Tag Archives: 2018

CAPSULE: DEVILMAN CRYBABY (2018)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of Griffin Burns,  Kyle McCarley, Cristina Vee, Cherami Leigh (English dub)

PLOT: High schoolers are being eaten by demons bent on conquering the world; crybaby Akira is convinced to merge with a devil in order to become a superhero and oppose them.

Still from Devilman Crybaby (2018)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: We could rule it out simply due to format (TV miniseries rather than feature film). Even if we considered it as a longform movie, however, Devilman only distinguishes itself from other anime in its exceptional, often trippy, visuals. It’s simply not that weird, especially by the elevated standards of its baseline-strange genre.

COMMENTS: “Devilman Crybaby” begins with an androgynous blonde in a cosmic ball dropping onto earth, like an egg fertilizing a larger egg, then segues into protagonist Akira’s childhood flashback, where the young crybaby bawls over the fate of a wounded rat while his friend Ryo tries to euthanize it with a wicked box cutter. Years later, Ryo is a machine-pistol toting prodigy anthropology professor investigating a demon infestation who convinces Akira to serve as an experimental subject: he takes him to a “sabbath” party (basically, the world’s tightest rave) so the mild-mannered teen can be deliberately possessed by a demon. Director/animator Yuasa goes nuts at the orgy, giving us huge glowing wire sculptures, topless high school chicks lit in aqua gyrating like strippers on ecstasy, another topless girl passing out pills to everyone who enters the party, and in-the-open pansexual couplings everywhere. Then, things get weird: Ryo starts slashing random dancers with a broken champagne bottle because the party’s “too tame” and devils “love the smell of blood.” This somehow leads a (topless) girl to urinate (while keeping her panties on) while her boobs turn into a head-chomping tentacles, giant bugs and spikes burst out of other copulating teens, and Akira to turn into Baal as teenybopper heads and limbs fly around a party that suddenly looks like a high school massacre set in a neon cathedral. The last time you want to get possessed by a devil is when you’re peaking on acid at the club.

The orgiastic scenes and various mutant devil designs—including one who incorporates the lamenting heads of his victims into his torso—are the best part of “Devilman.” During breaks in the battles between Devilman and the monsters, Akira fantasizes (in explicit fanservice detail) over his surrogate sister (they grew up together in the same household, but are not related by blood). We also follow a subplot involving rapping teenagers. At times, “Devilman” alternates so much between awesome tentacle battles and Akira using his Devilman x-ray vision to check out pseudo-sis’ undies that it almost seems like a parody of anime conventions. You won’t be surprised at all by the identity of the main villain, but you might be a bit confused about how the Devilmen fit into the scheme.

Besides the standard angsty superhero tropes, there’s also a bit of genuinely weird stuff, some of it intentional (a bug-eating coach) and some of it unintentional (they expect us to buy that regional high school track and field meets are so popular in Japan that they pack Olympic stadiums for them?) The anime genre works according to its own internal conventions, and requires a heightened ability to suspend disbelief from its audience. In general, however, I thought the storyline (a reboot of a popular anime series by the legendary Go Nagai) was juvenile (in theme and form, not in its not-for-kids sex and violence) and beneath Yuasa’s talent. The characters are predictable types, if affectionately drawn, and the theme of human empathy is not particularly deep. It’s Yuasa’s next-level visuals, best displayed in the bacchanalia of Episode 1 and the apocalypse of Episode 10, that raise “Devilman” above its brethren. Even some of the minor sequences, like a minimalist nighttime drive in Ryo’s white sports car, with streetlights lights strobing by like regiment of precise fireflies in the side view mirror and windshield, are of superior design compared to the industry standard. Yuasa borrows a good deal of “exotic” Christian imagery, particularly the cross, horned devils, and a mangled eschatology (which has been a thing in anime ever since and pioneered it in the 1980s). The final episode features an twelve-winged “angel” riding a seven-headed dragon, weaponized rainbows, and other stuff that got left out of the Book of Revelation but would have looked really cool on an Iron Maiden album cover. Devotees of the style looking for action-oriented psychedelic thrills with a little teenage drama on the side will groove to it, but it’s not the best pool of anime goo for a newbie to dip his or her toe into.

