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Pantheon review

Posted : 1 week, 6 days ago on 8 February 2024 08:58 (A review of Pantheon)

To think I’ve come across this title by pure accident two years ago, simply founding it on the site on which I watch anime, despite it being fully a cartoon. Something about the cover, the name and the tagline was quite captivating, I wanted to watch it even before I read the synopsis, which is even better.

Even more, I watched this title as soon as I could, just two months before the happiest we Argentinians have been after a long time, ah, if only we knew at the time…

It wasn’t very long before someone told me that the show was canceled due to very poor ratings, despite being already completely finished, so you can imagine my sadness…

But oh well, a whole year later that second season was released exclusively for Australia and New Zealand, and just some months later someone must have torrent it or something because now it’s available on pirate sites. So, in a now very saddening national situation, being able to see this show finished was a little piece of happiness in my life.

Pantheon is basically a callback to the dark cyberpunk era of anime that lasted from the late 80s to, well, the 90s as a whole, with some titles in the early 00s, with the latest being Zegapain, as far as I know. It is clearly inspired by Serial Experiments Lain, and it references Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell, and on its second season, even Paranoia Agent.

It has all the themes and plot points of the first, only updated to contemporary times in terminology, technology used in-series, scope and handling. Unfortunately, it also means that it doesn’t have the aesthetics of those series, which were dark not only in plots and characterization, but also on coloring, directing, and atmosphere. For a good portion of people, Paranoia Agent is mysterious, Evangelion depressing, Ghost in the Shell mindfuckery, and Serial Experiments Lain…all those things, plus very confusing and at times even straight up psychological horror.

None of that can be found in Pantheon, it’s an existential and political sci-fi thriller alright, but also mixed with teen drama and romance, and some action from time to time, with the atmosphere not being nowhere close as immersive as the ones that at least three of the previous titles had.

Not to say that Pantheon is bad in that regard, the soundtrack while nothing mind-blowing, is good enough, as are the special effects, especially on the second season with its boost in action and jump in technological level. Since I’ve watched the series on two languages, I can comment on two versions regarding the voice acting.

Unlike the anime series, which were limited to Japan in their settings, this show scales up to the whole world, and since it is a contemporary western cartoon, it has to have ethnic diversity, which anime usually lack or represent poorly when they have it, and in terms of audio in this series means having a lot of different accents which for a non-English speaker like myself, it was very hard to follow without subtitles, plus Maddie sounded older than she is for some reason. Another complaint I had was that the voice acting didn’t have the level of emotion I’m used to, but that’s to be expected, as I’m used to watch animation in either Japanese or Latin American, so it’s normal that when I listen to English voice acting, the performances come off as underacted for me.

So I switched to the Spanish (from Spain) dub and the voices and performances were something more akin to what I’m used to. Since the second season is, up to date, only available in English, I watched it in its original dub with English subtitles, so the different accents, far more prominent and in quantity than in the previous season, weren’t a problem. Plus, I don’t know if I got used to it or what but I had the impression that the second half was better acted as a whole, I also found a narrative reason for the delivery to be the way it is, since by that point every character is weighed down by both a global and personal crisis, or a desensitized transhuman being with a god complex, so it makes sense for them to sound the way they do.

The visuals were heavily criticized during the first season for its simplicity in artwork, character designs and backgrounds, and for the so-so motions. Surprisingly the CGI wasn’t questioned, despite being quite noticeable and in my opinion not in the same level as the rest. If you go into this series being used to watch only mainstream animation, you’ll probably hate the animation in this show, but since I’m used to watch animation from the whole scale of quality from Asia, Europe and Latin America, I wasn’t bothered by it one bit.

The artwork though simple is always consistent, the character designs are refreshing after you watched so many anime like I did, and the backgrounds are pretty good. In the second season in particular, the artwork is better, there are more characters with a lot more varied designs, and the older ones change after some time skips, the plot scales to the whole world, so you get to see a lot of different locations, and the special effects are better than in the first season, even for the CGI, even if it still isn’t as good as the rest. The motions and facial expressions are still not that good, those are the weakest aspects in this department from beginning to end, but a bit better in the second half thanks to all the action of the last episodes. The directing can be good at some points, especially for the action scenes near the end, but for most of the duration is pretty standard, not bad, just serviceable, when you compare it with the ones from the titles I mentioned earlier, this is not even close.

The show starts with a girl named Maddie getting an e-mail from her supposed dead father, who was actually uploaded as, what I guess can be described as an advanced intelligence based on his own brain (called uploaded intelligence in-series), and that leads the characters to be part of, initially, a conspiracy of different companies and governments wanting to use them for cyber militaristic operations. Even though that is the main focus, the series also dedicates time to the personal drama of her dealing with bullying in the school and the loss and reappearance of her father, as well as the acceptance of her mother wanting to start a new life with someone else.

Besides Maddie there are two other protagonists in the first season, one being Caspian, basically an Internet troll and hacker who later on founds out that his whole life, family and recent relationships are a lie fabricated for the sake of someone else.

And the other is Chanda, who was forced to upload against his will and it’s initially trapped in a loop before getting help from previous victims, and after that he goes on to get revenge on the people that did that to him and becomes the antagonist that forms a rebellion against humanity after he develops a god complex.

Anyone that has seen Serial Experiments Lain will notice all the similarities between the two series in premise, concepts and protagonists, but while this one wants to tackle how dangerous technology can be depending on how it’s used, it doesn’t do it with the same fear of it that the other one did in its time. Another difference is that Pantheon divides its character arcs among three protagonists, while exploring the dynamics between them and with the support cast, instead of having one protagonist with a personality disorder, like the anime, thus it’s better in that regard, because even if Lain Iwakura is one of the greatest characters I’ve ever seen, the rest of the characters in her series didn’t matter much, or wasn’t nearly as explored.

