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More Pokemon fun for the fans, but marketing could be better
Here we are at "Pokemon Heroes," the latest installment in the Pokemon movie series. I know the naysayers among you are thinking, "What? ANOTHER Pokemon movie? Why are they beating this 'dead' franchise?" Though it's far from the powerhouse that it once was, Pokemon still enjoys a level of popularity in the U.S. that justifies the release of a new movie every year (the cards and videogames still sell briskly to this day). Cross the ocean to Japan, and you'll see that Pokemon is STILL going strong after all this time; the 6th Pokemon movie has just been released over there, and Japanese Pokemon merchandising continues heartily.
"Pokemon Heroes" finds our protagonist, one Ash Ketchum, his ever present Pikachu, and pals Misty and Brock traveling through the Venice-like city of Alto Mare. It is said that Alto Mare is guarded by the spirits of Pokemon siblings Latios (brother) and Latias (sister), whose father, long ago, brought water to the city and saved the people from rogue Pokemon who had been terrorizing the city. Once again, Alto Mare is in danger, but the threat comes not so much from evil Pokemon, but from the ever dangerous Team Rocket. However, it is not the blundering Jessie, James and Meowth (and now also Wobbuffet) who pose the threat, but the graceful and stylish Annie and Oakley who look to rule Alto Mare (and eventually the world) and capture Latios and Latias to present to the Team Rocket boss as prizes. Latias, who has been roaming the city disguised as a local girl, takes a shine to Ash, who inevitably becomes involved in the siblings' struggle against Annie and Oakley for the fate of Alto Mare. Can Ash and his friends help Latias and Latios protect Alto Mare from the evil of Annie and Oakley? Will Jessie, James, Meowth, and Wobbuffet ever be more than just comic relief? Will Brock ever get the girl?
As with the previous 4 movies, those who are already Pokemon fans will derive the most enjoyment out of "Pokemon Heroes." Those who are not already fans may still enjoy the movie, if they let themselves. I know what it is like to not have any emotional investment in a movie, to the point of apathy or even distaste for the subject matter or the actors within, yet I have seen and actually enjoyed quite a few movies in spite of my initial impressions. Why many people, including kids who once were rabid Pokemon fans but now for whatever reason claim to now hate it, do not approach Pokemon in the same way is quite unfortunate.
What is also unfortunate is Miramax's marketing strategy for "Pokemon Heroes." As with "Pokemon 4Ever," Miramax has decided to release "Pokemon Heroes" in only a handful of theaters (196 on opening weekend) with a minimum of promotion. I am guessing that it is because they are trying to bolster sales of the future VHS/DVD release by firing up anticipation for it, and what better way to get anticipation up than by making the movie available to only a small number of theaters? Personally, I think it's a lousy way to market a popular franchise, and I hope that 4Kids Entertainment will find another distributor for the 6th Pokemon movie, because this so-called "dynamic" marketing strategy Miramax claims to have had for "Pokemon 4Ever" and "Pokemon Heroes" is a bunch of hooey.
My two cents
This is a rehash of my comments on Gekijô-ban poketto monsutaa: Maboroshi no pokemon: Rugia bakutan. I think they are more appropriate here.
Many of those who claim to hate this movie openly admit to hating Pokemon to begin with. As I had said in my comments on "Pokemon The First Movie," you have to go in to the movie with an open mind. If you go see "Pokemon 2000" because you were "dragged in" by your kids/nieces/nephews/others, you've already decided that you're going to hate it. I'm not saying that you WILL hate it; just that you've DECIDED that you're going to hate it no matter what, just because it's Pokemon. Current Pokemon fans (like me, and I'm over 30!) or more open-minded moviegoers will probably like "Pokemon 2000."
I was glad that Kids WB decided to go with a more "theatrical" score for "Pokemon 2000." Although I would have preferred that more of the Japanese music would have been left in, I think that the orchestral music was more fitting than the bubblegum pop that permeated "Pokemon The Movie."
Like most people, I liked "Pokemon 2000" more than "Pokemon The First Movie," probably because of the overall brighter feel. I personally loved the first U.S. appearance of one of my favorite new Pokemon, the flowery Bellossom. There are points of the movie that I felt could have been expanded on, but overall, "Pokemon 2000" is a fun ride.
Words from an adult Pokemon fan
Another Pokemon movie has hit the theaters, and again, I'm hearing the same old, "Pokemon is dead, blah blah blah." The franchise's detractors couldn't be more wrong. Kids are still playing the trading card game, they're still watching the TV series, they're waiting for the Game Boy Advance games, and they want to see "Pokemon the 4th Movie."
