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Ibara no O (2009)
Interesting, yet ultimately unsatisfying anime experience
I knew nothing about King of Thorn going in, except that it is a horror anime. Its story begins to unfold with a sense of dread that is very palpable and unique. Nothing violent or apocalyptic occurs within the first 30 minutes or so but, without spoiling the story, those 30 minutes are very dreadful in terms of what looms on the horizon for a set of characters that have a mysterious disease. I remember feeling as emotionally frightened when I read the first third of The Stand, at a younger age, but King of Thorn managed a similar emotional tone without a story of massive, apocalyptic outbreak. The world of King of Thorn manages keep a tentative handle on the disease that plagues it and the dread comes from the sacrifice that the main characters decide on to find a cure, placing their well being in the care of a questionable corporation and tossing away their lives as they've know them.
That is the feeling I had in the first act of this movie. By the second act things become a bit more conventional. The second and some of the third act become survival horror in the vein of similar Japanese stories like Resident Evil. This does not take from the compelling nature of the story and its mystery, but did not feel as rare a story experience as the first act.
The third act however, is filled with exposition that is difficult to follow and otherwise loses interest for me. At one point things become more "anime sci-fi" (a concept I simply cannot explain well), which is not a problem; expect that I didn't feel the story up to that point was building toward it. It felt less creditable for me.
The last 20 minutes, things become very muddled and subplots for the remaining survivors and their true motivations get tangled up in a more and more nonsensical plot. Things become more fanciful for the sake of animation visuals and sci-fi explanations for such events, if not ignored, seem to be quickly served out. More interesting, if you can trudge through these problems, is the ultimate twist ending involving the young female protagonist.
And my major complaint with King of Thorn, however, is that many action scenes switch from the otherwise traditional 2D anime style, to a cell shaded CGI animation process. It's 3D computer animation that is processed to look flat and try to mesh with the majority of the rest of the movie's hand drawn style. No doubt this was a cheaper way for the animation team to create complex action scenes and have more control, but the two styles do not mesh well. The cell-shaded CGI is not as glossy in color as the 2D animation and also misses many drawing details, like grime and dirt on the characters faces. Inexperienced anime viewers might not pick up on the switch all the time, but may still feel the action scenes have an odd movement and don't quite sit right.
Friday the 13th (2009)
Nothing new. Why be a "remake" when it's just another bad Jason sequel?
The biggest problem with this new Friday the 13th is that is that it is simply everything that has been done in the franchise 11 times before. Except for a handful of moments that conflict with continuity of the previous movies this one could easily have fit in as a sequel to the previous films. I expected an actual remake since given that's what the filmmakers and actors talked about in early interviews. But this "new" Friday the 13th does not retell the story of the first three films but instead gives us a new set of worthless teens to have Jason kill off, while loosely throwing in short moments of how Jason went from a bag to a hockey mask.
I wasn't a big fan of the new Halloween film but at least it took the story of the original and updated it, gave it more teeth and gave fans of the the original a sense of uncertainty of what might happen next. This new Jason film is nothing more then a poorly thought out continuation of what has made the later Jason films boring and predictable.
The Invincible Iron Man (2007)
This was something I had been looking forward to seeing. The Ultimate Avengers movies had both exceeded my expectations and since Iron Man has been one of my favorite Marvel characters I thought that this same production team would be able to do some really great stuff with an Iron Man solo title. But the final film was unsatisfying. I wasn't expecting them to spend most of the movie paying tribute to Iron Man gray armor. The red and gold armor is seen for maybe ten or so minutes all together. Not a major complaint but not what I expected from the ads and box. The worse thing however was the story, the acting and the cell-shaded CGI animation for the monsters and Iron Man armor that was not convincing. It didn't blend in well with the cell animation at all. Even on it's own it seem stick-like and lifeless. Tony Stark's character arc, as incredibly slow as it takes, is so forced and unconvincing. I wanted to see this movie because I love Iron Man but after forcing myself through the film I wondered if they couldn't have come up with something that had been as good as the Ultimate Avengers movies.
My thoughts on Appleseed may be perceived as a bit more negative then the reviews preceding mine, but that is pretty much because my experience with the movie was greatly influenced by the reaction of the audience I saw it with. This was at the U.S. premiere of Appleseed as part of the Boston Fantastic Film Festival which screened the Japanese language, English subtitled print of the film. And it is important to note that the group around me were there because they wanted to be. The BFFF is an all science fiction, horror and genre film festival and is only in its second year. So anyone there was there because they love these types of movies.
