YOUR NAME (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Thematic Elements, Suggestive Content, brief Language, and Smoking

(Japanese with English subtitles)

Directed by: Makoto Shinkai

Written by: Makoto Shinkai

(based on the novel YOUR NAME by Makoto Shinkai)

Starring: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Masami Nagasawa, Etsuko Ichihara, Ryo Narita, Aoi Yuki, Nobunaga Shimazaki & Kaito Ishikawa

What’s the highest grossing anime film of all-time? It used to be Hayao Miyazaki’s highly imaginative SPIRITED AWAY…until that title was recently stolen by YOUR NAME. Based on a novel by director/writer Makoto Shinkai, YOUR NAME is one of the most hyped animated features to come around in quite some time and it deserves every piece of praise that it’s received thus far. This film is beautifully animated, brilliantly written and strikes a deep emotional cord. I was expecting to like YOUR NAME when I walked into the theater and I walked out absolutely loving it.

Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi), a teenage girl living in a small mountain town, is sick of her dull country life. Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a teenage boy living in Tokyo, is your typical awkward adolescent. These two seemingly unconnected people become very connected when they inexplicably begin body-swapping. Some days, Mitsuha wakes up in Taki’s body and Taki wakes up in Mitsuha’s body. Other days, they go about their normal lives. This unexplainable body-swapping begins to build deep emotional ties and affection between Mitsuha and Taki, but things become even stranger as they go along.

YOUR NAME’s premise sounds a lot like the anime equivalent of FREAKY FRIDAY. While it does have genuinely hilarious comedic moments, the film’s premise also opts for a more serious approach on the seemingly outlandish material. Body-swapping is only part of the major plot because this story goes into borderline genius and unexpected territory. I was floored when this film threw some complicated curveballs at the viewer and upped its stakes significantly. I’ll avoid going into further details about the plot, because I don’t want to risk spoiling a single laugh, shock, or tear-jerking second.

That’s not to say that YOUR NAME’s success functions purely on its plot twists, because the film also does a marvelous job of building up two distinctly different characters in their own lives. The viewer grows to care about both Mitsuha and Taki throughout the course of their initial body-swapping. Their lives are thrown into a disarray as their friends don’t know what to think about seemingly erratic changes in personality and everyday events become huge problems to tackle (e.g. being late for work as a waiter or dealing with town bullies). Once the film reveals just how deep and complicated its story goes, the viewer cares even more about the outcome because we already love these two characters so much.

YOUR NAME’s fleshed-out characters and smart writing are further heightened with stunning animation! This film’s visuals are gorgeous to look at and its all too easy for the viewer to get lost in this beautiful world. YOUR NAME is traditionally animated (meaning that a lot of it is hand-drawn) and was aided by certain computer-animated additions, but 95% of the film seems to be the former. This old-fashioned quality makes the film appear even more impressive, because there are big shots that feel epic in scale.

I’ve pretty much ranted and raved about this film as much as I can without giving any spoilers. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that YOUR NAME is an animated masterpiece. This is one of the best animated films that I’ve ever seen…period. It’s also the best anime film that I’ve seen, but (to be fair) I haven’t seen many anime films in my lifetime. In just about every possible aspect, YOUR NAME is heartfelt and sincere. I love the wonderful characters! I love the brilliantly executed story! I love the gorgeously animated visuals! YOUR NAME is beautiful in just about every conceivable way! If you’re a fan of fantastic cinema and treasure movies that move you on a deeply emotional level, YOUR NAME is a must-see! I adore this movie!

Grade: A+

THE DARK TAPES (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Directed by: Michael McQuown & Vincent Guastini

Written by: Michael McQuown

Starring: David Banks, Sara Castro, Cortney Palm, David Rountree, Matt Magnusson, Shawn Lockie, Stephen Zimpel, Emilia Ares Zoryan, Anna Rose Moore, Aral Gibble, Brittany Underwood, Jake O’Connor, Katherine Shaw & David Hull

Found footage horror flicks and anthology films are plentiful in the independent horror scene, which means there are lots of crappy ones out there. Every now and then, a cool handheld horror flick or a fun anthology might stick out from the overcrowded pack. Michael McQuown’s debut THE DARK TAPES is both an ambitiously creative found footage horror flick and a very fun (albeit flawed) anthology. The film consists of four major stories, one of which serves as a wraparound that connects the three other tapes. Following my usual anthology review format, I’ll grade each segment on its own merits and then evaluate the feature as a whole…

TO CATCH A DEMON: A couple arrive at a warehouse, only to find that the building is a mess and camera equipment is strewn everywhere. It turns out that this location was actually the site of a strange experiment that tackled R.E.M. sleep, night terrors, and otherworldly entities. As you might imagine, this experiment didn’t exactly go according to plan. This segment is cut between the film’s three other stories and keeps the viewer hooked by building up a natural progression of events. We get the scientific explanations before seeing the experiment and watching everything fall apart at the seams. It’s spooky entertainment and forms plenty of neat connections to (at least, two of the) other segments. This wraparound also delivers an awesome-looking creature and ended on an appropriately eerie note, though I wished it had lasted for a few minutes longer. B

THE HUNTERS & THE HUNTED: A loving couple move into a new house that, despite its glamorous appearance, comes with some unexpected baggage. This baggage includes: moving objects and unseen footsteps. Desperate to get rid of their spiritual houseguests, the couple hires a team of paranormal investigators and things go from bad to worse. This segment had me worried for the first five minutes because this seemed like a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY knock-off. However, director/writer McQuown has some nifty tricks up his sleeve and I was pleasantly surprised by the creepy turns this one took. Though it doesn’t seem as interconnected as the rest of the stories, this segment was easily my favorite story of the film! B+

CAM GIRLS: An online peep show takes a dark turn in this segment. I don’t want to give away any specific details about this story, because it’s an easy one to spoil. There are a handful of remarkable positives and noticeable negatives to be found here. I really didn’t buy most of the acting and thought the ending was too cheesy for its own good, but there are effectively freaky scares. I was initially going to write off annoying bits of quick editing as a corny detriment, but these clips actually served a purpose in the plot’s proceedings. Be sure to look out for creepy details lurking in the background (providing some legitimate chills) and one hell of a gnarly gore gag! B-

AMANDA’S REVENGE: Unfortunately, THE DARK TAPES ends on its weakest segment. Following a sexual assault at a party, Amanda begins experiencing periods of memory loss and shows a radical change in mood. Her friends become deeply concerned about her and possible PTSD from that night, but something far stranger is occurring. This segment wasn’t nearly as strong as everything that came before it. This could be because it almost feels like a superhero origin story and the film’s cheesiest effects emerge during this story’s finale. It wasn’t terrible and had a few merits in cool scenes and neat ideas, but it suffered from a couple of corny visuals and anti-climactic final minutes. C+

Like many horror anthologies (especially in the indie scene), THE DARK TAPES has stronger stories (THE HUNTERS & THE HUNTED is the best) and weaker segments (AMANDA’S REVENGE is the worst). However, none of these stories are bad and remain competently executed (despite the budgetary constraints occasionally coming through). Like many low-budget handheld horror flicks, this film has a few unconvincing performances and doesn’t always have top-notch special effects. However, THE DARK TAPES keeps creativity at the forefront, provides genuinely effective moments, and remains a lot of spooky fun. If you’re in the mood for an entertaining and (at points) scary found-footage horror anthology, THE DARK TAPE comes recommended!

Grade: B