The Martian–Movie Review

5 Stars
The Martian poster
OK, I know I’ve been lax about keeping this blog updated, but this movie inspired me to try to get back into it. The Martian (IMDB) is a very impressive movie. If possible try to see it while it is still in the theaters. Mars will not look nearly as impressive on a small screen.

This story of an astronaut (Matt Damon) stranded on Mars combines amazing technical verisimilitude with a surprising amount of humor. Of course it’s mostly laid-back astronaut humor, laughing in the face of danger and all that. But the overall effect is charming. The characters are quite likable. (That’s important since a story like this could easily turn into an exercise in checking off plot points.)

There are some obvious similarities to 1995’s Apollo 13 (IMDB) but that was based on actual events while The Martian is fiction, which allows it to go a bit more over-the-top. One may debate whether real people would act the way the characters do, and in some cases whether they should do so.
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Fate/stay night [UBW]–Final Thoughts

3.5 Stars
FSN PosterWhen the original Fate/stay night anime came out in 2006 I watched a couple of episodes and quickly dropped it. It didn’t seem very compelling and since it was from Studio DEEN it didn’t look very good.

Then Ufotable came out with a prequel called Fate/Zero in 2011-12. I found this much more interesting: dark but thrilling.

Now Ufotable has completed a remake of the original series called Fate/stay night [Unlimited Blade Works] (Crunchyroll.) This has a somewhat different storyline from the Studio DEEN version. (The Ufortable version apparently gives us the “True Ending” from the original visual novel.)
Archer and Rin on beach
In terms of pure storytelling craftsmanship I think that Fate/Zero is superior to FsnUBW. However taken together they tell a pretty compelling story. Fate/Zero was a classical tragedy. FsnUBW is a bit more upbeat–perhaps not everyone’s idea of a happy ending, but maybe we could call it an “optimal ending.”
Shirous Saber and Rin lectured by Archer
So I can give this series a qualified recommendation. I enjoyed it but it’s definitely not for everyone.
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Rinne–Anime Midseason Review

Rinne with wheel of fire
Rin-ne a.k.a. Kyoukai no Rinne (Crunchyroll) is a somewhat old-fashioned but very funny new anime series from one of the greatest living old masters of manga.

Rumiko Takahashi was the first woman to succeed in the hotly competitive world of shounen manga without using a male pseudonym. She was responsible for 4 previous popular long-running anime series: Urusei Yatsura (1981-86), Maison Ikkoku (1986-88), Ranma ½ (1989-92) and Inuyasha (2000-04, 2009-10).
Ghosts on wheel with Rinne
If you’re familiar with Rumiko Takahashi’s earlier work, the main point I want to emphasize is that this is not like Inuyasha. Rin-ne is closer in spirit to her earlier farces Urusei Yatsura and Ranma ½.
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My Love Story–Anime Early Impressions

King Kong
I’ve seen quite a few shoujo romantic comedies but never one like My Love Story!! (Ore Monogatari!!) (Crunchyroll.)
Takeo Gouda, the protagonist, is a big, dumb, homely lunk with a heart of gold. He’s huge and scary-looking, not to mention socially clueless, so people tend to shy away from him. However those who know him know that he is decent, loyal and goodhearted.
(OK, this is Japan so he’s probably 5’11”. But let’s play along with it.)
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Kamisama Kiss 2 Ends

4 Stars
Mamoru looks out the window
I was surprised that Kamisama Kiss 2 (Hulu) ended without resolving the story of Akura-Ou. In fact it left him pretty much where he started at the beginning of the season, though perhaps influenced just a little bit by Nanami. It’s almost as if they were counting on having another season to wrap it up. (For a mainstream shoujo anime without a daytime TV distribution deal that seems like a long shot.)
Nanami with mother
But the ending feels quite satisfactory in its own way. It takes us on a trip back through time to show us Nanami as a little girl, growing up with an irresponsible father and a dying mother who extracted a final promise from her to “never depend on a man.”
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Maria the Virgin Witch Ends

