New Anime

Summer 2024 – Week 1 in Review

Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. This week I largely spent my precious, beautiful summer days cooped up inside, furiously replaying Elden Ring so I could then leap into Shadow of the Erdtree. I’m happy to report that I’m now getting my ass kicked somewhere in the Shadow Lands, and will likely have more coherent thoughts on FromSoft’s latest in the near future. But for now, all that time playing and trading off on Elden Ring also left plenty of opportunities for new film screenings, alongside a swift viewing of the unexpectedly renowned League of Legends spinoff Arcane. Let’s run down the spoils!

First up this week was The Guard, an independent Irish film featuring Brandon Gleeson as Gerry Boyle, an officer of the Garda Síochána (the general police force) in western Ireland. Boyle is rude and confrontational, frequently drunk on duty, and only kind to his ailing mother, but also an undeniably effective police officer. When a murder in his district seems to tie in with an international drug trafficking ring, he is forced to team up with FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) to crack the case.

Frankly, I was more than sold on the promise of “Gleeson and Cheadle in a buddy cop film,” as the two are both outstanding actors who elevate basically any production lucky enough to have them. And The Guard is further furnished with an equally impressive crew of villains, led by a smoldering Mark Strong and a delightfully happy-go-lucky Liam Cunningham. If you just put those four actors in a room together, I’d probably be satisfied watching them bicker about the weather and their ungrateful children.

The Guard proceeds with a jaunty pace and a slight patina of melancholy, Boyle’s physical and psychological fatigue clear in his every labored movement. His growing trust in Everett is conveyed with a light touch that feels appropriate for someone so ill-accustomed to emotional confession, while the depths of his compassion are made clear in his conversations with grieving spouses and his ailing mother. Meanwhile, Strong and Cunningham discuss philosophy and the inherent indignity of crime work, both of them delighted in spite of themselves to have a worthy rival in Boyle. A quietly funny and fundamentally warm-hearted feature, as curmudgeonly yet endearing as its reluctant hero.

We then checked out Under Paris, a film proposing a simple yet beautiful dream: what if Paris came under attack by sharks? Berenice Bejo stars as Sophia, an oceanographer whose passion for sharks is somewhat dampened after her team is unceremoniously monched by a mega-shark known as Lilith. Unfortunately, and as if it is drawn back to her to finish the job, Lilith then pops up in the waters of the Seine, just as a city-wide triathlon is about to begin. Teaming up with preposterously good-looking police officer Adil (Nassim Lyes), Sophia will have to race against time to prevent the most improbable massacre Paris has ever seen.

God, what a stupid premise! I love it so, and it’s clear that Under Paris understands precisely the kind of pulp it is advertising. I was initially worried the film would strive for tasteful in its articulation of Parisians facing an army of megasharks, and have never been more happy to be wrong. Under Paris is exuberant, tasteless, and relentless, rising from tense encounters with single sharks (who all seem to scream with a human voice when they pass by, which I put down to an odd quirk of evolution) to a full-on shark buffet featuring France’s unluckiest swimmers. If you want a gripping portrait of humanity struggling against one of nature’s greatest predators, watch The Shallows. If you want to see Parisians gobbled by some motherfuckin’ sharks, watch Under Paris.

Our next viewing was Bringing Up Baby, a screwball comedy by the ever-reliable Howard Hawks, starring Cary Grant as a mild-mannered paleontologist and Katharine Hepburn as the manic would-be heiress who stumbles ass over teakettle into his life. And of course, there is also Baby, a fully grown leopard who Hepburn insists is absolutely tame, just a sweetheart really, only you probably shouldn’t leave him alone in a room with any dogs or other small animals. Together, Grant and Hepburn ramble through a series of frequently insane and uniformly inane adventures, chasing leopards, dogs, and dinosaur bones across Hepburn’s Connecticut estate.

Bringing Up Baby is as close to a perfect comedy as you could ask for, offering a pair of delightful, distinctively stupid characters, winding them up, and letting them clash their cymbals all through a bevy of ridiculous escapades. Grant initially plays the straight man to Hepburn’s addle-brained heiress, attempting to ground her flights of fancy in order to complete his grand dinosaur skeleton and escape her life. But Hepburn’s lunacy is simply too powerful; after a half-dozen or so attempts to correct her misconceptions, he resignedly accepts that this is his life now. Together, they stumble through an unending stream of pratfalls, wordplay miscommunications, and delightfully improbable escapades, eventually drawing Hepburn’s extended family, the police department, and even a second leopard into their madness.

The film is technically something of a love story, but it is wisely unburdened by any sort of sentimentality or moralism. Bringing Up Baby soars on the unmediated power of its ludicrous gags, helped ably by Hepburn’s stunning, perpetually scene-stealing performance. Hepburn manages to turn “someone who has never experienced a real problem and is the perpetual source of everyone else’s problems” into a character worth rooting for, offering such a winning interpretation of the oddly untouchable buffoon that it is impossible not to be carried along. It is a rare “pure” comedy that earns my highest recommendation – I frankly tend to prefer a dash of sentimentalism, if only to add a human touch to a genre that often feels fundamentally superficial. Bringing Up Baby is as proudly superficial as they come, and all the stronger for it. An absolute comic masterpiece.

Alongside all the film viewings, we also screened Netflix’s recent League of Legends spinoff Arcane. The series centers on two sisters named Vi and Powder growing up in Piltover, a city renowned for its fantastical scientific inventions. Of course, that’s all contained to the towers of topside; down in the slums, opportunity is scant, and most folks have to steal for what they need. When a topside thieving operation spearheaded by Vi literally blows up in her face, it serves as the first domino leading towards a brutal collision between the city’s two societies.

I was truly not expecting to enjoy Arcane as much as I did, given the exceedingly sparse storytelling of its source material. But League of Legends’ lack of an actual plot ultimately works to Arcane’s benefit. With no harshly defined story to recreate, Arcane is free to construct a gracefully nested drama populated with well-chosen champions, touching lightly on the complexities of civil rule and generational resentment while offering a propulsive assortment of winding personal journeys.

Arcane is simply confident in all respects; its characters are thoroughly realized, its plot is so tidy as to feel effortless, and its aesthetic serves as a winning riff on our post-Spiderverse CG paradigm. Above all, it is concerned with creating holistic moments of true spectacle in a model somewhat akin to musical theater, combining key dramatic points with insert songs and visual embellishments such as to imitate a parade of story-driven music videos. Such moments are perfectly tailored to a viewer like me, who was raised on the dramatic needle drops of FLCL and Evangelion, and I frequently found myself humming along with tracks I’d in the abstract disregard as too simplistic to grab my interest. Though it feels like damning with faint praise, I suppose that describes Arcane as a whole: somewhat obvious and clearly aimed at a younger generational cohort, but so skillfully executed in every aspect of its construction that it nonetheless demands and rewards my full attention.

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