Friday, November 17, 2023

Five Nights at Freddy's (2023)

Streaming Service: Peacock
Movie Name/Year: Five Nights at Freddy's (2023)
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Length: 1h 49min
Rating: PG-13
Production/Distribution: Universal Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, ScottGames, Peacock
Director: Emma Tammi
Writer: Scott Cawthon, Seth Cuddeback, Emma Tammi, Chris Lee Hill, Tyler MacIntyre
Actors: Josh Hutcherson, Piper Rubio, Elizabeth Lail, Matthew Lillard, Mary Stuart Masterson, Kat Connor Sterling, Grant Feely, Asher Colton Spence, David Huston Doty, Liam Hendrix, Jophielle Love
Blurb from IMDb: A troubled security guard begins working at Freddy Fazbear's Pizza. During his first night on the job, he realizes that the night shift won't be so easy to get through. Pretty soon he will unveil what actually happened at Freddy's.

Selina’s Point of View:
It’s great to be back to reviews, and we obviously wanted to start with a film we’ve been looking forward to for a long time. The frustration of not being able to talk about Five Nights at Freddy’s when it was finally set to come out had us practically spitting. If the production companies hadn’t been so damn greedy…
But I digress.
I didn’t watch Five Nights at Freddy’s alone. A bunch of us got together and watched it on discord the night it came out on Peacock. It was our first discord movie night and, I have to say, doing it for this film was a good idea. There are so many little meme-able moments woven throughout. Watching it with friends and getting to talk about those moments as they occur, then theorizing after the film is done, heightened the whole experience for me.
No doubt you’ve seen the rotten tomatoes scores. Critics had a field day shitting all over it (30%), while fans brought the audience score all the way up to 87%. In this case, I see where critics are coming from, but as a fan of the games, I also see where the audience is coming from. I’m inclined to lean more toward the 87 than the 30.
Let me start with what I agree with the critics on.
The tone was a little… odd. Huge sections of Five Nights at Freddy’s are dedicated to the main character, Mike, and his guilt over the loss of his little brother. Those scenes are completely serious and leave little room for levity. Then there are other scenes where people are getting attacked by a cupcake or having fort-time with the animatronics.
I love a good horror comedy. So, my issue is not that there were moments of humor and light mixed in with scares, it’s that the tone was so drastically different between those scenes that they didn’t even feel like they were part of the same film. Most of those horror moments weren’t scary. I think there were a few to many cuts made. It all might have made more sense with the added scenes.
I have gotten my hands on some of the script that was cut after they opted to make the movie PG-13. When they were going for an R-rated, there were some seriously scary and brutal scenes written in that script. I really believe this is one flick that would have benefited from that R-rating.

Now that we have the bad out of the way, let’s talk about all the good.
Any fan of video games knows that the companies rarely get it right when they create an adaptation. We all wince when we first see the announcements. It’s as if the companies don’t bother to research the games. Instead, they seem to create movies based on a list of character names and plot guessing. That is not an issue here.
Scott Cawthon (Freddy & Friends: On Tour, Josh the Octoling Shorts, Five Nights at Freddy's: Security Breach) is the creator of Five Nights at Freddy’s. He not only had a hand in writing this adaptation, but he also had control over who directed it and the people tapped to play the characters. He shied away from solely using CGI, using live action options when he could. He had our favorite murderous animatronics created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop – which is a choice you have to respect. It gave them an uncanny valley feel when they moved, as if you could see the people trapped inside, but it didn’t make them too human either.
Because Cawthon was involved throughout every part of the film, Five Nights at Freddy’s sticks extremely close to the actual lore of the games (and books) from a time when he was in control of them.
Then there’s the acting, which you will find no fault in.
Josh Hutcherson (Epic, Ultraman, The Hunger Games) leaves it all on camera whenever he’s working. He doesn’t have a phone-it-in mode. Regardless of the part he always gives it his all, and that’s very apparent here. Matthew Lillard (The Bridge, Scream, SLC Punk!)  was also a fantastic choice for Steve Raglan. I have a lot of reasons for this belief, but they stray into spoiler territory, so I’m not going to put them here. I will say that most of the meme-able content comes from him.
Piper Rubio (Holly & Ivy, Pretzel and the Puppies, Unstable) was believable in her part as well. Children actors in horror films have it rough, because they aren’t given the whole story of what they’re acting in. Rubio manages to hide that fact from the audience, which worked out well.
When it comes down to it, fans of Five Nights at Freddy’s are going to enjoy the film. It’s a good first step that sets up the second to be even better.

