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Winter 2024 – Week 5 in Review

Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. This week I am feeling perhaps inordinately proud of myself, as I march ever closer to currency on my ambitious reader-funded projects. That once-imposing “Outstanding Projects” header has been whittled down to a mere handful of features, with only the imposing specter of Evangelion’s second half remaining to keep me up at night. In the meantime, my house’s adoption of a weekly film genre cycle has continued to reap interesting dividends, ranging from a unique exercise in ‘80s animation trends (courtesy of “Muscle Monday”) to a viewing of Miyazaki’s penultimate film (via the questionably titled “Sanimation Saturday”). Let’s see what treasures await in the latest Week in Review!

First up this week was One Shot, a recent action film defined primarily by its titular gimmick: the whole thing is edited as if it’s a single shot, taking the bravura extended sequences of films like The Raid or Extraction to improbable new heights. Scott Adkins stars as Jake Harris, leader of a squad of Navy SEALS who are commissioned with escorting a key witness from a black site to Washington DC. Then a truckful of insurgents slam through the gates, Adkins’ team are swiftly whittled down, and the man himself is forced to Solid Snake his way through seemingly unending waves of adversaries.

That Snake allusion seems like a fine characterization of the film as a whole. One Shot feels intensely gamified, its consistent over-the-shoulder camera perspective, emphasis on physical geometry, and general lack of story all contributing to a sense that Adkins is simply fighting round after round of Call of Duty opponents. Long takes are uniquely effective for creating a sense of entrapment and escalating tension, as directors like Alfonso Quaron and Gareth Evans demonstrate – in fact, it seems clear that One Shot is following in the established B-action mold of The Raid specifically. The effect works here over the buildup to the first dramatic explosions, but wears out its welcome over the course of the following hour and change; you simply cannot hold a similar vice grip on the audience’s attention for that long (even Gravity had its quiet moments), and attempting to do so only dilutes the impact of whatever follows.

Fortunately, we’ve also got Adkins here, and he’s in fine form negotiating, calculating, and generally beating the stuffing out of his loosely defined adversaries. Adkins has more than proven himself a pillar of modern B-action, and though One Shot provides less room to show off his kickboxing prowess than most of his features, that very absence proves he’s leading man material even without relying on his martial arts. A perhaps misguided concept, but a nonetheless engaging watch.

Next up was The Blob, a ‘50s drive-in classic whose tone might best be understood by referencing the second film on its double bill: “I Married a Monster from Outer Space.” Steve McQueen stars as Steve Andrews, a teenager just trying to meet girls and have a good time when a mysterious meteor lands in his town. Spying some goo inside, a local Florida Man cannot help but shove his hand in it, leading to the swift discovery that this goo is carnivorous, ever-expanding, and ravenously hungry.

The Blob is full-on C-horror frivolity, possessing little to recommend itself beyond its enduring status as the quintessential bad ‘50s horror movie. You might think McQueen would lend the film a bit of his star power to dignify the whole procession, but he’s actually terrible here – this is his first starring role, and it apparently took some time between this and The Magnificent Seven for him to learn acting. The Blob itself is just as bad, coming across very much like a malevolent bowl of jello that occasionally finds itself transposed across the body of some inept victim who failed to stand up and leave the room. A film designed to be ignored while necking in your T-bird, with a hokey charm but very little staying power.

We then checked out The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki’s previous final film, cataloging the journey of the Zero fighter plane’s designer Jiro Horikoshi from his boyhood dreams of flight to his post-war reflections on legacy. Along the way he abandons hope of piloting himself, finds love in the form of the tuberculosis-stricken Nahoko Satomi, and ultimately achieves his goal of creating a truly beautiful airplane. As for the rest, well, I suppose we cannot help the things we long for, even if the world has a way of perverting our dreams.

The Wind Rises felt like an interesting but not entirely successful film to me, and certainly an odd duck within Miyazaki’s overall catalog. In visual terms, it is of course exceptional; late-era Ghibli films are essentially able to recruit whichever top animators they wish from the industry as a whole, and The Wind Rises is resultantly glorious in motion. It was a great pleasure to again see Miyazaki’s fondness for bustling crowd scenes realized, a satisfaction tinted with the slight melancholy of seeing his designs articulated digitally, rather than through the textured beauty of cel animation.

As for the film’s story, while I quite enjoyed seeing Miyazaki take a stab at articulating reality, I’m not sure the confines of a biopic really play to his strengths. In terms of pure fantastical invention, The Wind Rises’ prioritization of Goro’s professional career meant sequences embracing Miyazaki’s whimsical tendencies were limited to Goro’s dreams, in scenes that frankly felt like an inferior retread of Porco Rosso’s reflections. And in terms of thematic inquiry, Goro’s journey felt too contained, too slight to convey the rich ambiguity of a film like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, wherein clear moral statements are lent texture and contradictions through the complexity of their worlds and flexibility of their characters.

The Wind Rises is clearly Hayao Miyazaki talking about himself on some level, reflecting on a lifetime of marvels whose existence haven’t necessarily made the world better. That’s a fine theme, but both Miyazaki and Hirokoshi feel too distant from the consequences of their creations for the film to really sear; it’s an optimistic daydream, and its most painful moments are reserved not for Hirokoshi’s reflections on his legacy, but on his entirely sympathetic love for his ailing wife. I get the feeling Miyazaki felt too close to his subject for his punches to really land; he is at his strongest when his passion is shrouded in fantastical metaphor, not in the trenches of immediate cultural critique.

Our last feature of the week was Fire and Ice, a Ralph Bakshi animated film made in collaboration with Frank Frazetta, the prince of dime store fantasy novel covers. The largely rotoscoped film proceeds like a Frazetta cover brought to life, featuring broad-chested heroes and thong-clad princesses, based on a screenplay from two active writers of Conan comics. Our hero Larn must save princess Teegra and defeat the evil Nekron, doing battle with various monsters and some particularly fraught interpretations of “subhumans” along the way.

As a story, Fire and Ice is entirely predictable and proudly juvenile, featuring ice-themed baddies and fire-themed goodies, and generally rambling through a sequence of loosely connected chase and action sequences. But as a production, the film is a curiosity verging on a marvel, with Frazetta’s exaggerated designs brought to life in order to stand before a gorgeous array of backgrounds courtesy of James Gurney (the creator of Dinotopia) and Thomas Kinkade. The composite is unsurprisingly hopeless, but the contrast of Frazetta’s characters and Gurney’s backgrounds is novel and striking, presenting a hereafter unrealized vision of one fascinating path animated cinema might have taken. Bakshi’s work is all messy, and I love it for that; though frustratingly slight as a narrative, Fire and Ice’s aesthetic novelty was more than enough to keep my attention.

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