Category Archives: anime

Quickies 2-19-2013

Steel Against the Sky ~ A classic Warner Bros. two-reeler from 1941, this has stock characters and a predictable end, but all in all is great fun. Two brothers, Lloyd Nolan and Craig Stevens, high rise construction workers, compete for the same girl, sexy dame Alexis Smith. Thrills abound in the climax high above a bridge construction in a raging ice storm. Classic forties Hollywood melodrama at its best – snappy banter, comedy, romance, and adventure. And watch out for the young Jackie Gleason. Worth watching.

Spaceship Yamato ~ This 2010 live action version of the animated TV series “Star Blazers” is everything you would expect it to be. I liken it to seeing my comic book heroes, the Avengers, on the big screen. It’s something I never thought I would see in a million years, and yet here it is. Fabulous special effects bring the animation to life. So worth seeing, even if you just look at it with no subtitles on YouTube. Absolutely must see for any “Star Blazers” fans.

21 Jump Street ~ I really only watched the first season of this show when it was originally on, so I’m not a fan by any real stretch, but I do hate the idea of remaking old TV series into comedy movies, especially when the source material was not a comedy. I can forgive “Bewitched,” but this one doesn’t quite fit. About the only thing I liked about this was the Johnny Depp reveal at the end. The rest of this mess is really like Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum just got stoned and improv-ed what they thought “21 Jump Street” might be about. Hill is so not funny here, and I equally don’t get what all the fuss over Tatum is. Avoid this like a salad bar without a sneeze guard.

The Cabin in the Woods ~ Joss Whedon strikes again. There’s really not much I can say about this one, other than it is always more than you expect, and always goes one better. Unpredictability at its best, a modern horror classic. If I told you anything else, I’d spoil it. You’re on your own.

Double or Nothing ~ This great one-reeler from 1936 stars Phil Harris as a stunt double in Hollywood who while under gas dreams he goes to ‘Doubles Heaven,’ home to lookalikes of the stars. An amusing musical romp, and lots of fun for fans of classic Hollywood, starring many doubles of the day.

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The Last Airbender

The Last Airbender ~ Long before a friend turned me on to the beautifully animated TV series, I saw large chunks of this movie while on a cruise. You know how television on a cruise ship is like half a dozen movies on a continuous loop? This was one of them. I was unimpressed.

At the time, I had no foreknowledge of “Avatar” or bending or any of the mythology involved. I was bored by many undialogued scenes, cool special effects but without substance, and what seemed like a lot of spiritual mumbo jumbo and clever subtext that I just didn’t understand. Pretentious was the word I was looking for. And I was bored by it. If memory serves, I actually found Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time more interesting.

Of course the other factor at work here is M. Night Shyamalan. I love M. Night. I even have loved M. Night after it was uncool to love, or even like, him any more. When the critics turned on him and left to drown in low box office and derivative stories I loved the guy. I even dug Lady in the Water, but even I was let down by The Happening. And though he only directed, produced, and wrote the screenplay for this one, I was hopeful this would not continue the critic’s curse. It sure didn’t seem like it from what I saw however.

In the pre-“Legend of Korra” excitement, and having also watched a dozen or so episodes of the original series too, I decided to give the feature film another shot. The first thing that struck me about The Last Airbender is the somberness of it, the almost lack of humor. That said, it is respectful of the source material, but almost too much so. It’s like M. Night wants so badly to give it a serious treatment, he forgets it’s a story about kids, he forgets to have fun. This is just not about childlike wonderment, it’s about being a kid too, despite the world it takes place in.

The Last Airbender also has something in common with many of the films made from Stephen King books. If you have read the books, you already know what the characters are thinking and feeling so you dismiss any absence of same on the screen. This also works with this movie, having seen the source material. This is why it felt so empty the first time I saw it, but on more recent viewing, I understood it.

The two hour movie is essentially shorthand, or Cliff’s Notes if you will, of the fifty plus episodes of the animated series, or the first third of them at least. M. Night strives to keep a lot of it in, even when it has lost its context. It’s a lot of tell over show, and any writer will explain its the other way around. Much is lost by M. Night being meticulous. Without knowing ahead of time what is what, the film becomes a convoluted mess.

