he isn’t a good man, he’s just an idiot passing through and throws the Cyber Control device to Danny who is a Cyberman with emotions who than uses it to have all the Cybermen explode, destroying the rain that would have turned the living into Cybermen. They were a great threat this episode and they only failed as a weapon because of the Master’s need to prove a point to the Doctor.

Danny Pink – Danny makes amends, he saves Clara as a Cyberman and after his sacrifice he sends in the child he accidentally killed during the war. His ending was perfect as he didn’t get happily ever after and used the Master Cyber Control device to help someone he’d killed and someone who had much longer to live. His good bye to Clara is touching as well as when he is asking her to turn off his emotion because the pain of being a Cyberman who is undead and being second to the Doctor is too much. He calls out the Doctor though on the Doctor refusing to make a choice…the Doctor is an officer still even though he denies it for being the man who runs and tries and helps.

Clara Oswald – We see her be super clever here and learn Missy is the one who kept them together because Clara’s the control freak and the Doctor resists it and Missy thought it’d be perfect for making the Doctor like her. Clara shows the depths of her rage after Danny’s sacrifice when she almost kills Missy before the Doctor takes the weapon. She says good bye to Danny and realizes that she wasn’t the best partner. It is sad and it ends with lying as the Doctor believes her and Danny are together and she allows him to live that illusion, just as he lies to her in turn.

Missy / The Master – Missy wants her friend back, conquering the world is boring and it takes a Good Man to conquer the world. She tells the Doctor about prisoners in Dalek Camps and other things and tells him the Cybermen army is his so they can save the Universe together. It is a brilliant mind game. We also learn she left Gallifrey during the 50th Anniversary since the Doctor’s had left a brief window open. She than teases Gallifrey still being around but Gallifrey is in fact gone or she was lying about it being back in it’s original location. This Master is the greatest threat, as she kills Osgood, Danny by putting him in the situation, a lot of UNIT and hurts the Doctor and Clara before Cyberman Brig kills her. I’m hoping she isn’t gone…this is probably my favorite version of the Master. She’s crazy, fun and dangerous and plays up the emotional connection to the Doctor better than many before. She wants to prove that he is like her and in the process have her childhood friend back. It is terrifying, beautiful and sad and really goes into the psychological makeup of what makes the Master the Master. Michelle Gomez truly owns this role.

The Doctor / The 12th Doctor – The Doctor is powerless for much of this episode and it is when he gives up power to Danny and the Brig (his companions) that he wins. I don’t think he realizes that part Missy’s point about him having an army was his companions, but I think he might have realized it too. After Missy’s death by the Brigadier he goes to the location that Missy mentions and finds nothing even as he is lying to Clara about finding it so visits will be less. It’s powerful and is illustrated when they are hugging and he explains why he doesn’t like hugs, “Hugs are a chance to hide your face.” Capaldi owns this role and I’m glad his run isn’t over. I just hope Missy can come back, as death has never stopped the Master before.

The Ending – Danny gets closure with the child he killed, Clara and the Doctor live a lie and pretend everything is alright but are finally about to hold and comfort each other, Missy is stopped and Gallifrey is gone or Missy lied, we learn that Missy was the mysterious woman who brought the Doctor and Clara together (and gave Clara the Doctor’s number), people died (named characters at that) and weren’t magicked back to life. I loved this finale. It had consequences and explored relationships deeply. This is the best Moffat final since Series 5, lets see if he can keep this up.

The Cons: 3W – 3W is kind of left on the wayside, we just learn the first Cybermen were probably rich who’d feared dying who had chosen to become Cybermen. How they’re used isn’t bad, but they’re gone because they aren’t really brought up again in any meaningful way.

Death of Missy – Not sure if it’s permanent or not (this is Doctor Who) but I want this Master back. I get the poetic justice in the Brig staying the Doctor’s hand from killing her and the Doctor being willing to kill her to save Clara’s soul…but his attachment to the Master? Why didn’t he go more into his own thoughts? That was what I’d have liked to see more. Missy spoke her thoughts far more than the Doctor in regards to their relationship. She is the Master, so she might be back though, death has never stopped the Master before.

Like I said before, this is my favorite finale of the Moffat years since Series 5 and I’d rate it on part or better than Davies’s Master Arc…I’ll have re-watch it though before I can say that for certain though. Regardless, it is worth watching for the companion drama, UNIT drama and of course Missy and the Master. It was these things that made this episode shine. I just hope the Christmas special doesn’t take away the consequences we experienced…Danny should stay dead as should Osgood, they are human and not Time Lords who have broken the laws of death before.

Final score for “Death in Heaven”: 9.8 – Solidly amazing.

Final Score for “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” and finale as a whole: 9.5, weaker but great start and an amazing and powerful finish.

Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006): A Fascinating World and Wonderful Love Story

tWristcutters A Love Story

“Wristcutters: A Love Story” take a fascinating premise (any folks who die through purposeful suicide or other (drug overdose) are sent to an inbetween world, slightly worse than our own. It is a world where they cannot feel or smile but that there is more to as well as miracles can be performed and otherworldly beings act as humans. The screenplay was based off the short story by Etger Keret called Kneller’s Happy Campers, a story I now plan to read later as well as the graphic novel Pizzeria Kamakazi.

