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The Superhero (2007)
Almost avant garde and experimental by today's standards.
I was pleasantly surprised. This movie is from a little known production company that isn't too unlike the 90s direct to video attempts by BBV (The Stranger, The Airzone Solution). Shot on video and on a very low budget. But it works in a nostalgic sense. There are no expensive visual effects or CGIs to fall back on. And it clocks in on a nice lean 79 minutes. I do remember when the average genre film had production values no different from The Superhero. But that was back when a movie ticket and popcorn cost no more than about four dollars. This was probably an extension of a student film project, given that the actor playing the doctor looked no older than our young protagonist Luke, who was probably in his early twenties. But some of the performances do stand out. The very kindly Reverend Mary Stone is definitely the most stand out performance. The other, amusingly, being the newscaster, who subtly chews the scene in what is usually a forgettable minor role in any movie.
The animation in the film is clearly done on software that is available to the average person who wants to be an amateur animator. It could have been Anime Studio, Photoshop, or one of the various freeware open source packages out there such as Synfig. If anything, the filmmaker deserves kudos for actually improving on an idea that actually originated in a much earlier, equally low budget film: J.R. Bookwater's Robot Ninja. The fight scenes are interspersed with comic book art, but this time it's animated and in color. Also, the artwork is by a more competent artist. And Luke Lang is way more sympathetic than Robot Ninja's protagonist. The limited animation is really more of what some call "animatic". Movement is accomplished with pans, zooms, and sliding frames. But then again, much television animation from the sixties and seventies was like that.
For us Americans, the accents can be a little hard to understand, sometimes. They talk the way average, working class UK folks talk. No midatlantic or theatrical RP accents here. The average Joe Brit does not sound like Patrick Stewart.
If you approach this film as a low budget art film, you will be pleased and maybe, if you're a certain age, nostalgic. If you're expecting something like a low budget version of The Marvel Studios films, you're in for a big disappointment. Despite the name of the film, this is not an escapist comic book romp with heroes and villains. It's very character oriented and the "superhero" aspect is actually downplayed in favor of some down to earth themes, such as drugs, HIV, and family responsibility. Highly recommended as a change from the usual and a reminder that a film's enjoyability has nothing to do with how much it cost to make.
30,000 Leagues Under the Sea (2007)
This would have made a better James Bond movie.
As a matter of fact, it was a James Bond movie. Eccentric billionaire madman obsessed with the underwater world threatens the world with stolen nuclear weapons so that he can destroy the surface world with only his underwater utopia of the chosen ones remaining. That is lifted straight from 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me. Captain Nemo is basically Karl Stromberg but they give him the looks and congeniality of Charles Gray's Blofeld from Diamonds Are Forever.The Nautilus is now a mobile submarine city which includes civilians as well. But unlike that Bond movie, 30,000 leagues fails on too many levels. First of all, league is treated as a measure of depth, but Verne fans have known forever that it is distance travelled "while" beneath the sea, not "to the bottom." Navy guys and gals will have a field day with the inaccuracies in this flick. The U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln is a battleship (looks like Iowa Class). All naval battleships have been retired since the early 1990s. This film was made in 2007. Lorenzo Lama's (Arroneaux) beard and hair are definitely not Navy regulation. And if he was the inventor of that Oxygenator (which I doubt, as he shows no evidence of being a scientist), why was he just a Lieutenant. He should have been at least a Lt. Commander like his ex-wife (who is named Conseil in this), and placed in charge of the operation to rescue the lost Navy sub. But then we wouldn't have the sexual tension. Too bad, because Sustin (Arroneux's cute blond first or maybe second officer) was perfectly likable and seemed pretty sweet. And there was clearly a lot of warmth between her and Arroneux. Too bad she gets killed by a squid. I will give the movie one extra point at least for not stereotyping all women in the military as ball busters or bull-dyke feminist types. Roger Moore couldn't save this one so Lorenzo Lamas shouldn't have even bothered to try it.
This one's even creepier without narration.
Growing up, I didn't realize that this short had narration. When I was watching the same short in another state years later, I suddenly noticed the narration (especially the coffee and cigarettes part) but every time I saw this on the WPIX NY station, there was only music and sound fx. That made for a trippy ride. But then again, I grew up on a lot of cartoons that were considered trippy. A lot of cartoons today are either too talky or everyone's shouting. But it does raise the question, why was there a version of this without narration? But this is one of the Gene Deitch T&J cartoons that I remember the most. It looked like it was set in some sort of two dimensional Be-bop Jazz world, which actually worked for the music that was playing. It never occurred to me that these were not American made, only that they were different from the Chuck Jones cartoons as much as the Chuck Jones toons were different from the Hanna Barbera (40s-50s) versions. Of course the classic HB shorts are the best, but I would put the Deitch versions a close second just because I like the atmospheric mood. It's just too bad that Gene Deitch hasn't been more prolific. His trippy style, while admittedly unusual for T&J, would have been ideal for serious science fiction adventure cartoons.
A Ranma story to Remember
Unlike the frantic slapstick of the regular Ranma series, "An Akane to Remember" has a much moodier quality to it, making it one of the most memorable Ranma stories. Other than Ranma, Akane, and Ryoga, the rest of the Ranma cast has less than five minutes of screen time at the beginning of the first episode, and none in the second. The real stars of this story were Shinouske and his Grandfather and sometimes it felt as if the Ranma cast were the guest stars. That is not in detriment to the story, it's only because Shinouske and his grandfather are interesting enough if they were to have their own series.
Like a handful of the other OVAs, this story takes place away from the familiar Furinkan. Ranma and friends are out of their element, allowing for the guest characters to be highlighted and share center stage. Despite all of this, we get a lot of strong emotional dialog between Ranma and Akane over her feelings for Shinouske. And given the subdued mood of this story, that dialog is far beyond Akane screaming "BAKA!" at Ranma. Instead, we see a more complex and vulnerable Akane who really wants everyone to understand her feelings. We also see Ranma reacting by trying to do the right and noble thing. This is the direct opposite of Ranma agonizing over trying to figure out what he did this time to make her mad, only to get easily distracted by Furinkan High's motley crew of colorful characters.
A special mention must be given to Kenji Kawaii's music score. Very moody and atmospheric. I recognized his style from the music score in the Devilman OAVs where it's also put to effective use.
Although "An Akane to Remember" is obviously geared towards those who are familiar with the Ranma characters, a newcomer watching this will have no real idea of who these characters are, especially since the supporting cast is mostly absent and Genma and the rest of the Tendos only appear in the beginning. It was a brilliant idea to limit the Ranma cast to just Ranma, Akane, and Ryoga for the main story. It didn't really need anyone else. If the third person was anybody except Ryoga, who due to his nature could very well turn up anywhere, the participation of any other cast member in this adventure would seem to be shoehorned into the story. Nevertheless, a newcomer will get enough to know that there must be something special between Ranma,Akane, and Ryoga and that may lead them to check out the rest of the series.