Despite all that, the second time around I enjoyed the film quite a bit. There are some wonderful visuals, some that I wouldn’t have thought this director capable of, but again, it’s not the animated series, but it tries in its own way. And in that way, The Last Airbender is a great companion piece to “Avatar,” just not alone.

Avatar and the Legend of Korra

Those who know me well know that I struggle with insomnia. Last year when I purchased an iPhone, coupled with the insomnia, I started to develop a bad habit – watching entire runs of TV shows while I sat awake in bed. After I had finished up “Nip/Tuck,” I asked on Twitter what folks thought I should watch next.

Other than things I had already seen, I got all the usual stuff thrown at me like “Buffy,” “House” and “Babylon 5.” Sigh. Friend and Vidcast partner Allison made a suggestion that at first I thought was odd – “Avatar The Last Airbender.” I’m not much of an anime guy. Other than the old old school stuff like “Speed Racer” and “Kimba,” the only anime I’ve ever been into was “One Piece.” But I respect Allison’s opinion a lot, despite appearances on the Vidcast, so I gave it a try.

I was more than surprised, I was blown away. I was introduced to a fantasy world in which some people have the ability to ‘bend’ the elements, in other words, to control the earth, the air, the water, and the fire. One being, the Avatar, has the ability to bend all four, and is basically proclaimed the savior and leader of people by example. In this world, the Avatar has been absent for over a hundred years and is released from an icy tomb. Once free, he must finish his training and grow up. The young boy Avatar and his friends together defeat the Fire Empire that has ruled much of the world with a fascist regime.

Along the way, I fell in love with the characters, the story, both episodic and overarching, and the beautiful backgrounds and animation. It is an amazing series that I can not heap enough praise upon. I was mesmerized and devoured well over fifty episodes in just under two weeks. Yeah, it was that good. But then it was over.

Imagine my surprise recently when I learned that Nickolodeon, the network who made “Avatar,” was working on a sequel by the same folks. I was thrilled. Several weeks ago “The Legend of Korra” began airing. The story picks up almost a century later. The Avatar has brought a new age to the world, one of prosperity and enlightenment. Republic City is the capital of much of the world, a world in the midst of a cultural and industrial revolution. Into this turn of the century steampunk world of Republic City comes Korra the spunky new Avatar in training.

The creators could have gone the easy route, a rehash of the original series, a proven formula that worked, but they went different. This is a whole new spectrum of the concept. Korra is in a cityscape, she’s a bending athlete, and the world is in upheaval between the benders and the non-benders. Much like “Avatar” before it, I love this show, and can’t recommend it enough. This is an amazing show. Watch it.

Trapped Like a Cat in a Box

Blade Kitten was one of the first free demos I downloaded from the PlayStation Store. Cool name, cool anime look, and it seemed like it would be fun. Somehow, I just never got around to trying it out. Once I did, I was very happy I downloaded it… until I got trapped.

First of all, Blade Kitten is something very different in the videogame world. It’s not based on an anime, or a comic book, or even an animated movie or TV series – it’s based on a webcomic. I was pleased and surprised too. The webcomic (and the game), coincidentally by game designer Steve Stamatiadis, follows the anime adventures of Kit Ballard, and half-cat, half-human bounty hunter, as she pursues her prey, troublemaker Terra-Li on the artificial planet called Hollow Wish.

I rushed into it blindly, with some tutorial help showing and telling what to do, but markedly, as usual, with zero instructions. I was actually doing well, taking names and kicking ass, and then I got cocky. I somehow made my way past a laser beam and into a box that I couldn’t get out of. So for an undetermined amount of time I mashed buttons, yelled at the screen, and listened to the catchy dance rock music until I gave up.

Maybe I’ll go back and try again, or play from the start and just avoid this part, but I think I will go back. I had fun. Or maybe I’ll have Crystal, or Jeff, or Ray get me past this part. Either way, this was a very good download. And if you want to know more about Blade Kitten in all its various forms, the official website is here.