This is a difficult subject to do a movie over and if the film had made light of suicide I wouldn’t have directed it. Though it does have dark humor, it also has so much respect for it’s characters and their motivations, that for that reason alone the film is already rated very high after watching.

“Wristcutters: A Love Story,” was directed and written by Goran Dukić and produced by Chris Coen, Tatiana Kelly, Mikal P. Lazarev and Adam Sherman.

The story is about Zia (Patrick Fugit) who commits suicide after his ex breaks it off with him. He is transported to the world where all suicide victims go and here learns that his ex Desiree (Leslie Bibb) killed herself as well. Having no memory of his prior life besides the incident he goes off to try and find Desiree while Eugene (Shea Whigham), a Russian musician and the Hitchhiker Mikal (Shannyn Sossoman) who is looking for the People in Charge as her coming here was a mistake. From here the story unfold as characters clash and more about prior lives is revealed.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The World – The world the suicide people are transported to is fascinating. It is like a post-apocalyptic wasteland but with the trappings of our own. There are cops, restaurant owners and people can still experience some of the same things. There are also miracles too, showing how this world is very physically different than ours in it’s Laws (Law of Gravity, etc.).

The Soundtrack – The music for this film is wonderful. It is reflective and gets you into the circumstances of the characters and situations. Bobby Johnston and Gogol Bordello were prefect for this film.

Zia – Initially it was hard for me to like this character, he was way too apathetic and he had no motivation. He doesn’t really become interesting til he meets Eugene, who is a live for each moment kind of guy and finds out Desiree is alive which gives him a motivation to leave the rut he’s stuck in in this afterlife. It after he meets Mikal that things change as she sees the bigger picture and gets him to think about the miracles they see and in turn about the life he once lived as she talks about all the people she left behind she misses. This changes him from a very selfish to selfless character to the point that he waits for her and makes community in this new world. Patrick Fugit does a great job.

Eugene – He’s a bit base at times (can’t see beyond physical, only comments on physical) but he grows as a character too when Mikal calls him out on his crap and he falls in love with someone at Kneller’s commune. He is a bit of the comedic relief but has a lot of heart.

Mikal – Mikal is one of the most interesting characters as she came to this world by accidental drug overdose. She is there reminding everyone of the world they left behind and to take control of their lives since she’s looking for the People in Charge. We see her love with ZIa happen over time as she distrusts him when Eugene is bashing her belief in People in Charge and Zia does nothing to stand up to that but they resolve things when Zia stands up to a cop who pulls her over for asking questions. After this we see their friendship and later love when Mikal says she’ll see Zia again and to wait when the PIC arrives and Zia realizes Desiree died for religious reasons for a psychotic madman who kills himself again in the world they are in. Sossamon owns this role and is one of the best parts of the film.

Kneller – Is not all he appears to be. The group (Zia, Mikal and Eugene) find him on the side of the world and he takes them to his commune where miracles happen if you aren’t invested in them…which is almost zen in how amazing things happen when they aren’t forced. His dog eventually gets stolen by Messiah King which leads to a confrontation that shows that Kneller is one of the People in Charge (PIC). We see that he is a good guy too when he takes Zia’s file so Zia will appear again in the hospital next to Mikal, completing both their arcs. He has a great community too as they are outcasts which is what this world is made of, and especially the main leads. Tom Wiats is greats.

The Message – The message at the core seems to be reasons to live, showing how connected all of us are no matter how apathetic we may first appear to be. It also is not to judge by appearances as Eugene comes around as a good guy and Zia and Mikal are shown to have a lot of depth. This makes the movie powerful as it treats victims of suicide with respect and also shows what there is to live for in life. It isn’t moralizing or blaming, it’s trying to show as much a picture as it can through it’s point of view.

Okay: Desiree – I never got the love between her and Zia so her becoming a religious fanatic for a Cult Leader and killing herself for him to get to the world wasn’t a surprise. This was a shame as most of the other characters get a lot of exploration. She’s a plot device, but not a bad one.

Messiah King – Is also a plot device to reveal that Kneller works with the People in Charge, he’s a crazy guy who thinks he is God and kills himself in front of everyone. I never got his motivations either and there was nothing to show him as special versus Kneller who was helping people perform miracles.

Slow Start – The first 30 minutes of the movie are pretty slow, and considered how apathetic Zia is at that point it’s hard to get invested until he runs into Eugene and we learn more about the world and he finds his motivation.

I would highly recommend this film. It is truly great and I’m grateful my friend let me borrow her version of it. This film lets the characters tell their own stories and shows the complex motivations that make us do things or change our outlooks on life. It also shows a great love story as two people who feel attraction fall in love over their conversations and adventures when they become friends and onward from there. Only issue is Desiree and Messiah King felt more like plot devices than actual characters, and it does start out pretty slow. Regardless, it really is a good film that covers a difficult subject with a lot creativity and respect.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10. A favorite film for sure.