Cat’s Point of View:
Fans of the Five Nights at Freddy’s (FNAF) game series have been waiting for the movie adaptation for years now. There was a rollercoaster of anticipation and frustration as the will-they or won’t-they of the development process moved along like a herd of turtles. While we were waiting, we got a taste of murderous animatronic insanity with Willy's Wonderland (2021). Fans of FNAF knew it was derivative, but it gave us a splatter-fest and crazy chaos to tide us over a little while – not that it was planned that way or anything. That was just the way it worked out. It whet our appetites while we still hungered for ‘the real thing.’
Now that the official Five Nights at Freddy’s has hit big and small screens alike, fans and audiences new to the stories have rushed to watch our hopes realized… all the while crossing our fingers that it wouldn’t disappoint.
I loved it. I also watched Five Nights at Freddy’s with my daughter, and it was fun to watch her reactions to the movie. She just happened to have the remote while we were watching via streaming, and she actually paused the film in a couple places so she could hop out of her chair and bounce around with glee at little moments and Easter Eggs that excited her. You see, she has been a monumental fan of FNAF for years now. She watched so many play-throughs of the games and has devoured all the game theories and lore content available online. FNAF was her introduction into horror. Most of my knowledge of this game series, its characters, and associated concepts came from her excited explanations before I ever even played the nerve-jangling games, myself. (I give serious props to VR players. I noped out within minutes.)
The point I’m getting around to is that we enjoyed the experience together and have great respect for the final product that arrived amidst a time of turmoil in the film industry. Five Nights at Freddy’s has the stamp of approval of my resident superfan.

Was it perfect? Not exactly. This movie did, however, treat the lore well and even gave a nod to the online gamer streamers that helped launch FNAF into the viral hit the games have been. The plot-twist in Five Nights at Freddy’s was also very satisfactory and caught me off-guard in a way that caused me to gasp and then face-palm as my mind hurriedly put the clues together in retrospect.
The cast was amazing. Josh Hutcherson was a great pick for the brother in a desperate enough situation to take the overnight security job. I have enjoyed watching his cinematic journey ever since he brought me to tears in Bridge to Terabithia (2007). I was also seriously giddy that Matthew Lillard was also involved in Five Nights at Freddy’s. It’s been a while since I’ve seen him in a horror flick. If anyone was going to take the FNAF’s mastermind and creator Scott Cawthon’s place as “phone guy,” Lillard was perfect. Young Piper Rubio also impressed me with her performance.
The only issue I had with Five Nights at Freddy’s was that the movie didn’t quite capture the same level of dread and suspense that the games are well known for. Understandably, for cinematic purposes it couldn’t be exactly like the gameplay, but that element was slightly lacking. I know that director Emma Tammi (The Wind, The Left Right Game, Into the Dark) is capable of that very feeling because her atmospheric and suspenseful movie The Wind (2018) was steeped in that eerie emotion. Perhaps future installments in this burgeoning franchise might take that step to round out the experience.
I wasn’t even mad that the production team took a PG-13 route with minimal gore. That’s not really what this series has been about at its core. It’s a lot of psychological horror and jump-scares. Audiences know that bloody and horribly gruesome things have happened, but it didn’t need to be front and center on-screen for the movie to be effective. The FNAF concept would stand up to a more graphic treatment, but for this first foray into this realm of haunted children’s attractions, this was satisfactory.
Five Nights at Freddy’s is a film I have recommended to friends already and we will likely be watching it again in the future. In the meantime, we will anticipate and cross our fingers that the studio and production team grant our wish for sequels exploring some of the other Five Nights at Freddy’s lore and characters.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score –30%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 87%
Metascore – 33%
Metacritic User Score – 8.0
IMDB Score –5.5/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating 3.5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating 4.5/5
Movie Trailer:

