St. Vincent (IMDB) is a well-intentioned comedy that is not as heart-warming as it thinks it is. However it is redeemed by some good performances, particularly a star turn by Bill Murray as a cantankerous old geezer with a heart of bronze.
Vincent MacKenna (Murray) is a grumpy old man who is not only rude but not particularly honest. He is also flat broke, which does not seem surprising given his constant drinking and gambling and his relationship with a pregnant stripper (Naomi Watts.)
His new neighbor Maggie Bronstein (Melissa McCarthy) is a newly-single mother and is desperate to find someone to watch her little boy Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) after school. So she agrees to pay Vincent to watch him.
Vincent is not the sort of responsible person we would choose for such a task, but he and Oliver actually hit it off pretty well. Vincent becomes a kind of disreputable but worldly-wise uncle-figure and maybe that’s what Oliver needs right now.
Usually in a movie like this the innocent child would redeem the cantankerous old codger, inspiring him to reform. But that’s not what this movie has in mind. Instead it decides to show us that Vincent is fine the way he is and doesn’t need to change.
To explain why I don’t find this very convincing I’m going to have to include some spoilers, so if you are interested in watching this you may want to stop reading now.
Yona of the Dawn (Akatsuki no Yona) (Crunchyroll) is unusual for a shoujo anime series. It focuses so much on action-adventure and character development that there’s little time left for teenaged angst.
The most similar series that I can think of is The Story of Saiunkoku which ran from 2006-2008. That was a story of court intrigue, set in a mythical country based on medieval China. Yona has a somewhat different tone however. Its mythical country seems less sophisticated, with disputes usually settled with swords instead of poison.
This is the Kingdom of Kouka, a land where the costumes and architecture seem drawn from a mixture of East Asian traditions, but the people’s names mostly sound vaguely Korean.
Sixteen-year-old Princess Yona is the only child of the king. She has a lot riding on her shoulders but seems hardly aware of it. She’s a bit spoiled, a bit tomboyish and a bit vain. (She worries constantly about her unruly red hair.) Mostly she is very naive.
Yona grew up with two important childhood friends. Her cousin Soo-won (on the left) was always exceptionally kind and supportive. Son Hak (lying down) was more reserved.
There a couple of things I have come to expect from a show made by Kyoto Animation. The first is that the animation quality will be very high. The second is that there will be a certain amount of quirkiness and risk-taking in the writing and direction. The show will not be ostentatiously unconventional but it definitely will not be an unimaginative retread of a tired formula.
That doesn’t mean that I always like the result. (Making “Endless Eight” was certainly taking a risk and they put a lot of effort into it, but I don’t know anyone who actually liked it.)
However Amagi Brilliant Park has so far been the high point of a rather slow season. It’s unpredictable, it’s funny and it looks great.
This Is Where I Leave You (IMDB) is a comedy-drama about a dysfunctional family. (I should emphasize that the family is “dysfunctional” in the move-comedy sense, not the movie-drama sense. That is, they quarrel a lot but they are all basically decent people.)
This movie did not thrill the critics but I found it quite entertaining, with some excellent performances.
Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) has been having a bad week. First he came home early to surprise his wife (Abigail Spencer) on her birthday, only to find her in bed with his boss (Dax Shepard.) Then he learns that his father has suddenly passed away after a long illness. Then his mother (Jane Fonda) demands that all of the kids come and stay with her for a week to sit shiva (even though none of them are religious.)
The siblings are all a bit messed up, partly because their mother, a celebrity psychologist, published a best-selling book when they were children that revealed all of their most embarrassing secrets. Paul (Corey Stoll) the eldest, is stuffy and uptight. Wendy (Tina Fey) is nurturing and seems sensible but she always seems to have a drink in her hand. Phillip (Adam Driver) is the baby of the family who never really grew up. As for Judd, he’s always been devoted to arranging a perfect, conventional and risk-free life.
The ending wasn’t bad exactly. Barakamon (Funimation) is still my favorite show of the season. But it left me vaguely dissatisfied, with a feeling that this could have been even better.
Guardian Enzo is a big fan of the manga and has been complaining all season that the anime focused on the humor but left out all the best character-development stories. To which my immediate response was “So what? The anime stands on its own. It’s hilarious!”
But the last two episodes toned down the comedy and focused on the character development, which gave just a taste of what I had been missing.
They probably did the best they could given that they only had 12 episodes to work with. I suspect that they could have done better with 24, maybe even making this a classic. It’s not impossible for a seinen anime to get 2 cours. Last year’s Golden Time got that and Mushishi will have completed 4 by the end of the year.
Still and all it’s not a bad show. The ending is sort of heartwarming, but not too heartwarming. As I see it, Handa has made it only about half way from being an annoying insecure artist to being a fully-realized human being. That would leave room for a sequel if they get the money for one.
Tokyo ESP (Hulu) turned out to be a surprisingly good action-adventure series with characters I cared about, even if they were over-the-top.
The only problem is that with only 12 episodes there was no way to tell the full story of the manga. So they limited themselves to a single story arc. The good guys get a minor victory but the main problem isn’t solved and there are a lot of loose ends dangling.
So maybe there will be a sequel to tell more of the story. The odds are that there won’t be enough sequels to tell the whole story, but you never know. If there is a sequel I’ll watch it.
Blue Spring Ride (Crunchyroll) is the best shoujo anime that I have seen in several years. It’s an unapologetic shoujo romance, but it tells a thoughtful story with intelligent characters. (If the characters do dumb things it is because they are young and inexperienced, not because they are stupid.)
Though it is based on an ongoing manga the anime selects a single story arc that stands by itself quite well. That’s about the best we could expect. The manga looks like something that could run for many years including too much material for any but the longest-running anime series.
Though I like this series there is something about it that makes me uneasy. I can’t discuss it without spoilers, so the rest is below the fold.
Nozaki-kun (Crunchyroll) ended about as well as any off-the-wall comedy could end. It stayed funny through all 12 episoded and avoided the temptation to betray its premise with a sappy ending.
Of course this show is mostly about skewering the tropes of shoujo manga, so I don’t know if it would appeal to someone who is totally unfamiliar with the genre. But if you do know something about shoujo manga (whether you love it or hate it) then you probably will find it pretty funny. It’s all in good humor and even the most devoted fans of shoujo will probably be more amused than offended.
Cardcaptor Sakura is now available for streaming on Crunchyroll here. This is big news for American anime fans who have gone for years without a legal way to watch it. (DVDs and Blu-rays are also available.) I reviewed the series based on the old Geneon DVDs here.
If you haven’t seen this show you probably should. This is a true classic, probably the best straight magical girl series ever. (By “straight” I mean that it is not a parody or a deconstruction like Madoka Magica.)
Some of the old classics really show their age, but this one holds up very well. In fact it still looks great!
From my point of view Tokyo ESP (Hulu) has two strikes against it: It’s bloodier than I usually like and it looks very derivative of Marvel’s X-Men franchise. But I find that I’m still watching it anyway because I like the main characters.
The first episode almost made me drop it though. It starts out right in the middle of the story with the bad guys doing all sorts of horrible things while the main characters (the ones I actually like) barely had walk-on roles. Things improved quite a bit with the second episode.
The premise is that there are mysterious glowing fish flying around Tokyo. If one of them swims into your body you get a psychic power which you can use for good or evil. Whether you’re good or bad, the non-powered majority are going to be suspicious of you and generally give you a hard time.