“Devilman Crybaby” made a small splash as Netflix’s “first original anime” when it debuted in January 2018. Actually, it was only the first of twelve new original anime series (of a planned thirty) to roll out.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…for as grotesque as it regularly gets, Devilman Crybaby is bizarrely easy to love… a peak example of director Yuasa’s brand of balancing surrealist art and a real love for young people.”–Allegra Frank, Polygon

(This series was nominated for review by Benjamin Rubin, who asked “where else are you going to get psychosexual imagery, a mid-air fight scene that is also a sex scene, the end of the world, and of course, a gay hermaphroditic Satan who causes said end of the world, yet still remains a (slightly) sympathetic antagonist”? Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

BOOK REVIEW: “ROOM TO DREAM” (2018, DAVID LYNCH & KRISTINE MCKENNA)

As an avowed skeptic, I readily volunteered to review Lynch’s bio-memoir to make sure the artist in question got a fair shake (from a non-“fanboy”), and also so that I might better understand a director about whom I have such mixed feelings. Right off the bat, let me inform you that this book is a very enjoyable read and that anyone who is remotely interested in the life of David Lynch should give it a go.

The format is slightly unconventional. The heavy lifting is done by long-time Lynch associate and friend Kristine McKenna, who provides the academic half of things. She conducted extensive interviews with Lynch’s family, colleagues, and the like, as well as got all the dates of events lined up with impeccable precision. Her half of each chapter comes first, providing the facts for every chunk of David’s (having gotten to know him so well by now, I’m going to call him by his given name) life, starting with token facts about his parents and early childhood. Having known the guy since the late ’70s, she’s on solid footing here, and though I haven’t run her sections through my fact-checker, I have no reason to doubt them.

David’s portion acts as a rejoinder to each of the “academic” chapters, bringing the memoir genre crashing into the more rigorous biographical genre. Coming across so much as a Midwestern all-around swell guy might have been unbelievable had his sections been presented without McKenna’s. However, judging from the remarks, anecdotes, and testimonials of the dozens (and dozens) of people interviewed for this book (and prior works), David comes across in his sections as honest, interesting, and, again, swell.

Room to Dream moves chronologically in structure, and breaking down the chapters so that each covers a specific big project (such as the hard work of Eraserhead, the serendipity of the Elephant Man, and the trial-by-producer-fiat of Dune) allows the book to be read in bits and bobs over a long course of time without compromising narrative flow. As I said before, it is all eminently readable and fun, and the reason I’ve avoided quoting any specific passages so far is that there are too many to bust out. That said, I will bring to your attention David’s most Lynchian phrase I’ve come across: “There’s a donut, and there’s a hole; and you should keep your eye on the donut.” (This bit of life coaching also appears in interviews he’s provided.)  And in describing David’s voice, (a court adviser in Dune) says it’s “kind of like Peter Lorre from Philadelphia.” 1)And just one more on a somewhat personal note. My hair is similar to David’s and over the years its verticality has oft been remarked on. As such, Kimmy Robertson’s Twin Peaks-era anecdote struck me: “If I asked him nicely, he let me run my fingers through his hair. The hair that grows on top of that head and what’s inside that head—you can feel that in his hair. David’s hair does something and it has a function and the function has to do with God.”

Indeed, memorable quotations abound; so much so that my book-mark ran perilously close to running out of room as I jotted down page numbers. David Lynch is a great guy who’s led a highly enjoyable life marred only on occasion by artistic or professional setbacks (the closest he comes to criticizing anyone is describing his distaste for two French corporate “suits” who don’t share their eccentric industrialist boss’ vision). His greatest failing is perhaps is he falls in love with a consistency that precludes long marriages (he’s on his fourth wife).

