Winter 2024 – Week 5 in Review

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Welcome back to Wrong Every Time! This week, I feel a sense of pride as I get closer to completing my ambitious projects that were funded by readers. That once-imposing “Outstanding Projects” header has been whittled down to a mere handful of features, with only the imposing specter of Evangelion’s second half remaining to keep me up at night. In the meantime, my house’s adoption of a weekly film genre cycle has continued to reap interesting dividends, ranging from a unique exercise in ‘80s animation trends (courtesy of “Muscle Monday”) to a viewing of Miyazaki’s penultimate film (via the questionably titled “Sanimation Saturday”). Let’s see what treasures await in the latest Week in Review!

This week’s first was One Shot, a recent action film defined primarily by its titular gimmick: the whole thing is edited as if it’s a single shot, taking the bravura extended sequences of films like The Raid or Extraction to improbable new heights. Scott Adkins is Jake Harris, a leader of Navy SEALS tasked with the task of escorting a witness from a black-site to Washington DC. Then a truckful of insurgents slam through the gates, Adkins’ team are swiftly whittled down, and the man himself is forced to Solid Snake his way through seemingly unending waves of adversaries.

This Snake allusion is a good way to describe the film in its entirety. One Shot feels intensely gameified. Its over-the-shoulder perspective, emphasis on geometry, and lack of a story all contribute to the feeling that Adkins is just fighting round after a round of Call of Duty enemies. Long takes are uniquely effective for creating a sense of entrapment and escalating tension, as directors like Alfonso Quaron and Gareth Evans demonstrate – in fact, it seems clear that One Shot is following in the established B-action mold of The Raid specifically. The effect works here over the buildup to the first dramatic explosions, but wears out its welcome over the course of the following hour and change; you simply cannot hold a similar vice grip on the audience’s attention for that long (even Gravity had its quiet moments), and attempting to do so only dilutes the impact of whatever follows.

Fortunately, we’ve also got Adkins here, and he’s in fine form negotiating, calculating, and generally beating the stuffing out of his loosely defined adversaries. Adkins has more than proven himself a pillar of modern B-action, and though One Shot provides less room to show off his kickboxing prowess than most of his features, that very absence proves he’s leading man material even without relying on his martial arts. A possibly misguided concept but a watch that is still engaging.

Next up was The Blob, a ‘50s drive-in classic whose tone might best be understood by referencing the second film on its double bill: “I Married a Monster from Outer Space.” Steve McQueen stars as Steve Andrews, a teenager just trying to meet girls and have a good time when a mysterious meteor lands in his town. A Florida Man can’t help but put his hand inside the goo, only to discover that it is a carnivorous goo, which is always expanding and ravenously hungry.

The Blob is full-on C-horror frivolity, possessing little to recommend itself beyond its enduring status as the quintessential bad ‘50s horror movie. You might think McQueen would lend the film a bit of his star power to dignify the whole procession, but he’s actually terrible here – this is his first starring role, and it apparently took some time between this and The Magnificent Seven for him to learn acting. The Blob itself is equally bad. It comes across as a malevolent, jello-like substance that sometimes finds itself transposed onto the body of some inept victims who failed to get up and leave the area. A film to be ignored as you snort your Tbird. It’s got a hokey appeal but little staying-power.

We then checked out The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki’s Previous Previous post: final film, cataloging the journey of the Zero fighter plane’s designer Jiro Horikoshi from his boyhood dreams of flight to his post-war reflections on legacy. Along the way he abandons hope of piloting himself, finds love in the form of the tuberculosis-stricken Nahoko Satomi, and ultimately achieves his goal of creating a truly beautiful airplane. As for everything else, I suppose, we can’t stop ourselves from wishing for things, even when the world perverts our dreams.

The Wind Rises felt like an interesting but not entirely successful film to me, and certainly an odd duck within Miyazaki’s overall catalog. It is a stunning film in terms of visuals. Ghibli films from the late ’90s are able to hire any top animators, and The Wind Rises has a beautiful motion. It was a great pleasure to again see Miyazaki’s fondness for bustling crowd scenes realized, a satisfaction tinted with the slight melancholy of seeing his designs articulated digitally, rather than through the textured beauty of cel animation.

As for the film’s story, while I quite enjoyed seeing Miyazaki take a stab at articulating reality, I’m not sure the confines of a biopic really play to his strengths. In terms of pure fantastical invention, The Wind Rises’ prioritization of Goro’s professional career meant sequences embracing Miyazaki’s whimsical tendencies were limited to Goro’s dreams, in scenes that frankly felt like an inferior retread of Porco Rosso’s reflections. And in terms of thematic inquiry, Goro’s journey felt too contained, too slight to convey the rich ambiguity of a film like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, wherein clear moral statements are lent texture and contradictions through the complexity of their worlds and flexibility of their characters.

The Wind Rises is clearly Hayao Miyazaki talking about himself on some level, reflecting on a lifetime of marvels whose existence haven’t necessarily made the world better. That’s a fine theme, but both Miyazaki and Hirokoshi feel too distant from the consequences of their creations for the film to really sear; it’s an optimistic daydream, and its most painful moments are reserved not for Hirokoshi’s reflections on his legacy, but on his entirely sympathetic love for his ailing wife. Miyazaki’s punches didn’t land because he was too close to his subject. His best work is when his passions are wrapped in fantastical metaphors and not in the trenches or immediate cultural criticism.

This week’s last feature was Fire and IceRalph Bakshi created an animated film in collaboration with Frank Frazetta. Frank Frazetta is the master of dime store fantasy book covers. The rotoscoped film, which is based on the screenplay of two Conan comics writers, features broad-chested characters and thong clad princesses. Our hero Larn must save princess Teegra and defeat the evil Nekron, doing battle with various monsters and some particularly fraught interpretations of “subhumans” along the way.

Fire and Ice is a predictable and juvenile story. It has ice-themed baddies and fiery-themed goodies, and it rambles through a series loosely linked chase and action sequences. But as a Production, the film is a curiosity verging on a marvel, with Frazetta’s exaggerated designs brought to life in order to stand before a gorgeous array of backgrounds courtesy of James Gurney (the creator of Dinotopia) and Thomas Kinkade. The composite is unsurprisingly hopeless, but the contrast of Frazetta’s characters and Gurney’s backgrounds is novel and striking, presenting a hereafter unrealized vision of one fascinating path animated cinema might have taken. Bakshi’s work is all messy, and I love it for that; though frustratingly slight as a narrative, Fire and Ice’s aesthetic novelty was more than enough to keep my attention.

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