Saturday, July 15, 2017

But I Digress... Castlevania Mania (A Review)

By Cat

Show Name/Year: Castlevania (2017-)
Tagline: N/A
Genre: Animation, Horror, Action/Adventure
Length:  4 Episodes Averaging 23 minutes each
Rating:  TV-MA
Production Companies: Frederator Studios, Mua Film, Powerhouse Animation Studios, Shankar Animation
Producers: Adi Shankar, Warren Ellis, Ted Biaselli, Brad Graeber, Kevin Kolde, Fred Siebert, Larry Tanz, Jason Williams
Director: Sam Deats
Writers: Warren Ellis
Actors: Richard Armitage, James Callis, Alejandra Reynoso, Graham McTavish, Tony Amendola, Matt Frewer, Emily Swallow
Stunt Doubles: N/A

Blurb from Netflix, Ep.1: A headstrong young woman seeks out forbidden knowledge, and a corrupt bishop courts disaster by enraging a legend.

I have always been intrigued by the Castlevania video game series. It’s never worked out for me to get my hands on a copy, but I have long admired it from afar. That said, I’m not all that familiar with the actual plot of the series aside from some broad-spectrum generics. Pair that with my love of anime and it becomes clear why I immediately added this series to my personal list when I saw the ‘coming soon’ splash page on Netflix.

Last weekend, about 2 days after the series premiered on the streaming service, a die-hard anime loving friend of mine sat across from me at my table, while prepping for a Pathfinder game, and proceeded to tell me that this series was “amazing” and that he’d watched the whole thing in one sitting. The short episode length of this 4-part first season run made that not only easy, but a very efficient vehicle to give audiences just enough of a taste of the series to crave more. 

This, of course, elevated my level of excitement and anticipation for the series even higher and I knew without a doubt this is what I wanted to review for you in this week’s digression. 

Before I begin, I feel it’s important to establish that this Netflix series has absolutely nothing to do with the live-action movie that was in the works in recent years. Hopes of that film reaching the screen have dwindled while it languished in development hell. There still seems to be interest in the project, but the rights could be the current stumbling block, according to what I’ve read on the matter. Perhaps, if the Netflix series is successful enough, someone might be able to resurrect the project. This series stands alone regardless of whatever plans were for a live cinematic treatment.

I, for one, would be fine with more of this animated series. The good news is that on the day of its release, the Netflix series was already renewed for an 8 episode second season.

As I mentioned before, since I haven’t yet played the games; it’s hard for me to answer the burning question that is likely at the forefront of fans’ minds – does it stay true to the games?

According to an interview with showrunner, Adi Shankar (The Grey, Dredd, A Walk Among the Tombstones), published on, had this to say: “Ultimately this was a show made by the fans, like me and everyone else who worked on it, for Castlevania fans.” Hopefully, knowing that should allay some concerns. 

Adi Shankar & Graham McTavish from gackhollywood article.

  “For Castlevania, the references I threw out to the team a lot were basically Ninja Scroll [1993] and Vampire Hunter D [1985]. I thought Warren Ellis [G.I. Joe: Resolute, Iron Man: Extremis, RED], who is arguably one of the greatest living authors today, wrote an amazing script. And I was like, to do this script justice, let’s not just do the coverage, master, medium close up, traditional television directing thing. Let’s do actual legit cinematic storytelling that is kind of absent, I would argue, from movies today. And that’s why you see some of these shots, and there’s actual choreography there, with specific camera moves and very specific shot design.” - Shankar to ComingSoon when asked about his influences for this series. 

Likely, the follow up question to that would be which game (if any) the series is based on. The plot of this series, or at least this first season, is based around Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (1990) with elements from another related game in the series.

I am hoping that this Netflix show gets a lot of momentum to carry forward past even the second season. It’s incredibly well done – from the animation quality, direction, casting and their role execution, and even the soundtrack. The action sequences were so well done, that you can tell the showrunner’s vision for the scenes was intricate and expansive. 

Now down to the nitty gritty. While animated, this series is definitely not for kids – especially younger ones. There is very graphic gore and the show is packed with violence. It’s the nature of horror adventures such as this. Vampires, their ilk, and their minions are not generally sparkly with love of rainbows and butterflies. This is a tale of tragedy, vengeance, and bloodshed is guaranteed.

Even if you have older kids that have played some of the games, consider visuals such as disemboweled villagers, decapitated bodies, and skeletons on pikes before sitting them down with adult Netflix access. That’s really just scratching the surface. The gore is all justified, however, and not just gratuitous fan-service to the gore-mongers out there.

I’ve already mentioned that the cast performed well in this series, but I feel that bears a small bit of repeating. I was highly impressed with Richard Armitage (MI-5, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Crucible) as Trevor Belmont. I loved the dark humor his character brings to the table with his sarcastic wit. Graham McTavish (Dante's Inferno: An Animated Epic, Columbiana, Preacher), well known for his role as Dougal MacKenzie in the STARZ Outlander (2014-) series, gave his voice to the formidable presence of Dracula in this tale. 

I also loved the fact that there are strong women characters present, voiced by Emily Swallow (The Lucky Ones, The Mentalist, Supernatural) as Lisa and Alejandra Reynoso (Sharing God Kid Style, G.I. Joe: Renegades, Winx Club) as Sypha. They aren’t damsels in distress, and rail against that very notion by their existence.

