Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Brightburn (2019)

Brandon Breyer isn't like twelve year olds his age. He has never been bruised or bled and his parents found him crashed in an alien spacecraft when he was a baby. Now, puberty hits him the same time as his powers start to develop in earnest and the spacecraft draws him closer with a message. Brandon has to decide how he will use his powers and if he goes with his human family who raised him or the people who sent him there.

Brightburn takes the familiar story of Superman, where in an alien boy is dropped on Earth with special powers, and makes it a story of horror and violence instead of heroism. Because the story is so familiar, the crash and discovery of the child are shown and then it fast forwards to his teenage years. My biggest problem with the film is that we don't get to see Brandon acting "normally." We see him being quiet and knowledgeable in class (and being teased as a result). The discovery of his powers coincides with puberty, but where boys are becoming interested in girls and growing hair, Brandon is curious about the insides of humans, experimenting with his indestructible skin, and discovering his superhuman strength. His mother goes on and on about how nice and sweet he was before the transformation, but we never see it. Maybe it was never there as plenty of people are delusional about the merits of their children.

The story is fairly straight forward without many twists and turns. Brandon discovers his superiority to humans and decides what to do about it. Unlike Superman, he chooses to be much more self serving and starts killing people who get in his way. Imagine an entitled white boy having the power to do what they want. He creeps on the girl he likes and hurts her when she rightfully rejects him, removes people who have authority over him, and shows no remorse for any of it. Of course, he insists on signing each scene with his symbol and leads a mounting police investigation in his direction. The atmosphere and death scenes are the best part of the film. The violence comes in unexpected ways as Brandon toys with his prey. Superhero films usually downplay brutal violence and do everything they can to detach the viewer from most deaths, but this film doesn't look away. For a fairly mainstream film, the gore much more than I expected and seen in extreme closeup in some cases. It's cringe inducing and one of the highlights of the film for me.

The other thing the film does well is in the human characters, particularly in Brandon's mom Tori. Tori is a mom trying to do her very best. Her parents gave up on her when she was a teenager and she vows to never do that to her son. Even when he does the most horrific things, she clings to some kind of hope that she can help turn him around and that he's good deep down inside. It's frustrating to watch from the outside, but it entirely makes sense to her character. Caitlyn, the girl Brandon harasses, is nice to him at first, but becomes creeped out when he sneaks into her room uninvited at night and then completely terrified when he breaks her hand for rejecting him in a game. Her mother is understandably angry at Brandon, that his counselor is going to be his own aunt, and the school's general lack of response to her daughter being assaulted. These two characters, though seen as villains to Brandon, are entirely understandable and I felt for them especially in this society that doesn't see men and boys like Brandon as the problem they are. Each death that happens is a bit of a gut punch because we know these characters and their motivation.

Brightburn is the superhero horror film that I wanted. It included social issues in a subtle way and portrayed human characters in a varied, relatable way. It has its problems like the predictable ending, the lack of development in Brandon, and the father seeming to be super willing to kill his kid without solid evidence. I would love to see a sequel or follow up because I think the story has more to give. I would recommend this film if you don't mind gore and are looking for a film kind of like Superman mixed with The Omen.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Manga Mini-Reviews: Tohyo Game: One Black Ballot to You by G.O., Chihiro, and Tatsuhiko

Shuusuke Takayama starts at a new class where Kazuto Satou creates a popularity concert targeting the girls. While it's just a joke, people start dying due to mysterious circumstances. The vote is at fault and the stakes keep getting higher and higher while the class size shrinks.

* Tohyo Game 1

Tohyo Game feels familiar, combining elements of The Ring, Battle Royale, and Final Destination. The concept of a popularity based fatal vote is interesting, but comes off as exploitative of one side. The popularity contest is bad already but on top of that, invasive photos of the girls in states of undress are posted alongside their names. This veers into disgusting territory that isn't really addressed. This and random nudity serve no purpose other than fan service that just annoyed me. In addition, Kazuto is only seen as a well meaning joker even though he invaded these girl's privacy and subjected them to humiliating public scrutiny. I couldn't help but roll my eyes at this boys will be boys crap. The girls are seen as to blame for the second poll even though they were victims of bullying, harassment, and exploitation in the first poll. The boys are not given near the same treatment and it's pretty misogynistic.

The characters are paper thin with little introduction  and even less development. I wasn't attached to them at all when they died. The story didn't have much substance at all beyond interesting kills. The only positives are the detailed, gruesome deaths with some unique methods and the mystery. Every prediction they made was wrong and it was pretty fun to see total failure over and over from awful characters. I'm not impressed with this at all, but I bought all three volumes at the same time, so I may as well finish.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

* Tohyo Game 2

In the second installment, the rules are finally cemented, but they are a bit numerous to remember without flipping back to it. On the bright side, the action starts right away. The group debates about sacrifices to minimize the deaths. Marina is the only one with a flippant attitude and completely willing to murder people to win. The method of voting gets more and more specific and varied, leading to loopholes, and unexpected revelations.

Unfortunately, there are way more things that bothered me. Suddenly, one of the classmates, Shougo, is the grossest character ever. His exploitation and rape of a vulnerable classmate are graphically portrayed for no real reason and persists through most of the story. I don't remember him at all from the first book. When he seemed like a clear choice to kill, others would say that no one deserved to be killed after they just picked a sacrifice that was an innocent girl. Their sudden change of heart had me rolling my eyes. There are moments of nudity and Marina in her bra for no reason. It's just gross. Parts of the story improved like the pacing, but the misogynistic parts are magnified.

My rating: 1.5/5 fishmuffins

* Tohyo Game 3

In the last installment, events are at their most extreme. There is so much insane weirdness smashed between the covers of this book, it's ridiculous. It begins with the boys delivering their million yen to the girls as their vote. Then, the girls have to have sex with the boy they vote for. This is disgusting on so many levels. First, the boys have to get around $8,000 which is no small feat, but the girls have to either have sex with one of the five boys chosen or die. And they still might die if that person has the lowest amount of votes. It really goes off the rails after this with reveals about the previous games, incest, and escalating to murder and dismemberment. Cops finally get involved, but they essentially do nothing besides filling in some exposition. Otherwise, they were useless when there are dead bodies popping up at that school all the time. One reveal at the end was unexpected, but the rest was a mess of offensive and poorly thought out. At the very end, a meaning to be humorous cartoon compares all the high school students' breasts in the most objectifying, dehumanizing way. I won't be reading anything else by these creators.

My rating: 0.5/5 fishmuffins