The buildup, however, does have some parts that are not that interesting, such as the main character and her father reconnecting in a game, or some of the fights being fought in that videogame, which was making it feel like a not very serious fantasy series instead of sci-fi, but at least it offered some cool new designs for some characters.

Then there is the episode where Maddie and her father David ruin her mother’s relationship to try to get her to be together again with him…but that can’t be done, because he is no longer a human, or at least not in the same sense as she is, so they officially break up, so what was the point of the whole thing in the episode then?

At least it wasn’t a complete waste of time, since even though it was kind of uninteresting and not serious to watch without progressing the plot much, it was important to tackle the themes of the series, such as whether an advanced state of consciousness can or not be considered the same thing as a human, and it was also important to have an impact in Maddie’s character arc on accepting that her father is no longer there and that her family is no longer the same, as much as she would like it to be, at least not in the same ways.

And of course, another themes looked into are how non ethical the whole process of uploading (as well as another thing) someone can be, the existential crisis the character go through, and as I previously mentioned, how technology can be abused by the super powers despite the good intentions their studies and developments might have had, something which has happened several times in actual history.

Another minor negative is the existence of a Russian hacker that does his thing playing piano while being half naked and surrounded by even more half naked catgirls, why would you include such a thing in this series? It was so ridiculous to watch and unfitting within the show.

The first season ends in a kind of a cliffhanger and although good as a whole, it would have been affected quite negatively if it was left incomplete. Thankfully it didn’t happen and the series eventually got its proper continuation and closure.

As soon as the second season starts, you notice why the first was made the way it was, there is no more buildup and character immersion, it’s all about moving the plot forward from the very first minute. Time passes, consequences from the first season carry over, the plot escalates to a global scale and scope, opinions about the uploaded intelligences are divided between whether they are a threat to humanity or an advanced state to a human being possible to coexist with, both among the common people and several authorities, the themes are no longer limited to the ethical and existential dimensions about it, but also political, and several characters have different agendas and are moving the plot forward in some way all the time.

The political aspect is quite weak however, as the sides of the conflict are presented simply and in clear preference to one side, or solves long conflicts easily, whether by giving little screentime to the political enemies of the States, and not allowing them achieve anything before they disappear from the story, or by forming alliances between sworn enemies in a hurry.

I mean it coincides with the themes explored in the series, of how conflicting humans can be yet at the end of the day mutual understanding, love and connection are always possible, especially against a common far bigger enemy and threat for the whole species (in the form of a billionaire leader of one of the biggest companies in the world with a god complex and the most advanced technology at hand, heh), but the execution feels idealistic and sentimental for such a show.

Another aspect that some might have issues with is Chanda being relegated to a kind of secondary role, as a new, bigger, way more powerful antagonist takes his place, which makes him reconsider everything he has done.

At least Caspian and Maddie get even more focus and development, the former by developing a god complex himself in his attempt to prove himself and others and be someone on his own, and later on giving himself completely to fix his mistake and save the world, as well as being a link to the connection between different species in the end.

The latter becomes an activist and engineer and developer herself, before she gets the biggest role in the whole series, while the show also explores her personal drama full of grieve, loss and loneliness.

What I didn’t fancy much initially was the inclusion of romance and sex, but I guess a modern North American adult cartoon is contractually obliged to have those things or else how it’s going to be clear about its demography right? At least the execution was done properly by keeping the sex out of screen, the teen pregnancy being handled seriously and the romance being part of the themes and leading to important plot points at the end.

Throughout the second half the now two protagonists keep traveling and talking to different people and although it might seem like the plot does not progress for the sake of exploring the secondary cast, the truth is that what they do is directly related to the themes and main objective, and it also allows for character growth and dynamics, with the payoff being the huge catharsis at the end.

What it also allows is the creators of the series to show all the different locations and the global scale the conflict escalated to, as well as fill their contractually obliged diversity quota, without shoving it down your throat and without victimizing nor demonizing anyone. By comparison, last year I watched half of Undone and had to drop it because, among several other issues, the protagonist was insufferable for how she wouldn’t shut up about being descendant of Mexicans and what the States robbed off from them, when it had nothing to do with the plot or themes, at least until that point.

None of that shit is present in Pantheon, which has lots of interracial couples and marriages, and people from lots of different countries, without limiting anyone to the distorted stereotypical image that the fake progressive mind of the States thinks it counts as proper representation. This cartoon might be woke, but it’s not garbage.

Oh, and for the totally secure with themselves, their sexualities and their masculinity or femininity lgbtphobics as well as conservatives with totally really important issues, they might like to know that there are not same sex or gender relationships nor brief references to other sexualities and identities that aren’t heterosexual and cisgender in here, so they can be relaxed in watching a fucking cartoon without having to concern themselves over petty bullshit that lives free in their absolutely sane mind for some reason.

All things considered, Pantheon could have been the best series in its kind for taking the premise and plot points of the dark sci-fi era of anime and updating them and making them more relatable to the viewers as well as increasing the scope and themes considerably, but although it is a great cartoon altogether, sadly it is still not as good as it could have been.

As the pacing moves fast in the second season, that means that some events might play out in ways that don’t feel completely organic. The time skips in the series are partially responsible for that, since they take place between seasons and near the end of the show, and several developments in both plot and characters come off as sudden or drastic because of that. The missing information is given properly to fill in the gaps, but that doesn’t change that a lot of stuff has happened without showing the whole buildup to it, and the characters that you’ve been following for the whole cartoon are now different in some ways, without you seeing they change organically and gradually on screen.

And then of course, as it’s usually the case with sci-fi of this kind, it’s very hard to say if any of this is even possible, the series explains everything to make it seem like there is a consistent internal logic, and some reviews on imdb praised the realism and attention to detail to the technology used in-series, but that’s only for the first season, as the second becomes way crazier as the uploaded intelligences become so powerful they practically get super powers.

And also, it seems that every antagonist is done for good, while for the good guys there always seem to be some backup to keep them alive in some way, and that diminishes the stakes a little.

All the problems come together in the finale, which is so out there it’s really hard to even grasp, let alone level it down to something that’s relatable. We are talking about the characters, including an advanced anti-viral software, becoming multiversal beings that can control time, space, energy and matter, and create and control whole universes and timelines, that’s why they joke about having become gods, yes, it gets that crazy.

You also ask yourself, wait, did none of that happen? Was it all a simulation? Is time going to reset itself? Is it a closed loop without showing the outcome? Did they ruined the show? And thankfully, the answer is no, as you can get when you think about the final dialogues in the show, all those events happened, the characters went through them, and they want to relive them possibly changing the outcome, in a way that doesn’t interfere with all the other time branches.

I find it positive in what it means theme wise, as even if they had become powerful multiversal beings outside the realm of time and space, they want to give away all that and change it so they aren’t alone and lonely and for the chance of being together again in a way that feels material/physical, because, you know, despite being the celestial gods they had become, they are humans, and what they want to do is, human. The very last scene even reconnects with the very first through the narration that was used in it.

As a whole, despite having several issues across its whole duration, which ultimately don’t let it be the best series of its kind compared to the simpler yet better executed anime from the 90s, I found Pantheon to be the best cartoon of its years, although I admittedly didn’t watch many other titles in them, and the best one since The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, and I’m happy that this kind of science fiction (along Pluto and NieR:Automara Ver1.1a from 2023) is still done and mostly properly executed nowadays, even if most didn’t care about it.

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Posted : 3 weeks ago on 1 February 2024 03:58 (A review of Beauty Water)

I should’ve talked about this movie before Huang Yan because it came out earlier but well, not much to do since I watched the other title first. Whenever this film is talked about, it’s compared with that series, Perfect Blue and the works of Junji Ito, and although I see the resemblance to them in some level, I found it quite different from them and quite unique on its own.

The premise is a twist in the surgeon drama/thriller formula that several movies and Huang Yan had, by removing the surgeon and replace him with a, well, beauty water, as the title implies, that works kind of like magic in an otherwise mundane setting.

The pacing is very good, as things constantly move forward and explore the themes and main character without stretching anything and preventing everything from becoming stale, in a rather short runtime, thus preventing the movie from overstaying its welcome.

Much like Yuxi in Huang Yan, Yae-ji, the female protagonist here, is mistreated for being ugly and yet does not change in personality despite her change in appearance, unlike that other woman though, the reason here is that this main character is awful from the beginning.

While Yuxi was brave and facing hardships as the clear hero of her story, Yae-ji is the villain of her own, despite also being its protagonist. Ever since the beginning she is shown as mean, resentful, egoistic, someone that lives off her parents (and I’m not just referring to money), and someone willing to go to whatever extreme needed to get what she wants. It’s very interesting and intense seeing how lower she can go throughout the movie.

Although most of those surgeon drama/thriller movies also had villains as their protagonists, they were either acting for the sake of someone else (“Le Yeux sans visage”, “Gritos en la noche”, “Corruption”), had petty motives (“Seddok”) or were cartoonisly edgy and evil to the point of coming off as a pathetic and immature attempt of the writer and director to make his film as shocking as it could (“Les Predateurs de la Nuit”). Thus the only other title that had a villainous main character as strong as this one in both personal agenda and focus is “La piel que habito”, and even that one changes the roles of the characters through a plot twist midway.

I mean, this movie also introduces another villain in form of a surprise villain and antagonist near the end, but it doesn’t do it as well because it’s not very well anticipated and the characters are not as interconnected as those two were.

Besides that, this movie also has some themes regarding the television industry, celebrities, and of course the obsession with being beautiful and how far someone can go to achieve that, some people even found symbolisms regarding the plastic surgeon surgeries and poverty. With that said, perhaps to the limited runtime, the themes are only looked into briefly and kind of superficially, so although a good inclusion, they are mostly there to flavour and complicate the plot than add real substance to it.

There is one exception and it’s the obsession of the main character, who starts to become crazy in the second half while she has illusions of the worst thing she has done up until that point, before facing her worst possible outcome and coming to the realization that everything she wanted was always there, and that she never could have been happier only for changing her outside, without first changing how horrible she is on the inside.

The resolution for the main character is very strong in that regard, but the same cannot be said about the overall story, which is fairly nonsensical from the get go thanks to the inclusion of what is essentially close to magic in a mundane setting. Huang Yan had a similar setup and didn’t need any of that, Perfect Blue had unrealistic scenes but since that movie was playing all the time with what’s real and what isn’t, most of the nonsense was excused as very likely not being what’s actually happening and just the distorted perception of reality of the characters. Here, the supernatural does happen in a mundane setting and it feels unfitting, especially at the end where this issue is taken to the extreme.

As it’s usually the case with horror, things don’t tend to make much sense but why mix it with real world scenarios and problems here in that case? The mix comes off as very weird. Besides that, you start asking yourself if no one ever had the same or a similar case as the main character happening to them, and how is it possible for such a dangerous product to even be allowed to even be around.

At best, you can accept those nonsensical elements as surreal or just an expression of its overall “be careful what you wish for” message in its story, but I feel like I’ve seen this excuse being used by horror fans for horror fiction one too many times to accept it.

Despite that, unlike Huang Yan, Beauty Water correctly chooses to focus entirely on its main character, her backdrop, inner fears, gradual and progressive corruption, and resolution, while making it clear that the others are supportive plot devices, so it doesn’t feel like there are any loose ends in the end, even when the final scene doesn’t really end the cycle, you have to watch it to get what I mean.

The animation is great in the beginning in both artwork and motions, and you will ask yourself why the rest of the movie isn’t like that as well, not that I mind it much, since although not very looking, the CGI is serviceable, the facial expressions are good enough, the backgrounds are pretty good, there are some good and well directed scenes showing the main character introspecting, as well as her going crazy, the artwork works well for the most gruesome scenes, and just like it was the case in Huang Yan, Beauty Water is not supposed to look pretty, it’s meant to come off as ugly and scary, regardless of how much prettier the protagonist appears to be, so the visuals have a narrative purpose to be the way they are, while also not bad on their own.

The atmosphere is also very good, there are some typical themes in it, but as a whole the soundtrack is very intense and absorbing as it should for its title, the sound effects are good, and so is the voice acting. There is no opening song in here but there is an ending, which sounds both sinister and sad at the same time to me, and it fits well with the movie as a whole and its finale in particular.

So, beyond all the nonsense in its script and resolution thanks to the weird mix of fantasy elements in what is otherwise supposed to be a mundane setting with real world issues, and not being as good as another review about it that I read said it is, I found Beauty Water to be a pretty good one time “be careful what you wish for” type of story that combines psychological thriller with body horror well enough, and it’s the best Korean animation I watched so far as well as the best Asian animation from the year 2020 that I watched.

Kinda similar stuff

-Les Yeux sans visage (1960 French movie that started the surgeon drama/thriller premise, very basic in plot and writing but for its time solid in atmosphere, visuals and drama).

-La piel que habito (2011 Spanish movie and the most solid plastic surgeon drama/thriller out of the live action ones, the plot is basic but overall good for how twisted and interconnected the characters are, and the resolution is pretty great).

-Huang Yan (Donghua about a woman that gets bullied for being ugly, and kind of starts a relationship with the plastic surgeon that changed her, who in turn is obsessed with remaking women as close as possible to his wife that’s in a coma).

-Perfect Blue (Famous psychological thriller/horror anime movie about a former idol actress that becomes crazy because of a creepy stalker and lot of shit she has to deal with in her new career, way better than this one in everything).

-Junju Ito’s works (but only for a similar type of body horror and “surreal” nonsensical plots).

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I'll remake your skin 2/2

Posted : 3 weeks ago on 1 February 2024 12:50 (A review of Huang Yan)

I initially wanted to watch this series two weeks ago but held it back for a while because I wanted to watch and review all the drama/thriller movies about some surgeon killing young girls to implant their skins on a relative of his who suffered some accident that I could find before this one series. Was it worth it? No, but not because of this show, but rather because most of those films were quite crappy.

Besides a somewhat similar premise though, Huang Yan goes in a completely different direction, as it starts with the main character having several surgeries done to her because of all the shit she was receiving for being ugly, and the surgeon that did them becoming obsessed with her because he can remake her as his wife that’s in a coma.
So, out of all the previous movies about the topic, La piel que habito is the one that has the most similar setup.

But that’s only the premise, as the series moves forward, it focuses mainly on the main character, as she becomes something of a voice against discrimination on the most watched television show of the moment, which is about women appearing in public after their surgeries are done.

I have to somewhat criticize the delivery of the message though, as what she says is contradicted by what she did, but at least it didn’t lead to a change of her personality, and the main character isn’t afraid to voice her opinion and confront people, and yet keeps finding trouble here and there.

Besides that, it’s interesting to see how the main character is treated despite her new appearance, and she learning that her change on the outside doesn’t mean that she’s going to become happier just because, and a lot of the series focuses on the mentality of the protagonist realizing and coming to terms with that, with a very good scene near the end where the “two of her” talk to each other.

This particular element leads to explore the themes of television industry and social media and how rumours about someone could be fabricated and believed by many people, possibly ruining their lives, and although nothing as extreme happens to the protagonist, it’s interesting to see the hardships she faces and how all of it helps in fleshing her out and completing her character arc.

The pacing is very good, the episodes are between ten and fifteen minutes long and yet the show uses its short runtime effectively by constantly moving the plot forward and exploring its themes and fleshing out the main character. Unfortunately, it also means that some of them are inferior than the others because events and characters’ apparitions together in one same place don’t happen very organically.

Something that it’s criticized about this show it’s the way it presents its messages and themes, and although I can see that, I won’t criticize the writing on that regard that much, since every bit of information is presented through flashbacks, dialogues, internal monologues and people talking on television, sending a message, doing exactly what they intended to do, so overall I find the script being excused for the way it explores its themes, and I don’t find the exposition awkward despite the handling of them being a bit in your face.

What I am going to criticize the writing for, is the way that things play out, as the starting points or resolutions of the conflicts always have to do with someone having a hidden camera or microphone to fabric something about the protagonist or expose someone when they are lying, which feels samey and repetitive, on top of the series not properly showing up the setup of those scenarios.

Besides that, there is also another problem regarding the other characters of the show, which is them essentially existing only as extensions of the main character or the themes. Although the plastic surgeon is somewhat explored to show why and how he came to be the way he is, not enough focus is given to him, he doesn’t really develop nor has a cathartic resolution. There is also the other ex-boyfriend of the protagonist, who is easily the worst aspect of the series because of how little and rushed immersion he is given and for how cartoonilishly evil he is presented. It’s a bigger problem because the plot had the chance of getting rid of him at a certain point, but kept getting him back just to antagonize the lead girl.

The same thing can be said about all the secondary cast, they don’t have an agenda and exist only as antagonists or support, effectively being a representation of the themes and messages and plot devices, but nothing beyond that, and they can all be summarized with one quick description.

Now, there are anime that focus mostly on their protagonists which I rated very highly, most of them among my favourites, which had the same issue, and sometimes I did bring the rating down because of that, or in the cases I didn’t, it was because the focus on their main characters was even better than here, and because the theme explorations and overall plots were far more complicated and meaningful as a whole.

The final issue is the resolution, which although solid and overall good for the main character and her arc, and also not idealistic to the point of resolving everything happily just because, it didn’t give a good enough closure to the other plot points, leaving them in a rather ambiguous situation, what happened with the ex, exactly? What about the plastic surgeon and his mother? What about his wife in a vegetative state? The show gives you an idea of what could happen regarding them, but not something that feels really concrete and complete.

As far as presentation goes, I’m giving a little bit of an extra point to the visuals, despite having the same plastic and fake looking look and limited motions and inexpressive facial expressions that lots of CGI donghua have. The reason why I’m willing to do that it’s because at the end of the day it does serve a narrative purpose, since the visuals end up representing clearly the lie of the title and the superficial views of the public within the show, as the script intended to do. The backgrounds are good for the most part, but don’t stand out much because the perspective is usually focused on the faces of the characters. There are also some visual metaphors to portray the emotions and visualize the inner monologues of the characters, so the directing is pretty good in that regard, it’s just that the quality of the CGI held those moments back from being as good as the team behind the series clearly intended them to be.

The atmosphere is good for the most part, not because of the voice acting, which is appropriate but nothing beyond that, and not because of the sound effects, which are fairly simple and weak for a 2022 production, but because of the soundtrack, which is effective in sounding either sad or sinister, even for the opening and ending songs, something that reminded me of the only good aspects that Aiyou de Mishi had.

Despite its issues and it not being as good as I expected it to be, I found Huang Yan to be a pretty good and rather unique and memorable show within the medium of, well, let’s not say anime, but Asian animation as a whole. Compared to the live action movies with similar premises I watched, it’s better than most of them, even the one that started it all, so I consider it a worthy one time watch, despite how unknown it is and how little rewatch value it has.

Kinda similar stuff

-Les Yeux sans visage (1960 French movie that started the surgeon drama/thriller premise, very basic in plot and writing but for its time solid in atmosphere, visuals and drama).

-La piel que habito (2011 Spanish movie and the most solid plastic surgeon drama/thriller out of the live action ones, the plot is basic but overall good for how twisted and interconnected the characters are, and the resolution is pretty great).

-Beauty Water (Aeni movie about a main girl bullied for being ugly that changes her whole body with a, well, beauty water, and she also kinda starts a relationship with someone after that, it takes a completely different direction beyond that point, but it’s the only somewhat similar thing to this donghua in Asian animation that I know of).

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I'll remake your skin 1/2

Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 13 January 2024 06:52 (A review of The Skin I Live In)

Normally, I would review a Spanish movie on its language, but since I’ve covered every previous surgeon thriller/horror movie that I know of in English, this will have to do.

It was actually because of this title that I watched all the previous ones and what a mistake that was because aside from the original (“Les Yeux Sans Visage”), every other movie was either disposable schlock (“Seddok, l’erede di Satana”, “Corruption”, “Les Predateurs de la Nuite”) or had the potential to be good but only managed to come off as mediocre (“Gritos en la noche”). La piel que habito is easily the best of the bunch.

Production wise is obviously far ahead of all the previous titles, despite its simple looking characters and the lack of a specific aesthetic, which most of the previous movies had. The visuals are overall good, the movements are good for what the cast had to do, there’s enough variety of locations and thus backgrounds despite taking place mostly on closed spaces, and the directing is good, something expected from this director, from what I’ve come to know (this is the first film of Almodóvar that I watched).

The atmosphere is pretty good as well, good and suspenseful soundtrack (unlike the bad and unfitting ones from all the previously mentioned titles), good sound effects, and good acting from everyone, even during the silliest parts of the movie.

The plot this time around isn’t about a surgeon killing women to take their skin and transplant it to his girlfriend, or sister, or daughter, or a random woman, it’s a very twisted premise of him using a woman as a guinea pig for the sake of developing an artificial skin after a tragedy, so it’s a more interesting scenario, even though it affects the character appeal for some by not giving the protagonist a decent goal.

But you know what? Since the movie is basically about sociopaths doing sociopathic things, and since in retrospect it meant not having all the gore schlock from some of the earlier movies, I was fine with the protagonist being the villain and having a selfish goal, especially because he was always presented as such, even while showing his motivation.

The pacing is good at every moment, with every scene progressing the plot or focusing on characterization, something which can’t be said about most of the previous examples, and in general having something happening to prevent the movie of becoming dull.

With that said, besides the changes in the formula, the plot is probably the simplest of all, especially after it was revealed to be a revenge plot. I don’t find much of a deeper meaning or message besides what’s happening on a surface level, I mean yeah, obsession and revenge, the same can be said about some of the similar movies.

The credibility of what happens is…low, from the premise itself, to the way the characters act, at times changing their behavior completely from one moment to another with not much reason, and even by having some silly moments, but at least some of them are explained quickly, thankfully (the dude wearing a leotard disguise and showing his butt cheeks).

The exposition is a bit awkward at times, which, out of all the movies I watched, only happened in the Spanish ones for some reason. In this one, the way the old woman revealed her past was weird, even more so because she is talking to a person that despises her. It’s a shame because soon afterwards another backdrop is completely shown, not told, making the previous scene even weirder.

The plot twist made the already twisted character dynamic even more impactful in a good and bad way, it was quite shocking and made the movie even more messed up, but my enjoyment, which was already low at that point, became even lower afterwards. At least, like I already said, it was shown properly, without any awkward exposition.

The conclusion was…kind of awesome, what the female lead did after her backdrop was revealed and how it flipped everything prior in the movie? And the final scene, that even cuts away at the most emotional moment instead of showing more than needed, as many films tend to do? Yeah, despite the villains falling for it too easily, it was still pretty great.

The characters, being kind of a bunch of sociopaths, sure are a memorable bunch, even if they don’t have the most complex and definitely not likeable personalities. Development is non-existent, no one changes from how they were at the beginning, but at least they are more and more interconnected through their shared backdrop stories, and the catharsis for the female lead was strong, after everything that happened and for how she flipped the whole movie. And it’s interesting how they referenced to it in “Wonder Woman”, since the female lead has a role there.

For better or worse, for all of its highs and lows, it sure is a memorable movie, is it rewatchable though? Mmm I don’t know about that, I find the plot simple and relying heavily on the plot twist for that, but for a one time experience, it is quite the solid watch and the best movie with its premise.

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Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 13 January 2024 11:14 (A review of Faceless)

Ah yes, I finally got to “Les Predateurs de la Nuit”, the last of this bunch of movies I watched, and man am I thankful for that for I was so done with them once I got to it because of how many similar titles I watched in a row, well that, and because this one is by far the worst one of them all.

Despite coming out twenty years later than “Corruption”, this is even the worst looking movie by far, cheap visuals, standard and uninspired aesthetics, poorly made action scenes, and even the backgrounds are boring to look at compared with all the previous films. “Les Yeux Sans Visage” and “Gritos en la noche” had gothic vibes in them, “Seddok, l’erede di Satana had a sci-fi vibe because of all the machinery the protagonist had, mixed with some beautiful landscapes from time to time, as it was the case most prominently in “Corruption”, here, the whole movie takes place inside a building, whether the clinic, or a nightclub, or something else, or a vehicle. Even the aspect that clearly the makers put the most effort in, the special effects, are by now super cheap and outdated. Like, I know, this is essentially a low budget French-Spanish horror b-movie, and I shouldn’t judge it by being spoiled due to all the mainstream cinema from the late 80s that I already watched, but even for its time, all the intended gruesome and shocking scenes come off as silly instead for how cheap everything looks. There is a moment when a face is taken off and you can tell right away that is a mask.

Want to talk about atmosphere? The soundtrack is good by itself but doesn’t fit at times (the ending in particular was funnily off), the sound effects sound as good as the ones used twenty years prior, and despite having the misfortune of watching a horribly dubbed English version, even I could tell that no one in the cast was trying just by looking at them.

But the worst aspect was the plot, which was a step back in quality from even the worst previous films. First of all, it adds nothing to try to change the formula, it takes a step back to the most basic form of it. Second, despite having an inspector, hired by the father of a girl that disappeared, investigating from the beginning, he is not very present in the film, and doesn’t get near the villains in organic ways at any point, he just appeared where he needed to be in the third act just because.

And third, just like with the visuals, the only thing the makers cared of, with the director being the same one that made “Gritos en la noche” (the best imitator of the original premise in its decade), was the gruesome aspects. The sister of the doctor gets attacked randomly in the beginning on a terrible scene, and he kills his patients to use the skin on his sister’s face, because he has bisexual incestuous threesomes with her and his girlfriend, and assistant. Gross. Aside from that, most of the film is just that, two characters seducing people and killing them in gruesome ways, which look cheap because of the poor visuals and special effects.

Even leaving that aside, several minor characters act very stupidly throughout the film, getting killed by the main cast for basically doing nonsensical things, something that could potentially apply even to the biggest antagonists. And the writing gets really bad in the last act, why would you kidnap, kill, and take the face of a famous actress? Unlike the nobodies from before, that will lead you to be found out for sure. The scene where they take her face off yet her eyes keep moving, you notice “the face “ is a mask, and then that “face” gets instantly put over the burnt face of the sister of the villain and fits in instantly, is the worst in the whole movie.

The only major change in the plot structure was the somewhat tragic ending, but even that was ruined by bad writing and an ambiguous ending which feels sequel-baity and even lasts more than it needs to before the credits roll (think about Batman & Robin for something similar).

So, despite being the latest of these kind of films (until 2011) it was actually the worst in every aspect and even a disappointment coming from the same director of “Gritos en la noche”. “Eyes Without a Face” is the only worth watching retro surgeon thriller/horror movie, the rest are mediocre at best or just plain suck.

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Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 13 January 2024 09:45 (A review of Corruption)

Corruption was the fifth movie of its kind I watch and since it’s British, you don’t risk watching an edited and poorly dubbed version with this one. Not that it makes it much better because it is overall a step back in quality from “Gritos en la noche”.

Since it came out in 1968 it means that unlike the previous titles, it has colours, which is a plus, but also now it’s more noticeable when something looks off, and in this case, that applies to most special effects and gruesome scenes, even for its time. Also, the movie tried to capture the trippy and colourful aesthetics from that time and place, and it looks and feels goofy in what is supposed to be a horror movie, even more compared with the gothic and sci-fi-ish looks of the previous films. There are wide shots which show some beautiful landscapes and places, so that’s a plus. The directing can be a bit weird, it abuses close ups to try to scare the audience but it’s not effective at all anymore.

Another weird thing from the directing is the music, also reflecting the vibe it was going for, which means that, just like the visuals, it doesn’t fit the type of movie, plus it’s not used very well, but at least it was better in that regard that “Eyes Without a Face”, which ironically was the worst at that despite being the best movie of the bunch. The sound effects are ok for its time and the acting…well, the main couple did their job fine, but everyone else wasn’t as convincing.

The plot this time is about a scientist who feels guilty to be responsible of damaging his girlfriend’s face after getting into a fight with another man, and you know the rest. He shares most of his scenes with the woman so that’s an improvement over the previous movie. What’s different now in this film is that the female lead is the actual villain, as she only cares about herself and wants her boyfriend to keep going with the killings, all for the sake of her face and career as a model, while he feels remorse for what he does and wants to quit, so that’s an interesting change from earlier titles and an interesting new character dynamic, despite the cost of character appear from her part. Another good thing is how the main abducted girl is not a clueless and helpless girl, but part of a band of robbers that was targeting the main couple the whole time, so that’s another interesting plot point.

Unfortunately the actual writing is weak since the very beginning because most things work the way the protagonist wants to purely because of luck, or you know, because the script says so, and the weak acting and the weird directing don’t help in making it feel any less worse nor make it any less noticeable.

It gets even worse in the third act of the film because characters appear out of nowhere, have some very trashy interactions, antagonists are taken stupidly one by one, and the final confrontation was just laughably bad. Plus the very ending of the film ruins absolutely everything by being ambitious and making it seem that nothing even ever happened, in a dumb attempt to make the viewer think if what they watched was real or not. If I wanted to watch a movie like that, I would rewatch American Psycho, which was a character study through and through, not this, so I guess that’s a much better alternative thing to do.

So in a way Corruption is the opposite of “Gritos en la noche”, in the sense that that one was implementing, and not exploiting, improvements in the plot and pacing, while this one wasted all of its potential in its new character dynamics. The Spanish movie remains then the second best one of its kind in its decade, after the only one that’s barely worth watching “Eyes Without a Face”, while this one and “Seddok” are placed at the bottom, though I wouldn’t know which one to choose as the worse one to be honest.

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Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 13 January 2024 03:34 (A review of The Awful Dr. Orlof)

Normally I would review a Spanish movie on, well, Spanish, but since I’ve been writing about these surgeon thriller/horror movies in English, I’ll keep doing that.

“Gritos en la noche” was the fourth of its kind that I watch, first in a kind of long line of movies from its director, starring the same actor performing the same character, which I don’t intend to consume more of because I only care about movies with this kind of premise, and it’s thought to be the first Spanish horror movie, so I guess it has some kind of historical value in it, it’s otherwise not good nor very memorable nor really worth a watch, but at least it’s a vast improvement on the previous attempt of making something like “Eyes Without a Face”.

First, it was a return to the gothic aesthetic that was absent in Seddok, and second, it combines the plots from both movies from 1960, and although it also includes silly comedy from the very beginning, it improves both the plot structure and the writing by having the police being active from the beginning, and from having actual witnesses that contribute to the investigation, instead of being comic relief characters, or be completely absent in the story, making the setting to feel artificial and poorly established.

Another interesting thing is how the assistants want to take down the awful doctor for how he mistreats them, thus giving them an agenda instead of being just plot devices.
And another improvement is how the abducted girl and final victim is part of the investigation from the very beginning, as the girlfriend of the police inspector, instead of just a poor damsel in distress, or a plot device that’s used by the police. Oh, and also, the male assistant is used from the beginning, to fool and confuse the officers by making them chase after two completely different men.

Unfortunately those improvements still don’t make it a good movie, not even comparable to the first one “Eyes Without a Face”, because the original understood than simple is better in terms of execution, and there’s no point in adding elements that could make a more complex and better movie, if you don’t use them properly. This film does that, and ends up being another failure instead.

Since the secondary characters aren’t unaware of the crimes for most of the movie and are an active part of the plot, the writing had to come up with some way for the villain to not get caught, and here is the big issue within the plot of the movie. The scientist seems like a magician, somehow able to appear and disappear in a matter of seconds in front of other characters, as does his much less intelligent assistant, apparently, somehow, and that felt like a very cheap way to keep the plot from moving forward on an organic way.

But most importantly, even though its plot was better than every alternative that came afterwards, what “Eyes Without a Face” understood that later movies didn’t, is that it wasn’t the writing what was going to make it work and worth a watch, it was the human drama in it. Over there I could buy the villain’s desire to help his daughter, and she herself was the best character in that movie. Here, I got nothing, no downtime is given to flesh out the cast and no chemistry exist between them even in the few scenes that count as such. When I was watching the scientist doing what he did, and while I was seeing him talk to his daughter, I never felt that one thing was done for the sake of the other, because there’s no decent character interactions between them.

And the secondary characters, despite having an agenda on their own, are either incompetent for the sake of delaying the outcome through plot conveniences, or are left as completely passive characters with nothing to do, and it’s a shame because it ruined possible interesting character dynamics and plot points.

And the resolution was very disappointing and unsatisfactory in terms of both plot and characters, there were sequels that needed to be done, and no character was given enough importance, so the way the movie ends leaves you feeling absolutely nothing.

Despite all its wasted potential for being a proper horror movie and an “Eyes Without a Face” alternative, I still think “Gritos en la noche” is a watchable enough film thanks to its numerous improvements, over the poor attempt that was “Seddok”, and two more later titles that were on the same level or were even worse.

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Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 13 January 2024 02:28 (A review of Atom Age Vampire)

Some months after “Eyes Without a Face” came out, there was this movie, “The Heir of Satan”, which for some reason was changed to something completely different in the English release from what I’ve seen, and it was also edited and badly dubbed, which explains why it has such a low score everywhere.

Although most of the plot is quite the same, the premise this time around has to do with the mad scientist wanting to operate on a stripper after she got disfigured after an accident purely out of scientific interest, before obsessing over her both because of her beauty, and because of his own work. On one hand, that makes him for a bit better protagonist and villain than his French counterpart, on the other hand his selfish motivations are petty compared with those of the character from the previous movie, and the whole thing moved away from thriller or horror, to a sappy drama.

Being the first surgeon thriller after that French movie, this one adds several elements to the formula, first, it shows the accident, which didn’t happen before, it changed the female assistant to make her a villain on her own (and honestly, a disposable character for the sake of the plot), and it introduced the mute assistant that should be there to help the villain, but honestly most of the time he’s just there to be slapped around.

The improvements it went for on its own is giving some sort of scientific explanation and reasoning for what the villain is doing, it must be complete bullshit but at least is there, and aesthetically that also meant that he has all kinds of machines and special effects happening around him, which are pretty good for its time, transformation scenes included. Oh, and the music in this movie doesn’t suck and isn’t misplaced like in “Eyes Without a Murder”. On paper, these elements could have made it a better movie, but they didn’t.

First of all, the script is really weak. Nonsensical science apart, some of the lines are just plain dumb or poorly delivered, if not both, and the acting itself can’t compare with the one from the previous movie, and no, I did not watch the infamous horrible English dub, I watched the original Italian version.