Once the film started the reaction was good. Everyone(including myself) seemed stunned by the visuals, and if not impressed at least forgiving of the Matrix style slow-mo shots. But about forty minutes in people began laughing. Unfortunately the laughter was actually coming from the ridiculous nature of many clichéd and over dramatized moments.
The first of which came when the character Hitomi, an emotionally engineered "Bioriod," wonders what it would be like if she was able to love, leading a soft piano chord to swell onto the soundtrack. The entire audience actually burst into laughter. Sadly to say Appleseed has quite a few more moments that caused the same reaction: When the heroine flashbacks realizing that she is the key to the plot, one character dies dramatically in the others arms, it is revealed that the baddies can be stopped if only the failsafe button way up there can be reached, the heroine reaches breathlessly for the button with seconds to go, etc, etc.
And when the movie ended EVERYONE in the theater burst into discussion of what they had just seen. But the conversations I overheard were not favorable. Most people seemed to think they had wasted their money and I even heard one guy in the theater alley afterward saying it was "the worst movie he'd ever seen." I don't feel nearly that feral toward the movie.
Personally, I have to say Appleseed is one of the most groundbreaking animes in the last six or seven years. The visuals are stunning, the action is well paced, and most of the capabilities of this cell-shaded CGI animation are explored, delivering many moments that would be impossible in hand drawn. And I also liked much of the art style and how it called back to all the post-apocalyptic cyberpunk anime and manga of the late 80s/Early 90s. The environments and characters really seemed like living, breathing versions of the ones in Akira and Ghost in the Shell.
But the distracting and embarrassing clichés in Appleseed seem to come from this new art style. With the cell-shaded CGI you are experiencing anime style characters existing in an environment much more like the real world then 2D hand-drawn anime. The characters are bound very close to real world physics in this form of animation. Their heads can't grow big when they yell, a single drop of sweat can't appear on the temple of their foreheads when they are embarrassed and a flashing colored background can't run behind them when they transform or become excited.
But the creators of this new Appleseed movie still kept many of the story elements and character mannerisms that are convention to other anime. Along with all the other over dramatized Japanese sentimentality that have been in so many hand-drawn movies anime fans don't blink twice at them. But they just didn't work in this form of animation.
Ultimately, this movie will have difficulty becoming a classic the way Akira and GitS did, because Appleseed doesn't break new ground in story as it does with visuals the way earlier anime classics have. But it's still a wonderful first stepped toward new possibilities in both Japanese and world animation.
Trekkies 2 (2004)
The good sequel
I was very fortunate to catch an early viewing of this film at Fanzillacon in Worcester Massachusetts and was very happy to get the opportunity. Trekkies 2, though a documentary, uses has all the keys to any good sequel: The film stands well without seeing the previous, though rewarding if you have, old elements are revisited without overshadowing new ones and everything is made bigger and bolder. The movie itself is a sort of reply to the first, addressing the effect that Trekkies had on many of its interviewees and the fanbase as a whole. The documentary strives for a fair balance of 'normal' fans with the amusing 'over-the-top' fans that were plentiful in the first film. I think this balance is achieved, though not everyone will agree for whatever reasons they might. Aside from being the obvious way of expanding the first movie, seeing Trekkies from around the globe was just a fascinating addition.
The major difference between this movie and the first is this one is more is concentrated solely on the lives and activities of the fans and does not include much discussion and history on the Star Trek phenomena on its own. Which makes prefect sense since that subject was covered well enough in the first, making this more what the first would have been if that background information hadn't been necessary.
My only problem was no inclusion of major Star Trek cast members like the previous film had. But director Roger Nygard answered a Q&A after the screening and explained that getting them was simple for the first film when the filmmakers had no limelight on their production and didn't have to pay the cast members for their interviews.
Altogether the film is a strong followup to the first. I look forward to seeing it again, along with the supplementary material, when it is released in August.
My Life as a Teenage Robot (2003)
Wonderful pilot, eager for series
I've seen the pilot of this cartoon many times on Nick's cartoon anthology program, "Oh Yeah! Cartoons", and it has easily been my favorite from that show. I remember seeing that first six minute short about Jenny the teenage robot torn being the world saving failsafe her scientist mother created her as or her own desire to be a normal teenager and hang out with other kids, and thinking what a great series it would make. I'm more than ecstatic to learn that it will in fact be a series, and am greatly looking forward to it. The pilot episode had great animation and character design reminiscent of Cartoon Network's best work from a couple years ago, before then began producing shows with soulless digital painting techniques. I can only hope that the `Teenage Robot' creators stick to their great style.