That said, "Pokemon The 4th Movie" introduces us to two more "legendary" Pokemon: Suicune, the "north wind" of lore, and Celebi, guardian of the forest (and star of the show). Celebi transports itself and a boy named Sam 40 years into the future, to the present day, where Pokemon trainer Ash, his faithful Pikachu, and his friends Brock and Misty are traveling through Johto. Sam and Ash become fast friends, once they discover the other's mutual love for Pokemon (Sam's vintage Pokeball with screw-on top is a great moment). Together, they decide to protect Celebi from the villain of the story, the Team Rocket agent aptly named Vicious, who is hell-bent on capturing Celebi for his own ends. Will Ash and Sam be able to protect Celebi from Vicious' Dark Balls? Where does Suicune fit into the picture? Will Jessie, James, and Meowth have bigger parts in this movie than before? And just who is Sam, really?
Like with the first 3 movies, if you go into the movie deciding that you're automatically going to hate it no matter what simply because it's Pokemon (or just because your child/niece/nephew/younger sibling/et cetera "dragged" you into it), then you're going to hate it because you've decided that you want to hate it. That may be, but to blindly trash "Pokemon The 4th Movie" simply because it is a Pokemon movie, and especially without having seen it, is just plain stupid. Even non-fans can enjoy this movie without having to know every last detail of the world of Pokemon. I'm not saying that you WILL become a Pokemon fan because of this movie, but you CAN indeed enjoy it, if you'll let yourself.
Unlike the first 3 Pokemon movies, "Pokemon the 4th Movie" is being distributed by Miramax, who I've heard is also working on securing the rights to the 5th Pokemon movie, which was released this past summer in Japan. Miramax claims to have some boffo-aggressive marketing strategy for "Pokemon The 4th Movie," but all I've seen so far is a feeble limited release, which doesn't include the usual Pikachu short in the beginning, which I was really looking forward to this time. I hope that Miramax will see fit to put the Pikachu short, called "Pikachu's Exciting Hide-and-Seek," onto at least the DVD/VHS release, if not with a future wider release of "Pokemon The 4th Movie." I hope that the current release is just the tip of the iceberg for this very entertaining film.
The Mole (2001)
Here's hoping there will be a third "Mole"
I quite enjoyed "The Mole" the first time it was on TV, and eagerly looked forward to watching "The Mole 2." After a rocky start in which ABC pulled it from their primetime schedule late in 2001, before all the episodes had aired, they started it up again with a better timeslot (Tuesday evenings) and I'm glad that they did.
I'm not a huge fan of the "reality" genre. About the only "reality"-type shows I watch are "Survivor" and "The Mole." I actually prefer "The Mole" to "Survivor" (don't get me wrong; I LOVE "Survivor") because of the cerebral aspect of it. The games are interactive; you find yourself in the place of the contestants, trying alongside them to solve the various riddles that they are presented with, and trying to analyze fellow players' actions, wondering "Who is the Mole, and how can I get other people to think that I am?" With the exception of just a couple of games (the "fashion sense" game comes to mind), most of the games and challenges don't involve having the players stoop to the lowest common denominator to earn money for the pot.
When players are eliminated from "The Mole," it's not so because the rest of the players found them unpopular or too much of a threat. If you haven't been paying attention to the clues or haven't sorted fact from fiction, then you effectively eliminate yourself if you score the lowest on the execution quiz. "The Mole" isn't a popularity contest that can be sabotaged easily by overzealous fans (remember Brittany from the first "Big Brother"?) or vengeful losers; the best player does indeed win.
Another thing that I found so appealing about "The Mole" was how much more affable and interactive host Anderson Cooper was with the contestants. Cooper isn't just your aloof host that shows up only for challenges and elimination rounds. Cooper has a wicked sense of humor that manifests itself often during the games. He also joins the contestants for dinner, which further humanizes him. One of the most memorable moments of the second season came when contestant Rob, a magician, showed Cooper a card trick. Right after Rob revealed the outcome of the trick, Cooper immediately slugged him playfully in the arm. Imagine Rich Hatch trying to pull something like that with Jeff Probst on Pulau Tiga!