Monday, November 13, 2023

Triumph of Trigun - A Look at Both Series Original and New

Series Name/Year: Trigun (1998)
Series Name/Year: Trigun Stampede (2023-)
Streaming Service (Both): Crunchyroll
Genres (Both): Animation, Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi, Western
Average Episode Length - Trigun:  24 min (1 Season, 26 episodes)
Average Episode Length - Trigun Stampede:  24min (1 Season, 12 episodes)
Rating (Both): TV-14
Director - Trigun: Satoshi Nishimura
Directors - Trigun Stampede: Kenji Muto, Minoru Yamaoka, Naomichi Yamato, Hiroshi Nishikiori, Mie Ôishi
Writers - Trigun: Yôsuke Kuroda, Yasuhiro Nightow
Writers - Trigun Stampede: Tatsuro Inamoto, Yasuhiro Nightow, Shin Okashima, Takehiko Okishi, Yoshihisa Ueda
Actors - Trigun:
- Japanese Cast:
Masaya Onosaka, Satsuki Yukino, Hiromi Tsuru, Show Hayami, Tôru Furusawa, Masamichi Ota, Aya Hisakawa, Toshihiko Seki, Kôki Miyata
- English Cast:
Johnny Yong Bosch, Lia Sargent, Dorothy Elias-Fahn, Jeff Nimoy, Kirk Baily, Bridget Hoffman, Richard Cansino, Bryce Papenbrook, Joshua Seth
Actors - Trigun Stampede:
- Japanese Cast:
Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Sakura Ando, Kenji Matsuda, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Junya Ikeda, Yumiri Hanamori, Tomoyo Kurosawa, Tarako, Ryûsei Nakao, Maaya Sakamoto, Kimiko Saitô, Mirei Kumagai
- English Cast:
Johnny Yong Bosch, Sarah Roach, Ben Bryant, David Matranga, Austin Tindle, Kristen McGuire, Madeleine Morris, Megan Shipman, Larry Brantley, Emily Fajardo, Lydia Mackay
IMDb Blurb - Trigun: Vash the Stampede is the most infamous outlaw on the planet Gunsmoke and with a 60 billion double dollar price on his head the most sought after!
IMDb Blurb - Trigun Stampede: Follow gunman Vash the Stampede as he struggles to maintain his pacifist ways while avoiding the immense bounty on his head.

Cat’s Point of View:
Before we delve into the warm fuzzies of the Holiday Season – better yet, before we return to our more usual review fare with the end of the SAG-AFTRA strike; I thought I’d dive into one of my favorite Japanese manga adaptations: Trigun.

Of course, there’s more than 1 series to mention, considering the freshly released Trigun Stampede that premiered this year. Both series approach the same material (for the most part) from different perspectives, and I find both of them excellent in their own ways.

I have a bit of a soft spot for westerns. Couple that with my love of science fiction and adventure and Trigun just started checking a lot of boxes in the positive column as I caught the original series airing on Adult Swim years ago.

If I had to pick some well known titles to mash together to compare Trigun to, I’d have to say that it would be somewhat like a combination of the world of Mad Max (1979) and the sci-fi blend in Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999). (Of course, Trigun was one of Bebop’s contemporaries airing in the same year.) I adore the blend of action with drama and comedy. Some of the physical anime gags go a little over-the-top (especially facial features and expressions). Those really aren’t my favorite bits, but everything else about the series is a wonderful blend of chaos, futuristic steampunk, and the visuals of an alternate world “old West.”

Before I go any further, I feel I do need to warn that this review will inherently contain some mild SPOILERS regarding the Trigun storyline continuity. The 1998 series and the 2023 series approach Vash’s story from different points in the timeline and some bits of information revealed as a surprise or plot-twist late in the Trigun original series are front and center in the very first episodes of the Trigun Stampede series. Further, anyone who has watched the original series will generally know most of what will happen in Trigun Stampede, however not everything is shown in this first season. There’s room for the “missing characters” (to some extent) and other plot elements to be explored in season 2 and potentially beyond.

First, let’s talk animation style. With the 20-plus years between Trigun and Trigun Stampede, it’s a given that animation production methods and styles will have changed over time. 1998’s series fits right in with the high quality of its contemporaries. The action was handled really well, and not all of the comedy digressed into “comicalization” or simplistically exaggerated facial expressions for the characters. Hey, I’m not knocking that stylistic choice – it’s just not my preferred cup of tea. Even so, plenty of my favorite series utilize that affectation as a common anime trope. It doesn’t generally impact my enjoyment.

The Trigun Stampede series is rather straight-shooting in a seamless animation style that remains uniform, even while still delivering the moments of emotion and comedy. The new style is clearly rendered in a digital format, though still retains much of the “old school” animation charm rather than the shiny plastic nature of most 3D animation. The action is fluid and well done, and Stampede also utilizes a more modern approach to cinematography. As an example, there’s one scene in an early episode of Stampede that comes to mind where Vash is using parkour as he dodges bullets, and as he flips onto another rooftop or similar surface the camera does a rotation with him. (This scene is actually shown in the music video that accompanies the opening theme music for Stampede.)