Fine piece, certainly not deserving big screen
The Dexter's Lab toon `Chicken Scratch' was originally produced and intended for broadcast on the television series, but was bumped up to a silver screen showing, preempting the feature length debut of Powerpuff Girls, The (2002). The decision was made by studio powers based on the excellent animation quality and the fact that original series creator Genndy Tartakovsky returned to direct the short piece. This may strike Cartoon Network fans with high expectations but I found that `Chicken Scratch' is a decent Dexter 'toon at best. The film was done with the 2001 seasons' digital character redesigning, which is a mixed bag considering series fans have either appreciated or detested the seemingly over-streamlined, undetailed and restricting new designs. Not concerning this however the animation quality in and of itself is very superbly done. The lack of detail, which has become a bit painful on the televison series, plays well for atmosphere on the movie screen. The movements and forms do play well to the eye, which can often be other cartoons downfall. This cartoon's greatest flaw is the lack of story(whatever that may mean in the context of a cartoon) or at the very least the failed lack of exploring the concept which gives a restrained feeling to the film. It just seems like quickly written series filler. Certainly not deserving of a national showing on 2340 screens. The television series' earlier seasons(and I admit even the current season) have produced fantastic stories, with well written action and climaxes that would have greatly represented Dexter's Lab, its creators and Cartoon Network to moviegoers. But `Chicken Scratch' was what we were given.
The Brak Show (2000)
This review is rated TV-14
What can be said about the obscure, offbeat, incredibly funny, brilliant and hardly animated world of Brak? Just that it's Brak! The Brak Show(not to be confused with "Brak Presents the Brak Show Starring Brak' which was used as supplementary material for Space Ghost Coast to Coast) is a fantastic new show with the same irreverent humor and catchy out-of-the-blue musical numbers any Brak fan can expect. The cast of characters including Brak's parents, Zorak and Thunderclese make it all fall together. 5 stars out of 5.
Chasing Kevin (2000)
Chasing Kevin - a decade and more later
When I reviewed this short back in 2001 my review was very favorable; but, 13 years years later I don't think it holds up as well as I remembered. One thing you have to give this credit for is that it pre- dates YouTube culture by five or six years. Back then to make this kind of short, upload it, and get people to watch was a different thing than it is today. These kind of reference-specific parodies are all over the web nowadays but for the makers of 'Chasing Kevin' it was an admirable accomplishment and that alone makes it an interesting watch today.
The short itself is funny, both than and now, but now suffers from seemingly long stretches with no jokes and its being solely of interest to Kevin Smith fans. Back in 2001 I was a big fan of Smith so this short film hit all the right cords for me. But, most of the jokes in the first half require in depth recall of Smith's first three movies and it is definitely missing something otherwise.
In 2001 I compared it to George Lucas in Love (1999), but that short ages better because it is technically better looking and had a tight, meticulous script. Chasing Kevin has some good writing, but its faux- documentary style seems to feature some improving by actors (maybe these scenes were written, but don't feel like it) which causes it to stagnate in parts.
The part that holds up a little better is the second half of the short when the faux-doc format suddenly ends and it becomes a regular narrative. I remember thinking it was a clever and unique transition at the time and I still think so. In fact I never saw the same idea in a movie until District 9 (2009). The other people who were also obsessed with other 90s indie directors was a funny idea and I think it still says something about obsessive film students and fans today.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)
They just don't make games like this anymore
This is simply one of the most important arcade games of my youth. Aside from being based on the greatest pop phenomena of the time, the game was incredibly well designed. Similar arcade games like The Simpsons and The X-Men, were equally as addicting, but Ninja Turtles took the cake. The game was adapted to the NES home system, but the transition didn't work well. Aside from the poor 8-bit graphics compared to the arcade's original 16+, many of the games hidden treasures like smackable scenery, background jokes, and between stage animations were cut. No wonder extra stages and Pizza Hut ads were placed in the game to poorly compensate. If you are to play this game your better to find the arcade itself. In the days of NES, Super Nintendo and Genesis, Konami was simply a master maker of great games. But they fail big time with the over rated 3D revolution. They just don't make games like this anymore. No one does.