Because "The Mole" hasn't racked up the same kinds of ratings that "Survivor" or even "American Idol," a lot of people are quick to count it out for another go-round. I certainly hope not. Apparently, the ratings for "The Mole 2" were high enough for ABC to consider yet another installment. If that's the case, I hope to try out for it, because it's the only "reality" show that I would ever consider being on. If ABC decides not to bring it back for a third installment, it'll be a crying shame. In this age of trashy soap operas and lowbrow humor, "The Mole" is a shot of fresh air that most anyone could benefit from.
The Vals (1983)
Totally farfetched, but at least they looked good!
I've been a fan of the whole early 80's Valley Girl concept; the cute fashions, the carefree attitudes, and the mall roaming. The Nic Cage movie "Valley Girl" has been a favorite of mine for years, but the wardrobe of the Valley Girls in that movie seemed a little lacking in a sort of je ne sais quoi (I thought, anyway)... a sort of cuteness or spunkiness was missing.
Enter "The Vals," a low-budget movie about Valley Girls who wonder if there's more to life than partying with college boys, battling with Beverly Hills girls that seem to have invaded Val turf, shopping for new clothes, and riding down the street perched on the drop top of a white Mercedes. One day at the mall, they overhear a couple of drug dealers putting demands on one of their pushers, a young boy. Out of curiosity, they observe the boy as he pushes drugs on other kids, then they follow him home. His home is a house on the other side of town, an orphanage run by a kind old man who's been running the place for many years. The old man and his charges are in danger of losing their home unless they can come up with $25,000 of back rent, which is why the one boy had started selling drugs. Suddenly, the Vals "know" that they have to save the orphanage. How, though, is ridiculously farfetched and made you wonder if the Vals themselves weren't on something when they came up with their plan. Suffice it to say that everything turns out okay in the end, in typical early 80's movie style.
One of the few redeeming qualities about "The Vals" is the Valley Girls' wardrobe. The clothes were much more, well, Valley Girl than those from "Valley Girl." The Vals' clothes were fun, frilly, and funky. It's really hard to explain, but I'm more partial to that sort of cutesy Valley Girl look over the polished preppy Valley Girl look favored by the ladies of "Valley Girl."
Call me crazy, but I kind of dig the song "Girls In The Valley," which seems to be the featured track on the "The Vals" soundtrack. The end credits say "Soundtrack Available On Unicorn World Records," but that seems to be about as real as an actual unicorn (DID a soundtrack really exist in some form for "The Vals"?). The rest of the soundtrack is a take-it-or-leave-it thing, but I'd love to be able to get "Girls In The Valley" in a more portable version someday.
Battle Dome (1999)
"American Gladiators" was one of my favorite shows of the '90s, so when the promos started airing for "Battle Dome," I thought, hey, an updated "Gladiators!" Oh, good grief. Sometimes, this show makes me long for even "Knights and Warriors," that "AG" knock-off that had a couple of seasons before it ended.
All the warriors have personas to match their nicknames, like "gangsta" T-Money, Jamaican brawler Cuda (who I actually find least objectionable of all of the warriors), narcissistic so-called golden boy O'Dell, Italian caricature Johnny Rocco, and imperious warhorse Commander. "Battle Dome" is a strictly boys' club, as there are no competitions for the women as there were with "AG" and "Knights"; the only place for women in "Battle Dome" is as busty valets and arm charms for the overhyped warriors. And what's this in the second season with assigning a Perfect 10 girl to hang all over each of the competitors?
The games seem to unfairly favor the warriors; I honestly believe that there is a maximum weight/height restriction that they put on the competitors! The American Gladiators would take on all comers, as long as they passed the physical. What are the Battle Dome warriors scared of? Afraid that they'll look like wusses in their own house by getting beaten by guys bigger than they are? The warriors only look like bullies beating up on guys smaller than themselves, especially the 6' 10" Bubba King.
And I don't know about you, but the storylines and the premises behind some of the characters are just plain stupid. Bobbi Haven, the secretary for the never-seen Chairman, always trying to lure O'Dell into her arms... Jake Fury playing pranks on half the warrior roster and getting the tables turned on him... the T-Money-O'Dell feud (which I see only as a racial thing anyway)... even wrestlers from the WCW coming to bash heads with the Battle Dome warriors... puh-leeze! Leave the storylines to the wrestlers. Not even at their hokiest were "AG" and "Knights" this cheesy.
All right, I admit that some of the games look like fun... I wouldn't mind having the Battle Hoop in my living room to give me a good workout, as long as I knew that Snake, Johnny Rocco, Cuda, Baby Blue, or whoever else wouldn't be trying to knock the crap out of me as I tried to dive through the thing. Interceptor (the game where the warrior are suspended from the ceiling) looks like a lot of fun, too. Other than that, send the whole lot of these guys back to the showers!