Now let’s get into the story a bit. Trigun Stampede might be hard for some fans of the original series to take in at first because of some changes and/or seeming omissions. Some characters aren’t seen that are in the 1998 series and even the world has a different name. Previously called Gunsmoke, it’s now called Nomans Land. Some of the villain-of-the-week characters don’t make an appearance, and even some of the Gung-Ho Guns don’t show. Some characters have different backgrounds… you get the picture.

Most of the differences are honestly splitting hairs, in my opinion. Stampede is not worse for wear for these changes. Honestly, it felt like the story was more cohesive and streamlined. It felt like the original series had more light-hearted moments sprinkled through the explosions, raining bullets, questionable pick-up lines, and camaraderie. Trigun Stampede has the comedy and action down, but also leans in a bit more to drama, ethics, discrimination, personal moral code, and existential questions. It’s a bit heavier in tone in some places, considering you know from the outset what the relationship is between Vash and Knives and get an inkling as to what the stakes are overall.

There’s one main thing to keep in mind, however. When the 1998 series ran, the manga was not finished by a long shot. Both series are made from a combination of Trigun and Trigun Maximum. The latter just wasn’t complete when the first series made its run. Maximum also wasn’t a reboot of the original Trigun manga, but a continuation. The name only changed due to legal red tape because the publisher changed, etc. Stampede now has the full manga run at its disposal to draw from, and has the opportunity to spin the entire story in a different way than presented in 1998.

Both versions of the series remain true to Vash’s core journey – both literal and figurative. He strives to put together what went wrong in the past and find some redemption in his life. 
Vash has profound sadness within him, and yet shows a great understanding and zest for life and laughter all the same. Throughout both series, in the face of daunting circumstances, he maintains his beliefs in finding alternate solutions to violence. Though, when violence cannot be avoided, he shows strength and stands up to defend even those that have tried to hurt him. In this way, the story of Trigun in both series reminds me of the way of life and perspective of the late Gandhi and makes this story that much more powerful. 
“My creed of nonviolence is an extremely active force. It has no room for cowardice or even weakness. There is hope for a violent man to be some day non-violent, but there is none for a coward. I have, therefore, said more than once....that, if we do not know how to defend ourselves, our women and our places of worship by the force of suffering, i.e., nonviolence, we must, if we are men, be at least able to defend all these by fighting.” - M.K. Gandhi
As usual, I feel I must disclose that, at this time, I haven’t read the manga to know specifically what differences exist between either Trigun’s original series or Stampede and the source material. There are many anime resource sites, forums, and databases you are welcome to peruse should you wish to look up the play-by-play yourself.

One of the things that brings me great joy about all of the Trigun series is that, at least for the English dubbed versions, Johnny Yong Bosch (Black Clover, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Bleach: Thousand Year Blood War) has remained the voice of Vash the Stampede throughout. He seems to be the only consistent cast member to return through both series and the 2010 stand-alone movie. He brings something great to all of the characters he brings to life on the screen, and seemingly effortlessly evokes both their strengths and vulnerabilities.

Yes, I did mention that there was a Trigun movie. Trigun: Badlands Rumble hit screens in 2010 as an independent story that could have taken place somewhere in the middle of the continuity of the 1998 series. It didn’t pick up from the end, as some might have hoped. In that way it shared even more in common with the Bebop series, as Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001) did the same thing (much to my dismay).

Trigun Stampede does have a 2nd season announced, though details are scarce as to the timeline for production. The ending of Stampede’s first season did allude to the return of a familiar original series character that was conspicuously missing thus far. There’s always room for more villains and other supporting characters to pop up in the next installments, as well as new elements of the expanded story within the source material. I just hope they also find a way to fit Kuroneko back in for at least a cameo. The familiar silly black cat was a missed opportunity in Stampede, in my book at least.

If you are a fan of the original series, I implore you to give Trigun Stampede a chance. If you haven’t watched any of the series yet – old or new – I do not envy your decision between original and new series, but once you’ve watched one, I encourage you to watch the other. Stampede is definitely an easier binge with only 12 episodes compared to the original’s 26 + movie, but I’d have to say it’s well worth the time spent to view both perspectives. 

Trigun Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 100%
Trigun Stampede Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 100%
Trigun Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 88%
Ttrigun Stampede Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 78%
Metascore – None (both)
Metacritic User Score – None (both)
Trigun IMDB Score – 8.2/10
Trigun: Stampede IMDB Score – 7.3/10
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating:
Trigun – 4.5/5
Trigun: Stampede – 4.5/5

Trigun: Stampede Trailer:

Trigun (1998) Trailer: