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Retrospective Review: Fist of the North Star



The nuclear bombs have destroyed the modern civilization. Buildings have crumpled and energy is pretty much nonexistent. The strong have survived and the weak has perished or become fodder for the ones who are ruling the different villages or nomadic tribes that are inhabiting the world today. The world is desolate.

The grounds are ruined and cannot even grow even the most basic of flora. This is the world that makes up Fist of the North Star. In this world, which is very reminiscent of any kind of Mad Max or any kind of future dystopia, we have a man who, like from many Shakespeare or Greek tragedies, must reunite with his love and fight off his evil brothers and a traitor of a best friend.

This anime is a cult classic and is very well known with abridged series and with the main character being cos-played at many conventions. However, given the grim subject of the movie and considering the gravity of the nature and the amount of blood and head explosions, is the film any good? We will be looking at story, fighting scenes and the animation. Does this movie live up to the standards of classic anime movies or will it be another defeat in the hands of the viewers? Let’s roll up our sleeves and power up as we review Fist of the North Star.

The film is loosely based on the manga of the same title. The story (at least the dubbed version I had to view) is about Ken (Kenshiro) who is betrayed by his rival and friend Shin when he beats him up and takes his woman who he loved. When he is left for dead, his brothers (Jagi and Raoh) decide to disprove of his body by throwing it down a crevice. Raoh goes back home and claims to his master that Kenshiro has been defeated and he is now the new Fist of the North Star. He stares off into the earth and plans on what taking over the world.

Meanwhile, as time has passed, Kenshiro reemerges from a mute girl who psychologically called for help when she and her brother figure were being harassed by the local gang. He has a full beard and it seems like he has learned more abilities since his earlier defeat. He easily makes work of the gang in a quick manner with lots of body parts and heads exploding with all the bloody gruesome details.

Without revealing all the play-by-play sequences, Kenshiro ends up defeating his brother Jagi (who took over a town claiming to be the fist of the north star), defeated Shin and was able to stand his own against his brother Raoh, but eventually did lose the fight but not his life. He did rescue his girl but she disappeared during the fighting. Her goal seemed to just want to plant some seeds that she had and try and regrow the habitation that was long gone. At the end of the movie when Kenshiro is looking for her, he comes across an oasis of trees and water in the middle of the desert. He doesn’t really smile but rather looks determined to continue his quest to find her and be together again. The movie ends.

The fighting scenes are reminiscent of what anime was like during the 1980’s. There are lots of movements with the fists but the rest of the body is pretty stagnant (probably due to animation being expensive). With the fighting scenes, there are a lot of blood and body parts being ripped off from the limbs and dissected as well.

It’s very macho and very in your face about the violence of the nature that the creators have surrounded themselves in this story in so it does feel very appropriate that the gore and violence and the fighting match with the nature of the environment that this story is taking place in. The fighting itself has a little feel of Berserk meeting some early DBZ feel to it but the fights don’t last long enough to really have any kind of shonen hidden gem to it.

The animation style had the hand drawn appeal that I miss in modern animated features and it also has some grittiness to the way everyone is drawn. Everyone has some dirt, mud, smudges on them because in the vast desert and baron wasteland of Japan, clean water is scarce and having clean clothes seems unheard of or a luxury that people cannot have unless you have power and not money.

Even though the animation does have some stiffness in it and there is a lot of standing around with dialogue coming from mouths we cannot see, I think it’s still has a decent animation given the resources and what they had to work with. It can be choppy and the flow might not be the most crisp as later animated features would prove but there is a charm to what is shown to the viewer and a passion showcasing their style and their skills getting the story across.

This movie has some flaws but it does have some Greek tragedy/Shakespearean elements to it that western audiences can relate to and have an understanding why Kenshiro must do what he has to. A man who loses his love must fight back against all odds and armies to reclaim his love from the clutches of a jealous rival and a hate ridden older brother. That’s a story audiences can understand and root for.

The violence is over the top and there are a lot of body parts exploding but luckily the paste like red blood that comes from the victims are not in focus and we usually move on to the next victim until we get to the boss of that stage and have the epic take down. If you are an anime fan or if you enjoy animation with an interesting plot and some dark elements on a budget, then you’d like this film. I think the story of Fist of the North Star has been around for a while but, I think new audiences would quite enjoy some of the over-the-top fight scenes and some of the gritty atmosphere that is very symbolic to a Mad Max or a reverse Waterworld.

The movie is on the streaming site Crackle.











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Midnight Mass: The Blood of Life



The isolated island community of Crockett receives a mysterious new head priest, full of secrets and a brand new testament under a very unusual Messenger of God. 