3 Stars
Michael attacks
Maria the Virgin Witch (Hulu) was a series that regularly exceeded my expectations but I was somewhat disappointed by the ending. When an anime is based on an ongoing manga the ending is often a problem. Usually they just try to find an appropriate stopping point. Sometimes this works well and sometimes it doesn’t.
Summoned monsters
An alternative is for the anime production staff to come up with their own ending, different from the manga. That seems to be what was done here. This is problematic, especially with high-quality source material. The better written the original source is, the less likely it is that the studio screenwriters will be able to come up with something that lives up to its standards.
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Death Parade Ends

4 Stars
Oculus and Nona
Death Parade (Hulu) deserves a lot of praise. The writing is sharp and insightful. The production values are excellent. At the beginning I was afraid that it might turn into a formulaic “villain of the week goes to hell” series. It turned out to be much more sophisticated than that.
Dolls in box
Still this won’t appeal to everyone. Much of it is rather dark. To me it feels brilliant but a bit cold. The ending is bittersweet, not truly upbeat. Given the subject matter this is probably the best that can be expected.
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Cute High Earth Defense Club Ends

3 Stars
Giant Gora
The final episode of Cute High Earth Defense Club Love! (Crunchyroll) was the strongest of the series, wrapping up the story with a logical and satisfying explanation of everything that has happened.
Upset Wombat
Oh, who am I kidding? The whole series was nuts and the ending was nuts on crack. Still, there’s a place in the world for nuttiness, especially if it is high-quality expertly-produced nuttiness.
Student Council to the rescue
This is a very funny series. It’s not to everybody’s taste. In particular if you are a heterosexual male you will probably wince a bit while laughing. But it’s still funny and that excuses a great deal
Sold out
And of course there’s a heart-warming feel-good happy ending. What more can you ask for?
I swear to only produce high quality programming
Earlier post: Cute High Earth Defense Club–Anime Early Impressions.

Yona of the Dawn Ends

4.5 Stars
Ready for battle
Yona of the Dawn (Crunchyroll) had as good an ending as we could have reasonably hoped for. Since this is based on an ongoing manga, and has apparently been following it pretty faithfully, there was no chance that it would end with the heroine fulfilling her quest. Instead this turns out to have been the story of how a naive young girl becomes a hero, and how she decides what her quest is. Viewed in those terms it seems quite satisfactory.
Remembering King Il
This has been a high-quality show with great production values and smart writing that constantly surprised me. It has an unusual mix of romantic fantasy and hard-headed realism that I somehow find very appealing.
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Cinderella (2015)–Movie Review

3 Stars
Cinderella poster
I was interested to see what Kenneth Branagh, a director best known for his acclaimed Shakespeare adaptations, would do with Cinderella (IMDB). There have been innumerable adaptations of this story…and I wouldn’t say that this one is the best. (I particularly like 1998’s Ever After (IMDB)).

But Branagh was hired to do a live-action, non-musical remake of Disney’s 1950 animated Cinderella (IMDB) and he probably did as good a job as anyone could have done within those constraints. The movie looks great and adds some nice touches to the original Disney story.

I particularly like the way that the new version fleshes out the character of the Prince (Richard Madden) including his relationship with his father (Derek Jacobi.) The other roles are, as might be expected, pretty one-dimensional, but Cate Blanchett at least manages to make the Evil Stepmother seem believable.

The scenery and special effects look great, as one would expect. Whatever Disney’s faults, they can at least be counted on to deliver first-rate CGI. (As opposed to the cut-rate washed-out crap that we sometimes get from other studios.) It’s easy to shrug this off, but it really takes a lot of talent, money and effort to make these effects look seamless. I have to give credit where it is due.

I wouldn’t say that this is a great classic but it is a entertaining diversion.