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At The Movies

Trigun: Badlands Rumble
Showing one night only, Thursday, Aug. 4 at the Crest (1013 K St.)
Directed by Satoshi Nishimura

Review by Ed Edsten
Just to get this out the way:  I am a fan of anime, but by no means a fanboy. I’ve seen most of the big budget anime movies that have gone mainstream (“Ghost in the Shell,” “Paprika”). I’ve seen most the Miyazaki films (“Spirited Away,” “Ponyo”) and I am working my way through old “Naruto” episodes with my stepson (I love the Sacramento Public Library). What I mean to say here, is that I like anime, but if you are looking for an in-depth discussion of the finer points of the genre, you should read another review. That said, the new “Trigun” movie is definitely accessible to the general public and great fun.

My familiarity with Trigun had been limited to watching a half-dozen episodes when recovering from shoulder surgery five years ago. Needless to say, I didn’t remember much about the show, except vaguely that it was light and fun. Fortunately, Netflix streams Trigun so I was able to watch a few of the old episodes to refresh my memory. In summary, the main character, Vash the Stampede (a.k.a. the Humanoid Typhoon) is a likeable, light-hearted character who generally seeks to avoid hurting people, but always leaves a path of devastation behind him, which is usually not his fault. The power of unintended consequences turns out to be the main point of the whole movie.

I’ve been wondering for a while what the deal was in anime with food. Food seems to occupy key places in the plots and characters often obsess about food. My stepson turning 13 answered this question for me. I had forgotten that teenagers (the target audience of much anime) are hollow-legged and always on the verge of starvation. Just off the top of my head I can think of three instances in “Trigun: Badlands Rumble” in which food plays a key role, even if it was just an excuse to start a fight.

Trigun brings out all the usual suspects for anime: ugly bad guys, gorgeous girls and honorable heroes who are often misunderstood and always hungry. Romance is not really an issue as the male characters are all hopelessly lecherous, and what distinguishes the good guys from the bad guys is what they will do in pursuit of “love.” This brings me to the one scene that seemed a little too heavy for many children. One of the main characters in the movies is subjected to repeated attacks aimed at rape. While this scene is played off as comedy, it made me cringe more than all the blood and cartoon violence in the movie put together. Younger children might not understand exactly what is going on in this scene, and even older children might need an explanation.

“Trigun: Badlands Rumble” is a not a movie that wows, but it is a movie that satisfies if what you are looking for is cartoon mayhem. Vash the Stampede is nothing if not the love-child of the road-runner and the Dukes of Hazzard. He’s a good guy who means well, but between all the unintended consequences and the destruction wrought by those that tangle with Vash, there are plenty of explosions, gunfights, and hijinks. Trigun is not an attempt at high art, as much anime is. There is no cryptic philosophy or highly stylized art, no subtext or references to mythology. It is a very successful attempt at silly cartoon fun.  

Moviebriefs By Tony Sheppard

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Probably the worst thing you could do while deciding whether to see this movie is watch the trailer. It’s certainly not very representative and seems to be cut in order to appeal exclusively to audiences who want to see angry, smart apes ripping up San Francisco [Editor: There’s a Tea Party joke in there somewhere]. But the movie is really quite different – surprisingly so. It takes its time to tell us a real story with real people and, even more surprisingly, it actually makes sense. James Franco stars as a researcher working on a cure for Alzheimer’s and testing his brain-boosting formulae on chimpanzees – after all, what could possibly go wrong with that? It may be a measure of the film’s plausibility that one of the least-likely developments comes when we’re shown Muir Woods National Monument free of crowds and with an empty parking lot. Like THAT would ever happen.

The Change-Up
Directed by David Dobkin
As  Jason Bateman himself said on Tuesday’s “The Daily Show,” the body-switching storyline is somewhat well-used, but it’s never been quite so R-rated before.  He makes a good point – where previous comedies have smirked a little at unusual genitals, “The Change-Up” explores and exploits them. Here we get two good friends (Bateman and Ryan Reynolds) who lead very different lives – one is a stable, family man and lawyer, the other is a terminally adolescent womanizer and a chauvinist’s chauvinist. If you’re comfortable jumping from baby poop jokes to blatant sexual commentary and foul language, this is a pretty funny film that avoids getting too hokey by remaining offensive. As with many such films, it’s funnier when exploring the concept than when resolving it, but it does better than most at maintaining the laughs.

Friends with Benefits/Crazy, Stupid, Love.
These are two movies that both want to distance themselves, to some extent, from the romantic-comedy genre and, in the process, also attempt to appeal more to guys. “Friends with Benefits” even tries very hard to parody that genre, making fun of it quite openly as it progresses, through the use of a movie within the movie. The plot hinges around two successful and good-looking young professionals (Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake) who attempt to have a sexual relationship (a far raunchier sexual relationship than is normally seen) without getting romantically involved. It actually works quite well in many respects. Both the leads and their supporting cast do a neat job creating dysfunction on screen. But despite its apparent claims to the contrary, it’s entirely conventional in its structure – it’s the wannabe-non-romantic comedy that’s actually a pure romantic comedy at heart. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Meanwhile, “Crazy, Stupid, Love” takes a different approach by not trying to bring a couple together, but by starting out tearing a couple apart. A long-time married couple (Julianne Moore and Steve Carell), with a big house, kids and a Volvo, separate. Carell’s Cal finds himself single for the first time since middle school. He then meets Jacob (Ryan Gosling), the consummate bachelor and ladies’ man, who takes him under his misogynistic wing and mentors him in the art of the one night stand. The result is both funny and awkward – exactly the tone it seems to shoot for.

However, it also relies on two of those filmmaking conceits that normally annoy me – the ridiculous kinds of coincidences that ought to only happen in towns with a population of 20, and the scene in which one character stands up and interrupts an event with a long speech that would result in heckling and insults in real life. But despite the fact that underneath the comedy it deals with quite profound feelings, it never takes itself too seriously, and these elements somehow seem less bothersome as a result. The lighthearted and even more dysfunctional outcome makes it the better of the current attempts to not make a romantic comedy.

Save the Dates: The Sacramento Film & Music Festival SummerFEST is at the Crest Theatre from Wednesday, August 17th to Sunday, August 21st. More details next week and o
nline at www.sacfilm.com.

Tabloid
Directed by Errol Morris

Review by Tony Sheppard

Before watching “Tabloid,” I read the simple description: “A documentary on a former Miss Wyoming who is charged with abducting and imprisoning a young Mormon Missionary.” It sounded both bizarre and intriguing. I wasn’t sure if there would be much need to describe it any more fully until I watched it and realized that that barely scratches the bizarre surface of the bizarre story of Joyce McKinney as told by multiple people, Joyce included. The original case is 34 years old. Even though it was revived a couple of times over the years, as she allegedly stalked her former victim/lover (depending on whom you believe), it might have been forgotten if she hadn’t become famous again a few years ago for having a South Korean doctor clone her pet dog.

This is either a weird story, told very simply (albeit with a few visual embellishments which pad out the somewhat skimpy material), or a relatively simple story made into something weird in the retelling. You hear at least two people, telling very different versions of history, admit that they no longer have the evidence they claim will back up their accounts. But it will still likely appeal to those who enjoy hearing about odd people doing odder things. It’s like a modern day sideshow of sorts, in that regard. Or, if you believe Joyce, it’s an indictment of tabloid reporting that sensationalized the story of a woman trying to free her captive fiancé – after all, even the tabloids told conflicting stories.

One thing missing, other than a clear sense of where the exact truth lies, is an explanation of how she financed her escapades. One interviewee even raises that question, but the film never answers it. We are told about a past that she strongly denies, but it seems like there must have been deeper resources available at least some of the time.

There’s a short film video clip online that shows Joyce McKinney claiming to have been excluded from a screening of “Tabloid” at the Seattle International Film Festival and also stating that she’s suing Errol Morris over the content of the movie. She has also claimed at another film festival event not to have met two of the people in the film, including one who describes himself as having been involved in the original events.

Errol Morris himself has described the film as depicting one of the oldest stories of all time – of undying, tragic love. If Joyce is really suing him, it might also be an undying story, at least for a little while longer. It’s certainly never a dull story.


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