Meet poor Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), freshly released from prison and wracked with guilt over what got him there, a stupid drinking accident that caused the death of his ex-girlfriend. The last thing he wants to do is go back to Crockett and the judgment of the mostly religious community there, his disappointed family, and the nightmares of his ex’s death that plague him. But where else would have him? Resignedly on the ferry, he goes. 

Riley’s dad Ed (Henry Thomas) isn’t the kind of man who talks very much at all, much less about his feelings, or his very real disappointment in his elder son. Riley’s teen brother Warren (Igby Rigney) has no idea what to say to him either, and just generally keeps mum. Riley’s mom Annie (Kristin Lehman) is accepting and loving, hesitant in how to help her eldest son but never wavering in her faith in the help of our lord Jesus. Mom seems to think a good heaping dose of the Church would set Riley right but is surprised to learn that the old priest of the Parish, Pruitt, has taken an extended leave of absence from the island, and his newcomer replacement Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) is young, charismatic, and bursting at the seams to tell the whole island about the gifts he brought them, most especially what he claims as a new testament under a messenger of God. 

We’ll get back to that whole ball of issues in a moment, the other interesting characters of Crockett Island. Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) is the nightmarish overly polite and gently, almost lovingly condescending neighbor Christian woman you’ve ever loathed, the kind of person who explains away every last thing her Church may do wrong or contradictory because, after all, God works in mysterious ways. Pfft. Of course, Bev immediately ingratiates herself as the second to the new Father Paul in their services and is the first to start covering up his transgressions as they become more rampant. 

Newcomers to Crockett Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) present a burgeoning problem to the plans of Father Paul and his shadowy companion, for they are both practicing Muslims. The practical side of investigating these so-called ‘miracles’ and strange happenings falls on Hassan’s shoulders, as he already struggles with barely-concealed racism and suspicion from his fellow islanders, and of course his son is being wooed away from him by the promise of actual, tangible miracles, but from a different whole faith and God. Father Paul definitely does not practice a traditional Christian faith and relies far too much on making use of the eucharist, the ceremony of the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ turning into bread and wine and, well, consumed. 

Wade (Michael Trucco) and his wife Dolly (Crystal Balint) are lifers of the island and both in general interested in one thing, the advancement of their own family, specifically their daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone), who happens to be in a wheelchair. And that happens to be the canny Father Paul’s first real miracle-with-a-cost that he demonstrates to the astonishment of the parishioners, after a heartfelt and rousing sermon, Father Paul commands Leeza to rise, to stand, and to walk. And lo, she does. What parents wouldn’t wholly dedicate themselves to a cause after seeing this happen to their beloved precious daughter? The fringe benefits of healing, and power, the ones that come at a mighty, currently unnamed, cost, are simply a nice bonus. 

Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet) is the town drunk, and while his reasons for drowning his sorrows in the sauce might be understandable, absolution wears a very different face when it comes from Father Paul. While Leeza might be willing to forgive Joe, and even as Joe begins attending the newly-formed Al-Anon meetings on the island of course hosted by Father Paul, redemption might’ve been better sought from medical professionals, and not this newfound method of religious worship. 

Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish) is the islands’ kind of all-around medic, and this is how she and Riley’s old friend Erin (Kate Siegel), also newly returned to the island, a few months pregnant but traveling quietly alone, met when Erin comes to the Doc for obstetrics. Sarah’s older mother Mildred Gunning (Alexandra Essoe) has many medical and mental issues, and Sarah struggles in their shared home, to take care of her addled mom and balance her own life. Then Father Paul takes it upon himself to visit one of his oldest parishioners, bringing the sacred host and wine with him to give directly to Mildred, who starts looking and acting so much better under his loving care. 

The show is very much a slow slow burn, with a lot of the actual action taking place in the last two episodes. Much of the beginning and middle episodes feature two people just sitting alone, having quiet and seriously in-depth conversations about heavy subjects – grief and repentance, what happens when we die, the disasters that come as a result of addictions, how our actions’ consequences reverberate to those we love around us, faith and the foibles of man, and of course, the giving of oneself over to a higher power, for strength, and guidance, and love. 

Except, for the higher power that Father Paul brought back with him, to share with his beloved flock of Crockett Island, while it may be extremely powerful and full of what could be considered miraculous magic, everything comes at some kind of a cost. And when the Messenger of God is finally revealed to the shocked denizens of Crockett at Easter Mass, with Father Paul rapturing on about rebirth as the bloody massacre begins in earnest, it’s faith, not in any kind of God or religion, but faith in each other, that may save a few hardy souls. 

Question the wisdom of your religious leaders along with the rest of us in a fine slow-burn addition to the Flanaverse, Midnight Mass is on Netflix now! 

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Saw X: It ain’t brain surgery!



Legendary executioner Jigsaw returns to exact revenge on a cadre of scam artists who promised him a bogus cure for his cancer! 

First off, be aware, that this is what I call an interleaved sequel, a movie set between previous films in the franchise. In this case, Saw X occurs after the events of the very first Saw film, and before Saw II. Everybody got where we are? Good! Into the madness, we dive! 

So, as we all know, John Kramer’s been diagnosed with cancer, very aggressive brain cancer, and likely doesn’t have much time left. And he’s tried everything under the sun, doing a ton of meticulous research, we’d expect nothing less from our master of the art of murder, and not one thing has worked. Yet one man from the support group for cancer sufferers, Henry (Michael Beach), offers an off-the-books supposed miracle cure, and John jumps at the chance. 

Why does this nonsense always sound too good to be true? Because it is. Deleted scenes from the first Deadpool movie already told us why traveling to Mexico for any kind of medical cure is a sublimely stupid move, but Kramer is desperate. And while he might be sick and dying, John Kramer has never been what anyone could call stupid. So the villa out in the Mexican countryside, the affable cab driver Diego (Joshua Okamoto) professes surprise at Kramer being highjacked for his good, the nervous muttering from assistant Valentina (Paulette Hernandez), the side-eyeing from little housekeep Gabriela (Renata Vaca) and her tequila, and most especially the smooth and smarming reassurances of head “doctor” Cecilia Pederson (Synnove Macody Lund), all leave a kind of sour taste in John’s mouth. 

The whole cluex4 scene is done in the style that the Saw films are known for, where we the audience are treated to cut-together explanatory scenes in a flip-flash fashion of usually about two minutes, for poor John when he realizes he’s been hoodwinked and just how badly, seems a little contrived. But then it’s entirely possible that we the audience truly expected our genius mastermind of the infamous Jigsaw murders to have realized what was happening sooner, and got enraged along with Kramer. And cheered as he prepared to take his bloody and ultra-violent revenge! 

First up in our grand guignol of executions is the return of Jigsaw’s first protégé, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). And despite her avowed reverence for Jigsaw and his proven “therapy”, Amanda does waver a bit when the scammers are put through the paces of their specially-made Saw traps, and they shriek and blubber and bleed out. The appearance of the ringer of the bunch, Parker (Steven Brand), doesn’t even slow our beloved engineer of the damned down, because we knew Jigsaw would have his other apprentice waiting just off stage, the deliciously vicious Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). Even the monkeywrench of involving little-boy soccer fan Carlos (Jorge Briseno) in the traps, is just another cog in the machine that is the brilliantly plotting mind of John Kramer. 

A fine addition to the Saw legends, showcasing a return to the beloved style and panache of the original Tobin Bell-starring Jigsaw films, Saw X is splashing gore and gallons of blood in theaters now! 

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Scott Pilgrim Takes Off



“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,” Netflix’s latest series, is a rollicking journey through the world of video game culture, blending nostalgic references with a fresh narrative twist. Centered around Scott Pilgrim, portrayed with magnetic charisma by Michael Cera, the show skillfully integrates gaming elements into its storytelling, creating a delightful homage to the video game subculture.

The series cleverly employs pixelated graphics, power-up animations, and game-like sound effects to bring the virtual world to life. These visual cues, reminiscent of classic video games, enhance the storytelling and resonate with audiences familiar with the gaming landscape. The attention to detail in recreating iconic gaming moments is commendable, creating a visual and auditory treat for enthusiasts.

The exploration of video game culture goes beyond mere aesthetics; it becomes an integral part of the characters’ identities and interactions. The script intelligently weaves gaming terminology and tropes into the dialogue, effectively blending the real and virtual worlds. The series navigates the challenges and triumphs of the characters through the lens of gaming, making it a unique and engaging experience for both gamers and general audiences.

The ensemble cast, including standout performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, and Chris Evans embraces the gaming theme with infectious enthusiasm. The chemistry between the characters is palpable, adding emotional depth to the series.

“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” successfully taps into the zeitgeist of video game culture, offering a nostalgic yet contemporary take on the gaming phenomenon. It’s a must-watch for those who cherish the pixelated roots of the gaming world while providing an accessible and entertaining narrative for a broader audience. The series takes off not only in its title but also in its ability to soar within the ever-expanding realm of Netflix originals.

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