The Secret World of Arrietty

The Secret World of Arrietty ~ Probably one of the most wonderful things Disney has done in recent years, outside of their Cruise Line and keeping Marvel Comics from going under is obtaining distribution rights for Studio Ghibli. Those of us in the genre audience who have loved the breathtaking work of Hayao Miyazaki can now share it with the rest of the world.

The newest import from the Land of the Rising Sun, via Disney distribution is The Secret World of Arrietty, also known as Kari-gurashi no Arietti, is based on “The Borrowers” novels by Mary Norton, which have provided inspiration for many television and film projects. The Borrowers are tiny folks who live in the floorboards of your house and only take what they need.

Here they live in a house soon occupied by a sickly boy who sees them right away, especially a high-spirited young Borrower girl named Arrietty. A tentative friendship blooms in this smaller than usual (pun unintended) Ghibli film. It is wondrously animated and tells a touching story with a surprising voice cast. Amy Pohler didn’t annoy me and Carol Burnett slips easily into a villain role.

Like all the Miyazaki and Ghibli films, this is a joy to watch, a wonderful adventure and character story, highly recommended.

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Lions, and Robots, and Anime, Oh My!

I don’t get Voltron. I mean I get it, I understand it, but I don’t get it. It holds no nostalgic value for me. It came out some time after I traded cartoons for girls, you know, waaay back in college.

For those of you in my situation, I’ll refresh your memories. “Voltron: Defender of the Universe” was an animated series in the early 1980s that was edited together with segments from two earlier Japanese animes called “Beast King GoLion” and “Armored Fleet Dairugger XV.” It was done in much the same way “Power Rangers” was put together, only not live-action. In the American compilation, the Voltron Force are five individual who fight the forces of evil in five different colored robot lions, that can combine into one giant robot and fight the bigger badder menaces they can’t on their own. It was a huge hit here in the States for boys and girls.

As I said, it was past my time, much like G.I. Joe or Transformers. Still, I like giant robots, and especially monsters, when I saw that a game called Voltron: Defender of the Universe was available for free download from the PlayStation Store, I thought, why not?

The game starts with a whole lot of animation, old animation, which makes me think it’s probably from the original American TV series. There’s a bunch of it, so much of it, that you expect that to be what the game is like, but no, that’s not the case at all.

Had the game had a Japanese anime feel to it, it might have been a bit juvenile, but it would have worked. The game however is nothing like that. It’s like a crisp high definition version of what the old 8-bit and 16-bit video games for Atari and Nintendo used to look like. If you were told that blue and red pixilated blur was supposed to be Superman, you just nodded and blindly accepted that.

This stolen-from-the-web pic is 100% clearer than what I saw in the game…

It’s like that here. After about five to ten minutes of running my black segmented blob of shiny metal through bad obstacles and having it gobble up good obstacles, it occurred to me that might supposed to be the Black Lion. Yeah, it’s like that. What I was able to see of the game was pretty, indistinguishable, and pretty primitive. I gave up out of boredom, not frustration. If there are giant robots or monsters, I wouldn’t know. I didn’t get that far.

If you got a hankering for Voltron, get over to Netflix, not to your PlayStation, just my opinion.

RIP Peter Fernandez

Award winning actor, voice actor, author, lyricist, writer and director Peter Fernandez passed away Thursday after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 83.

Peter Fernandez was the guiding force behind the Americanization of such anime classics as “Speed Racer,” “Gigantor,” “Astro Boy” and “Star Blazers,” and also live action imports from Japan like “Ultraman,” “Space Giants,” “Mothra” and several of the Godzilla films from the 1960s. His early career was in radio on shows like “Gangbusters,” “Mr. District Attorney” and “Superman.”

More recently he had a small part in the big screen version of Speed Racer and a featured role in the newest incarnation of the animated series. Other recent work included “Kenny the Shark” and “Courage the Cowardly Dog.”

I had the opportunity to interview the man at the New York Comic Con a few years back and it’s one of my most cherished memories. I was nervous as hell but he was a very kind and generous, and understanding interviewee. Some of that interview is available here.

I have lost another huge chunk of my childhood, but I’m glad I was able to meet Mr. Fernandez, and at least tell him how much his work meant to me. He will be missed.

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Astro Boy

Astro Boy ~ I guess I should have known better with this 2009 updating of the 1960s black and white cartoon beloved from my youth. And it’s a long way past the evolution of the animation too. The story seems wrong. The origin of Astro Boy is fairly intact, but it has the feel and the stench of both A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and Wall-E when neither is really appropriate. It even has stronger ties to Pinocchio. Astro Boy is Astro Boy, let it be what it is, ya know?

The voice of Nicholas Cage as Dr. Tenma screams first and foremost as wrong. Wrong not just because it’s obvious that it’s him and his voice is inappropriate for the part, but because he displays little emotion in a role fraught with tragedy. It’s like he is reading words, not filling an image with his live personality. His ‘performance’ is a travesty.

The film also suffers from what most superhero movies of the past four decades do – the mandatory origin. Why can’t we just accept that this character exists, and then tell a good story? Did Indiana Jones have an origin? Did Jack Ryan? And even though I looove the recent film, did the crew of the Starship Enterprise? The movie is always half over, sometimes more, by the time we see our hero in his final hero form. It annoys me.

And speaking of hero form – why does Astro Boy have to be so politically correct and wear a shirt? Sorry, folks, but product recognition, in this case, character recognition, dictates that the product is recognizable to its fans. Astro Boy is topless. Deal with it. What’s next? A leisure suit for Tarzan? A mask and cape for Jason Bourne? Again, let Astro Boy be Astro Boy.

I waited for the DVD, even though I was very excited when I first heard they were making this. The first preview I saw had Nicholas Cage’s toneless deadpan voice, the shirted Astro Boy and a tender moment with a teenage girl, and it just turned me off. Now don’t get me wrong. This movie is not bad, it’s really quite good, great for the kids, and recommended so – but what it isn’t is a satisfying version of Astro Boy. Rent the DVDs of the original series – even higher recommendation.

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Perfect Blue

Perfect Blue ~ This is quite possibly the best anime I have ever seen. Not only is it that good but it deftly illustrates the difference between Japanese and American animation. America makes cartoons of what isn’t possible, while Japan creates things like Perfect Blue – a straight thriller with almost zero fantasy elements.

This tale of pop idol Mima trying to make the jump from teeny bopper superstar to a grown up serious and sensual actress while being stalked by a deranged fan – is not the usual fare for anime. No swords, giant robots or magic schoolgirls – no martial arts or even tentacle sex – just solid drama, story and characters. This is don’t miss, but be warned, even though it’s animated – this is not for kids. Sex and violence abound. Perfect Blue is very Hitchcock with just a touch of Gaslight, recommended.

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Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle ~ This Hiyao Miyazaki classic is based on an award-winning novel by a British author, Diana Wynne James. Set in a very imaginative 1920s-ish steampunk world where magic exists, this surreal tale is well-suited to Miyazaki’s filmmaking and storytelling talents.

Young Sophie is cursed and turned into an old woman, voiced by the late and legendary Jean Simmons, and starts cleaning a wizard’s giant walking castle – the one referenced in the title. Howl, appropriately played by Christian Bale, is a spoiled brat of a wizard, and a coward to boot, seemingly a perfect role for Bale based on his on-set tantrums of recent years. The voice cast is rounded out by Billy Crystal as a enslaved fire demon, who for the first time in quite some time is not grating on my nerves. The demon, Calcifer, is actually a lot of fun.

The highlight of the film is the subtle way that Sophie ages and de-ages, depending on her emotions and situations, throughout. It’s a wonderful touch. I can’t recommend this enough as I love Miyazaki, but by the same token, it is Miyazaki, and a hard and bizarre pill to swallow at times. The man is a genius, and the animation is visually brilliant, so even just as eye candy, this is so worth seeing.

For another view on this flick, check out the Comic Widows review by Maxine Nelson here.

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