Knights and Warriors (1992)
American Gladiators it wasn't, but it was still fun
I first heard of "Knights and Warriors" when I saw something on an entertainment news show about one of the American Gladiators supposedly getting fired from the show because she married one of the cast members of "Knights and Warriors". Being a big fan of "AG," I decided to check out "K&W." It was painfully obvious that it was trying to feed off the success of "AG", with "average Joe" contenders ("knights") facing off against the Warrior Dome's version of the Gladiators ("warriors") in physical games of skill with such names as Catapult, the Volcano, Roller Joust, and the ultimate Target Onslaught. As much as "AG" played up the real people behind the contenders and Gladiators, "K&W" was the opposite. The "knights" wore spandex outfits with trim reminiscent of something you'd see at a renaissance festival. The "warriors" had names like Chaos, Plague, Pyro, Lady Battleaxe, Raven, and Princess Malice. They wore black leather and spandex outfits that looked like they were stolen from the wardrobe of an early 80's Motley Crue video, and each adopted a villainous persona to match his or her name. "K&W"'s equivalent of "AG"'s referee Larry Thompson was a silver-robed gent calling himself the Lord of Rules and Discipline. He sat high above the action, giving his verdict on instant replays and reprimanding warriors who didn't play nice.
If you thought that "AG" was cheesy, "K&W" made it look like a session of "Meet The Press." Still, for all its hokey-ness, it was kind of like a car wreck; you felt like you shouldn't watch it, but you couldn't tear your eyes away from the screen. Despite its hackneyed "good vs. evil" premise, it was actually fun. Like many copycat franchises in the U.S., "K&W" never really caught on, and was gone long before "AG" made its own exit.
Looking back now at "K&W," I find that I really miss it. The current full-contact type game show, "Battle Dome," could never hope to hold a candle to what "K&W" was. I wonder if anyone else has as "fond" memories as I do about this show... for that matter, does anyone else remember it?
Strange to say, but I'm grooving on "Survivor: Africa." In fact, I'm enjoying it most out of all three "Survivor"s to date. I can understand how people are saying that the fad is dying out, but when you look at it, it is still a pretty well-ranked show (Top 20 or so). It's not scraping the bottom of the rating barrel like most other series in the "reality" genre.
One of the things that is distinctive for me is that right from the beginning of "Survivor: Africa" is that I started out with a clear favorite Survivor and have stuck to him from the beginning. That Survivor is Ethan Zohn of the Boran/Moto Maji tribe. Ethan, for me, stood out from all the other Survivors as being fair, athletic, intelligent, level-headed, and sensitive... and since I AM a red-blooded woman, I can't deny that I find him amazingly attractive as well.
With my previous favorites from Australia (I didn't really have anyone I was pulling for on Pulau Tiga), it took me two or three episodes to figure out who I liked and who I didn't. I liked Ethan from Day One. During the bean incident with Clarence and Diane, he was suitably angry, but not so over-the-top that one would think he was a jerk. Since then, he's practically been the silent hero of the show. Ethan simply rocks, and I hope he ends up the big winner.
It's a lot of fun to watch the Survivors having to deal with not only the travails of eating, getting clean water, and figuring out who should go at the next tribal council, but also to watch their reactions to the animals that reside in the area. Unlike the previous shows, hunting is not allowed, for the show is set in a game reserve. Then again, the animals that show up close to camp (lions, elephants, musk oxen) are far more likely to cause serious injury or even death to anyone careless or foolish enough to confront them. Whether the animals are lured close to the camps by Mark Burnett or whether they actually do get that close to the Survivors is unknown, but it does make for some good viewing.
The twist in episode 5 was probably one of the most welcome things to happen in the game. Not only did it shake up the tribes and cause the ouster of the once-powerful Silas Gaither, but it also probably helped to create an unlikely villain in Lex van den Berghe. Lex, who initially was a fan favorite, was changed by the twist into a brooding paranoiac on a witch hunt. Not quite on the same level of villainy as Rich Hatch or Jerri Manthey, but a villain all the same.
Granted, the "Survivor" franchise isn't quite as popular as it used to be for whatever reason, but I still find it a whole lot of fun, and my interest has been growing with each subsequent series. Maybe it's just me...
Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
One of the best movies no one saw this year
From the moment that the project was greenlighted to when I got to see the finished product, I was eagerly waiting for the Josie and the Pussycats movie. I have been a Josie fan since I was a little girl, so the movie was a dream come true.
Josie, Valerie, and Melody are 3 best friends from Riverdale (a bit of creative license, since they actually reside in the town of Midvale) who make up a band called the Pussycats. They dream of fortune and fame as they scrape by with gigs wherever they can be had, like at the local bowling alley. One day, they are discovered by music manager Wyatt Frame and are swept up in a whirlwind of sudden popularity and adoration. The shiny apple has a major worm in it, however: the Pussycats discover that they are pawns in the record company's grand scheme to brainwash the youth of America with subliminal messages planted in the music. When the top brass at the record company learn that the Pussycats are suspicious of their scheme, they conspire to break the group apart, promoting Josie as a solo act and disposing of Valerie and Melody. Will Josie choose solo success, or will she stay true to her friends, even if it means that they may never again see the heights to which they ascended?
The movie has much more substance than the lot of mindless teen gross-out flicks that had been so popular until recently. It's a hilarious send-up of the boy band phenomenon (the videos by fictional boy band DuJour are a scream), the Josie comic book, and the marketing of products in general. The main message of the movie is to reinforce the concept of free will. If you buy into something, be it a tangible (clothes, soda, music CDs) or intangible (an idea, a philosophy) product, do it because you want to, not because someone says that you should. It's basically the "not giving into peer pressure" and the "be true to yourself" arguments.
I know, the Pussycats aren't in their trademark cat outfits (did this also account for the lack of box office?), you don't hear familiar songs from the show like "Inside Outside Upside Down," and Alan M. could have used a little more muscle on him, but don't let that stop you from seeing Josie and the Pussycats. It's a fun and funny jab at today's trend-obsessed society.
Not to be missed!
Being a fan of the more "magical girl" type of anime (Sailor Moon, Magic Knight Rayearth, Card Captor Sakura), I was a little hesitant to sit down and watch Trigun, given its rough-and-tumble looking guy on the front, and all the images of guns and violence. After viewing the first episode, I was clamoring for more.
Vash the Stampede is a wanted man. Nicknamed the "Humanoid Typhoon," he brings destruction to any town he passes through. Because of this, a $$60 billion bounty has been put on his head. The Bernardelli Insurance Agency has also dispatched two of its agents, Meryl Strife and Milly Thompson, to find Vash and report on why he causes every town that he passes through to be utterly destroyed.
What they find is that the Humanoid Typhoon isn't quite what he seems. If one wants to be blunt, Vash is more or less a dork. He has a very strong aversion to taking another human life, instilled in him as a boy by his guardian Rem. Though he is an exceptional gunslinger, Vash would rather roam from town to town spreading the message of "Love and Peace!". Unfortunately, many bounty hunters are motivated by the immense bounty on Vash's head, and it is the battles between Vash and these bounty hunters that destroy every town Vash comes to.
Along the way, we meet a motley band of characters, most notable among them being the gunslinging preacher Nicholas D. Wolfwood, who has an unholy surprise in the cross he carries on his back, and Legato, the one man that Vash seems to actually fear. Ultimately, it is a man named Knives Millions that Vash seeks. Who is Knives, what is his connection to Vash, and why does Vash want to find him so badly?
Trigun offers a new twist on the American western, without doing something as drastic as set the whole series in space, as anime often does. Another twist is the characterization of its hero as not always perfect. Like Usagi Tsukino from Sailor Moon, Vash the Stampede is a bit of a klutz, and, as mentioned before, quite the dork. When he has to, though, like Sailor Moon, he gets the job done effectively. He also has his "bishonen" moments that help to bring in the female viewers. Another departure from the usual is that the female characters are less fragile flowers than steel magnolias. Early on, Meryl and Milly show that they take no guff from sexist saloon patrons who look to terrorize them, thanks to Milly's superhuman strength. (If you think Vash and Wolfwood carry big guns, you haven't seen Milly's monster of a weapon.)
Trigun starts out as a comedy and remains so throughout the run of the series, though midway, as many anime tend to do, it takes a darker turn, as we get a look at Vash's past and find out what made him into the man known as the Humanoid Typhoon. The episodes are very well-paced, making you want more, not so much because you feel that there is something lacking, but because you get drawn into the story and its main players. Trigun appeals to both male and female viewers, whether you're into action, adventure, comedy, and/or drama. Little wonder why it has become very popular in recent years.