And my criticisms of the man and his biography that I had hoped to unleash from the back of my mind? I couldn’t muster them. The name-dropping is a little overwhelming at times (less of a problem for readers in “the Biz”), and my only stylistic quibbles have more to do with my archaic language and syntax hang-ups than anything Kristine McKenna gets up to. I personally would never take a compound noun (“Executive-Producer”) and morph it into a verb (“Executive-Produce”) when the sentence structure could be shuffled ever so slightly to keep it a noun (or, as I’d prefer, the verb phrase “produce executively”). But as any sane person can see, this complaint is almost nonsensical.

To sum up: Room to Dream was so good that its section on Mulholland Drive (a movie I have disliked with a passion for over a decade) made me inclined to give it another go. Snap up a copy of this fine tome or borrow it from your local library. It will give you all the Lynch you could hope to digest.

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1. And just one more on a somewhat personal note. My hair is similar to David’s and over the years its verticality has oft been remarked on. As such, Kimmy Robertson’s Twin Peaks-era anecdote struck me: “If I asked him nicely, he let me run my fingers through his hair. The hair that grows on top of that head and what’s inside that head—you can feel that in his hair. David’s hair does something and it has a function and the function has to do with God.”

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS (2018)

Brian Henson has daddy issues, continues to commit career suicide, and The Happytime Murders may be the worst movie of the decade. For those in a hurry, you can go now. I wouldn’t blame you one damned but if you did. For the rest of my fellow masochists, I’ll elaborate, and make it mercifully briefer than this movie’s torturous 90 minute running time.

Still from The Happytime Murders (2018)The first time I read about The Happytime Murders, the description was a single sentence that went something like: “A movie about a serial killer who preys on Muppets.” My initial thought was, that premise is so weird, how can it go wrong?

Oh, it went wrong. Apparently Brian Henson feels that he doesn’t measure up to daddy, so much so that he’s gone the distance to butcher his pop’s legacy and intentionally produce something so wretched as to provoke Jim’s ghost. I hope it worked, because nothing else did in this mess, which is essentially the Muppets go Porkys with a few murders and fish-out-of-water Melissa thrown in. At least Porkys had a few (very) strained laughs, and Melissa’s previous “blockbuster,” the Back to School ripoff terribly directed by hubby is, comparatively, an endurable fun fest. Meet the Feebles (1989) this is not. Congrats should possibly go to Ben now that Henson has now replaced you as your wife’s worst director. However, since Ben is this film’s producer….

Henson has no idea what to do with his premise, and resorts to gags like Muppet sperm (silly string) and S&M puppet porn parlors. McCarthy is not only back to fat jokes, but after a confused Muppet offers her oral sex, she quips “I wish I had a d**k for you to suck.” Yuk. Yuk.

But see, she’s kind of a Muppet herself because, after being wounded in a sort of backstory shootout, it turns out she received a liver transplant from a dead Muppet, and the reason for that revelation? If you find out, don’t bother to share.

There’s a paper-thin satire on film noir detectives and a half-assed, insincere allegory of puppets as abused and oppressed minorities; which is blatantly condescending, as is the endless barrage of caricatures and stereotypes.

McCarthy is essentially rehashing her crude cop from Paul Feig’s The Heat (2013) and doing it much more poorly here. She clearly cannot distinguish between a good script and a bad script, and since audiences seem to tend to think that the actors just make up movies as they go along, McCarthy will take the lion’s share of the blame. Henson, who clearly was planning this as the initial entry in a new franchise, forgot the old adage about first impressions. With both critics and audiences in rare agreement, The Happytime Murders tanked on its opening weekend. It deserved to. The credit bloopers suggest the cast and crew had a blast making it. That fun is not at all in the movie, and everyone involved knew it.

Hands down, 2018 is the worst summer of movies I can recall.