If you are a fan of animated horror, or a fan of the game series; this series should certainly tickle your fancy. There’s well over 20 games out there in the Castlevania game saga, so there’s plenty of source material to pull from to launch a film franchise – whether animated or otherwise. I, for one, hope they keep these stories coming. I can’t wait for the 2018 release of season 2.

Speech Available: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
Subtitles Available: English, French, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Traditional Chinese

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 91%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 88%
Metascore - 71/100
Metacritic User Score – 8.2/10
IMDB Score – 8.2/10

Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 5/5

Series Trailer

But I Digress... is a weekly column for that can't be pinned down to just one thing. It's Cat's celebration of tangents, random references, and general fan geekdom that both intertwines with, revolves around, and diverges from our movie-review core. In homage to the beloved Brit comedians, we want to bring you something completely different!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Falling Flowers (2013) - Foreign Film Friday

Number Rolled: 13
Movie Name/Year: Falling Flowers (2013)
Tagline: None
Genre: Drama
Length: 119 minutes
Rating: NR
Production Companies: Harbin Provincial Party Committee Propaganda Department, Heilongjiang Broadcast and Television Station, Heilongjiang People's Radio, Heilongjiang Provincial Party Committee Propaganda Department, Zhejiang Talent Television & Film Company
Producer: Sanping Han, Hongliang Wu
Director: Jianqi Huo
Writer: Xiaowei Su, Fuhai Yi
Actors: Jia Song, Jue Huang, Renjun Wang, Jaco Bo Zhang, Chao Wu, Zian Mi, Yiling Li, Fengxu Li, Weimin Sun, Tong Zhang
Stunt Doubles: None

Blurb from Netflix: Pregnant, abandoned and destitute, gifted writer Xiao Hong embarks on a daring literary career in the face of patriarchy, privation and war.

Selina’s Point of View:
It takes a lot to get me to like a film like this.

Falling Flowers was a heavy drama, which is not my preferred genre by a long shot. Never-the-less, I absolutely adored this film.

There was a bitter cold reality to the plot and story. Nothing about Falling Flowers is pretty or sugar-coated. It doesn’t lie to the audience.

According to research, this film is based on a true story and – for once – I absolutely believe it. Normally I give that fact with a hefty warning that it was likely ‘loosely’ based off truth, but I’d believe this film stayed as close to the real story as possible.

Keep in mind that I don’t know the real story, so that’s just a guess.

The point is that there’s a certain naivety that most true story films show that make it feel as though the plot were impossible. Life isn’t always filled with hope; as depressing as that sounds.

Watching this film was heartbreaking, but I couldn’t look away for even a minute. I was enthralled by Xiao Hong’s story, something I credit actress Jia Song (Cold Steel, The Final Master, Legend of the Daming Palace) with. She played her part flawlessly and made me care in a situation I don’t normally find reason to.

Writers Xiaowei Su and Fuhai Yi are amazing screenwriters. In fact, a few of my new favorite quotes came from this script. That reality is made even more epic by the fact that this movie is the only one listed in either writer’s IMDb credits.

There’s a lot of love I have for Falling Flowers, but I acknowledge that it likely isn’t for everyone. The anticipation and worry imparted on the audience is subtle and constant. It is in no way a ‘feel good’ film. It’s not for someone just home from work and looking to ignore the fact that they had to deal with idiots all day. This film is for a day off when you are looking to reflect upon life, love, and death.

For me, this film hit all the right notes. I’d both recommend it and watch it again.

Cat’s Point of View:
Oh goodness, where do I begin?

This had to have been one of the most frustrating things I’ve watched in a while. Do note that I didn’t say horrible. It wasn’t bad – just aggravating.

Why? Partially, it was the movie’s pacing. I felt every second of the full two hours of this film. Things felt so drawn out that at some points it was almost excruciating to remain seated and watching. My need to fidget was skyrocketing but I was trapped because of the need to read the subtitles.

This was not a movie where I forgot that I was reading because of engrossing story. Unfortunately, the bleakness that overshadowed the main character’s world seemed to swallow the whole thing. I felt numb when I know other emotions were warranted. Perhaps it was just overload. This movie was just about as dramatic as drama can get. It was almost like a soap-opera at times.

This reminds me of a time I went to the opera to watch a production of Carmen. It was a bit of a condensed version, which didn’t do the story any favors. It turned a tragic and sweeping epic into something almost comical. While this film didn’t suffer for being condensed into a faster timeline, it’s a similar feeling where I knew the appropriate reaction I should be having and the dissonance with my actual reactions.

I do want to give credit where credit is due, though, and leave you with something positive. I feel the cast did a good job with their roles, and the visuals throughout were well thought out and stunning. The story was working with some really deep material and they tried their best to paint a landscape of emotion and intellect for the characters.

I wouldn’t watch this movie again. I’ve just had my fill of it.

Speech Available: Chinese
Subtitles Available: English

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – None
Metascore - None
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 5.9/10

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating2.5/5

Trust-the-Dice’s Parental Advisory Rating: PG-13

Movie Trailer: