Review: Bleach, Hondros, The Titan

Bleach

Trailer

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Fun fact: Ichigo means “strawberry” or “number one” depending on how its written. Thanks Ash!

Ichigo (Sota Fukushi) is a wise-cracking teenager, who just so happens to be able to see ghosts. When his supernatural talent draws the attention of a katana wielding demon fighter (Hana Sugisaki), Ichigo is initiated into the world of soul reapers, soon finding himself in the middle of some very strange goings on.

Like my previous forays into live-action adaptations of anime, I had very little prior knowledge or experience of Bleach, bar what my more up-to-date girlfriend was able to tell me (which mostly left me confused). And, just as with Death Note and FullMetal Alchemist, I found myself muddled and bewildered by what I was presented with.

The live-action version of Bleach seems tailor made for people who have already read all the manga and watched all of the TV: for those who already know the difference between a “soul reaper” and a “quincy” and don’t really need the characters to explain it all that clearly. You’ve read the first 500 issues right? No? Oh dear.

If you’re one of us other people, Bleach is the kind of film that is strangely able to keep your attention, but only in the sort of way the remains of a car crash do. You’ll rubber neck at the weird but inventive looking “hollows” or the outragedly over the top action scenes or the Melrose Place-esque teenagers (all ten years too old to pass). And those hairstyles! Bleach has a vision for what it wants to be visually, without a doubt, it’s just in the areas of script and characterisation that it is lacking. Supernatural monsters rip through city centres in a Michael Bay fashion, whirlwinds of Lovecraftian tentacles meet laser bows and the main character frequently leaves his seemingly dead body behind to join the proceedings. Director Shinsuke Sato has made such adaptations his bread and butter, and he is certainly able to craft something visually engaging.

The films’ actual plot is a goofy, almost endearingly stupid, thing, replete with chosen ones, noble sacrifices, unexpected allies and lots of never-say-die attitude. The characters are thread-bare high school stereotypes – the rogue, the ditz, the loner, the quiet guy – and the villains are straight out of Kingdom Hearts (or I suppose that it is the other way around). It’s hard to take anything seriously, even Ichigo’s guilt over his mother’s death – the prologue set-up of this harsh memory as traditionally dramatic as Bleach ever really gets – and the shallowness on display may well be a consequence of Sato’s workload, this being the first of two live-action manga/anime adaptations he’s coming up with this year.

In a way Bleach was at its most interesting before the giant swords and super-powers came up, when Ichigo was just a guy who could see lost souls and was sort of inclined to help them out a bit. That seems like a set-up with some promise for actual story-telling, and not the noise that Bleach subsequently came out with. Indeed, the ghost-talking isn’t even really a plot point afterwards, and the less said about the neutering of the Rukia character – with Bleach having a serious dearth of decent female principals – the better.

In the end, Bleach is, at best, a harmless bit of forgettable fun, made by a team and cast that don’t really seem all that bothered, with digital production pulling the most weight. Not recommended (unless you already know everything about this property).

Hondros

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This is Liberia

Chris Hondros spent over a decade taking some of the most vivid war photographs ever put to film, before being killed in the Libyan Civil War. In this film, documentarian Greg Campbell attempts to capture the story of Hondros, through his friends, his experiences, and his photographs.

A young Liberian, after hitting a target with an RPG round, lifts his weapon into the air and literally jumps for joy. Chris Hondros’ now iconic photograph forms the centrepiece of the documentary that bears his name and says something very important about both the subject and the taker. In the subject, we saw war as an event where terrible destruction is mixed with almost frightful elevation; in the taker we see a man willing to go so close to the greatest danger as to be labelled reckless, even idiotic.

Perhaps because of his untimely death, Hondros’ life and fate resonate even more, but even with the knowledge of how the story ends it’s hard not to be impressed by him, from Liberia to Libya. All that we have left of him, aside from his photography, is the talking head footage that showcases a man of extraordinary empathy, with an uncanny knack of not letting the many terrible things happening all around him affect him to any kind of significant degree (at least not on the surface).

Those that Hondros left behind paint a three-dimensional picture of a man perhaps too obsessed with getting the shot, a man who risked death in Iraq or travelled to Kosovo two more times than his own family were aware of. Yet that recklessness was matched by a seemingly boundless compassion to the subjects of his photographs, who Hondros went above and beyond in trying to help. The Liberian with the RPG launcher got an education and a chance for a better future as a result of Hondros, and that wasn’t the end of it.

The meat and bones of Campbell’s study is a subtle examination into the state of modern war, where traditional perceptions have eroded and just who the enemy is is harder than ever to ascertain. IEDs and child soldiers do not make for comfortable moral quandaries, and the film’s devotion of a significant amount of time to a victim of an American atrocity in Iraq is interesting, one of the few times it breaks away decisively from its main interest, though not for too long.

Campbell is not too interested in critiquing Hondros all that much, beyond some basic inferences that the photographer was, perhaps, a bit too much of a loner for his own good. Instead, Campbell focuses much of his attention on creating an impression of a cadre of photojournalists, of whom Hondros was simply the best, who dedicate their lives to being present at events the rest of us only get to experience second hand through their eye and machinery. “There’s no way to do it at a distance” Hondros muses early on. For the rest of us who don’t want to get that close, Hondros’ service to journalism and photography are to be admired, as is Campbell’s feature length dedication. Recommended.

The Titan

Trailer

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Voldemort?

In the not-too-distant future, Lt Rick Janssen (Sam Worthington) volunteers for an ambitious military project headed by Professor Collingwood (Tom Wilkenson), that aims to avoid extinction for the species by escaping a ruined Earth in favour of Saturn’s moon Titan. In order to do this, humanity must be fundamentally altered at the genetic level to survive the new environment, but such change comes with a terrible cost.

The Titan is standard bargain bucket sci-fi fare, only notable for its occasional delusions of grandeur. We all know those kinds of films, the ones that have a pretence of having depth and a larger point to make, and maybe the people making them actually think they are, but in reality they are just not reaching that level. The Titan, from little known German director Lennart Ruff (and with Arash “Grace of Monaco” Amel as its scriptwriter), is one of those, that tries to tell a sci-fi story about what it means to be human when everything about your humanity is outwardly changing but comes across so predictable and tired that it’s hard to stay invested.

Operating on a show-string if the basic details like lighting and set design are to be considered, The Titan plods along for its 97 minute running time, feeling significantly longer. Scenes come and go, with a sense that you’re just trudging through a narrative that is also ready being split at the seams to fill feature length time. The general premise lacks any kind of resonance since the Earth we do see doesn’t seem all that unpleasant (we have to take the Professor’s word that half of humanity is about to starve to death). It’s also never rightfully explained why the huge expense of sending a few people to Titan is better than trying to save the Earth (or why the actual trip to Titan is barely mentioned). The attempt to humanise things by focusing on the relationship between Janssen and his wife (Taylor Schilling) doesn’t work either because it’s just too pedestrian and dull.

It doesn’t help that the cast is in neutral for most of this. Worthington I have never really rated, he being an actor who catapulted into relevance due to Avatar, a film where he was out-acted by the CGI scenery. Wilkinson looks like he has somewhere else to be. Schilling is the best of a mediocre lot, and even then it’s just the fretful military spouse architype, just with gene-spliced monsters mixed in to give her something to really be angsty about. Compare to, say, Orbiter 9, which did a much better job of presenting characters and a fractured world that they inhabited.

It takes a bit too long for said monsters to show up, and The Titan would have been a damn sight more entertaining if it had simply been as it was partially marketed, a sci-fi body horror where the military has to deal with an experiment gone wrong. That comprises only the back end of the film, not even its entire third act: much of the rest is given over to maudlin remembrances and soap opera-esque moping. Netflix seems to like taking a punt of these properties, probably because they are cheap and suck in the sci-fi subscribers, but this deserves to stay in the bargain bin. Not recommended.

(All images are copyright of Warner Bros. Pictures and Netflix).

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