Second, the pacing is very slow, half the movie is spent on setting up the premise and all that talking about science, that is pretty much nonsense anyway, so it’s a waste of time.

Third, the romantic aspect is very poorly integrated into the plot, partly because the main girl herself, who is a terrible character, jumping from one guy to the other whenever the script wants her to, and partly because the couple has close to no shared screentime, let alone any kind of chemistry.

Fourth, from this point forward, these movies thought that mixing some comedy in it would make them better, because who says there can’t be silly jokes on a supposed serious thriller, right?

Fifth, the writing of the plot becomes very trashy on the second half, and even more so in the resolution, ruining a plot twist (although it was already ruined by the cover, if you happen to watch the English version) by making it function at the will of a character in whatever way it suits the plot, and a character with no personality nor agenda whatsoever suddenly became reactive enough to defy the main villain, just for the sake of getting to the ending, which was also very poorly written and directed.

Thus, despite its few additions to the formula and its attempts to make a better movie, what you get is a very slow and poorly written soap opera instead of a thriller, which even comes off as pretentious for trying to sound scientific, and also becomes very trashy during its second half. Overall it’s a way worse alternative to “Eyes Without a Murder”, only mildly important because of its innovations to the formula, but nothing worth spending time on.

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Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 12 January 2024 05:38 (A review of Eyes Without a Face)

Since I want to watch two specific things with kind of similar premises, I decided to first watch the most famous surgeon thriller I know of, “La piel que habito”, which led me to find out about and watch every kind of similar title as well, and since I’ve got some things to say about them, I’m here, starting with the one movie that’s assumed to have started it all.

In terms of production, I guess it’s pretty good for its time, at no point I felt like the production was cheap and low budget, and the backgrounds add a lot to the sort of gothic atmosphere it was going for, the special effects are quite good for its time as well, noticeable in the transformation scenes, the expressionless mask that the main girl uses it’s good, mysterious and a bit creepy as well. The downside come from the characters being very plain looking, and the motions being rather bad, noticeable during the climax of the movie.

The sound effects were good for its time I guess, and everyone performed their role just fine. The music on the other hand was a big issue, mostly absent, and whenever present, it was just… misused. It was also very simple, repetitive and unfitting for the type of story, coming off as immersion breaking.

If you watched at least one of all the later titles influenced by it you know by now what the plot is about, a mad scientist killing young girls to take off their faces and using their skin on the face of his disfigured daughter. The pacing is quite good, balancing in a rather short runtime the plot progression along with enough downtime focused on the drama and characterization. I mean no character has a very distinctive nor complicated personality, or much of a backdrop, but each one is given at least some focus at some point to show their mentality during the whole thing, especially for the girl, who feels remorse for all the deaths caused because of her and has been in pain for so long that just wants to die. Since she is the character with the most focus on the film, the…kind of epic resolution and her actions in specific felt very cathartic. It doesn’t sound like much, but only one of the many movies inspired by it really gave enough attention to its characters, while every other title stopped at being passable shlock.

Every other contemporary movie that tried to copy it tried to add its own spin to the premise and plot structure, but ended up failing in the long run. That’s what makes this film half worth watching, once, even if it’s nothing special. It’s definitely not the credibility of the plot, since what happens it’s not very believable. It may have been quite the title for its time but I still think its rating everywhere is a bit too high, partly because of some movies that came before it, and partly because so many titles followed the same formula afterwards, that now it doesn’t feel special at all.

I mean, among the most famous titles, it influenced some aspects of Halloween and Face/Off, as well as La piel que habito which I mentioned at the beginning of this review, so I guess it has some sort of historical value added to it to give it a try, but it definitely doesn’t hold much rewatch value because of its simplicity.

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Los Ladrones: La verdadera historia del robo del siglo review

Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 12 January 2024 12:47 (A review of Los Ladrones: La verdadera historia del robo del siglo)

Como este documental es y trata sobre un caso argentino, esta reseña va en español.

Este documental básicamente es un recuento, a través de los testimonios de los mismos ex criminales, así como de las autoridades encargadas de su arresto y juicio, del más grande asalto y robo a un banco en Argentina, y la dirección puede aportar bastante a veces, sumándole al material de archivo sus propias visualizaciones, a través de maquetas y si no me equivoco también animaciones por computadora, del interior de dicho edificio, y de como los ladrones se fueron desplazando dentro de él, así que en ese sentido vale la pena verlo una vez.

Por lo demás no es un producto muy logrado, ya que al no tener tanto material visual con el que trabajar, los realizadores tuvieron que recurrir a la, a mi entender, peor opción que tenían, la recreación de aquellos momentos, sea por los sujetos reales, o por actores que ni son muy buenos ni se parecen a los hombres que llevaron a cabo el robo.

Además, una parte importante del documental parece una joda, los ex ladrones aprovechan que los están entrevistando para hacerse los piolas frente a cámara y quedar como unos capos, el líder, al que llaman el artista, en especial, es bastante molesto por como actúa y habla por momentos, por como quiere presentar una especie de filosofía e ideología por lo que hizo y así parecer un intelectual profundo e inspirado, y porque al final dice que salieron todos ganando (aunque en cierto punto lo que plantea es entendible).

Básicamente, y es un problema con productos argentinos de variados medios, una gran parte del documental parece hecho a modo de chiste, algo que no se toma en serio, y que en algún punto hasta le llega a tirar flores a unos tipos que en definitiva cometieron un crimen, encima visualmente limitado y teniendo que recurrir a recreaciones pobremente actuadas de los hechos.

Irónicamente, termina siendo mejor y preferible ver la película cómica protagonizada por actores profesionales que salió dos años antes que el documental, porque ahí sabés que vas a ver una versión ficticia, y no una supuesta real y seria, que te termina tomando medio para la chacota.

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