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The lesser of the two, but still a passable conclusion to a great adventure show
Sometimes a sequel is better than or equal to the original. This is not the case here. This sequel to "Tower of Druaga: Part 1: The Aegis of Uruk (2008)" show fails to achieve the same level of story excellence (with some exceptions), tonal balance (there's almost no parody here and even comedy is hard to come by) or character likability (the new characters are mostly bland and forgettable).
The story begins several months after the end of the first show. The surviving heroes now lead unfulfilling boring mundane lives and especially Jil feels that their job is not done. They were betrayed by their closest allies and he needs to know why. Fatina, the warrior girl from Neeba's party, on the other hand tries to move on and forget about their climb, Neeba and the tower. She befriends Jil and they even begin going out together as friends. One night during a wrestling match where a strangely unrecognizable wrestler competes, a very small girl who looks a lot like Kaaya runs into them and asks them for help. Kaaya and Neeba are still in the tower, and only Jil can save them. Fatina is sick and tired of the tower, but Jil and others are more than willing to give it another try. When king Gilgamesh begins showing signs of madness and sends his men to capture the little girl and arrest anyone who opposes this, Fatina has no choice but to team up with Jil again. Their goal is to defeat Druaga again, gain entrance to the secret top of the tower where Neeba and Kaaya are and find them. To do this, they'll first need the rest of their former teammates, as well as some new additions. What they don't know is that the king's unstable mental state is closely tied to the whim of the ruler of the secret part of the tower and true lord of the tower who Neeba and Kaaya intend to kill.
Unlike in the first part, here the story is not so great and while the setup is not bad, the clumsy execution leaves a lot to be desired. The twists are forced and convoluted, motivations become questionable, dialog is alright, action is still fun and comedy moments, although severely toned down to the point of nonexistence as the show progresses, can still get you to laugh out loud. Especially fun episode is episode 03 where Jil's new party finally meets up with their old teammates and friends, smug wizard Melt and his adorable young assistant Coopa, who now run a more than morally questionable business as the heroes of the tower. While comedy can be found here and there, parody is almost completely removed and it only hurts the show, but then again, even the story itself, while it does tie up all the loose ends, is quite half-baked.
The old characters are still likable, but they have nothing new to do here and they end up being wasted most of the time, while the new characters are very unimaginative and stock. Even many story elements are rehashed. The only character who actually develops here is Fatina and her mini-arc is one of the strengths of the show.
Another strength of the show is the superb episode 07 where the heroes arrive on the floor where the mystical Mansion of Eternal Spring is located. There, every dead person that someone who's there truly misses automatically materializes and acts the way they are remembered. These are just friendly illusions and materialized memories, but they still provide the opportunity for those in mourning to spend some more time with those they lost and say goodbye to them. This is easily one of the best episodes in any fantasy adventure show.
English dubbing is still excellent, all of the actors are back and I can again recommend the English version.
Animation is still really fluid and appealing and it creates good atmosphere.
The tone of the show is completely unbalanced, and the show gets pretty bogged down towards the end, when all focus shifts on the overtly melodramatic conflict between Jil, Neeba and the Shadow King, the true master of the tower. These final episodes have no comedy or parody whatsoever.
Violence is still PG and it still never crosses into gruesome territory or horror.
Side-characters tend to die more often here, and there's not all that much point to their deaths, but since these people are pretty bland to begin with, nothing much changes with their departure, unfortunately.
Fan service is still very much present, including soft nudity and there's still at least one obligatory male or female bathing scene in each and every episode, although this could still be considered a parody of the fan service cliché. The problem with possible underage nudity is back as well and the show can again get downright uncomfortable when it throws in a scene of some character who looks very underage like Coopa taking a nude bath with little left to the imagination. These scenes are again not overtly sexualized, though, and they again don't last too long, so if you turn your head away for couple of seconds or hit fast forward, it still shouldn't bother you too much.
The ending of the show is quite poor and unimaginative when compared to the high expectation that the first show builds, but it's passable.
If you want epic adventure and memorable lovable characters crossed with a fun good-natured parody of the genre, go see the first show, but if you want to see how the story ends, or wish for more time with your favorite characters, give this a shot despite its faults. You won't be sorry you saw it, just that it wasn't better all in all.
A thrilling fun adventure with great action and memorable characters
This is a show that has all the elements and tropes of a classic adventure mixed with excellent genre parody.
It follows Jil (his feminine name being jut one of many parodies on the genre), a superhumanly sturdy young naive self-proclaimed hero with a pure heart who quickly evolves from a useless burden to a brave inspiring hero who always puts the safety of others before his own.
Ever since his father was accused of cowardice after a battle, all Jil wanted was to be a hero and not like his dad. He sees his chance when Tower of Druaga, a legendary tower of evil that appears every few decades, reappears. The tower holds an army of various demons and their demigod overlord Druaga, but there are also treasures, mysteries and small towns inside. Its terror usually ends only when Druaga is defeated and the victor gets to make any single wish. The elderly hero-king Gilgamesh defeated the beast many decades ago and now new adventurers, thieves, political factions, mages and even Gilgamesh himself with his army want to take another shot at defeating the monster again and gaining a chance to make their one biggest wish come true. The goddess of love and protection Ishtar weakens the tower and its demon army during one summer every few years and that time has come again as well. The supernaturally tall tower has many deadly stories and the parties and the armies have only a few weeks to climb it before the summer ends and the window of opportunity to defeat the weakened Druaga closes.
Jil joins a party lead by his skillful but very bitter half-brother Neeba. After failing miserably at his job as the shield bearer and defender of the group, he is swiftly kicked out, but brave and naive as he is, he holds a desperate public speech to gather his own party. This attracts the attention of cute, but mysterious Kaaya, a priestess of Ishtar and competent mage with powers of healing and protection at her disposal, and Ahmey, a skillful brave stoic female warrior lancer. Against all odds, they agree to get to the top and defeat the evil demigod, but then Jil hears about the plot to assassinate the king and makes stopping this his priority.
The story is just wonderful and very colorful. It has many twists and turns you'll never guess, convincing motivations for the characters, fun dialog, adrenalin pumping action moments, laugh out loud comedy moments and brilliant parody moments (like episode 08 that serves in its entirety as an excellent tongue-firmly-in-cheek tribute to the cult Japanese video game The Tower of Druaga (1984) that the show was based on and even the games creator gets a parody cameo). Parody is quite a significant element of the show's charm. Episode two where we see Jil's epic heroic dream is especially parody gold.
The characters are really cute and well designed. Best of all, every character gets to do something during the show. Everyone also gets their chance to be the comical relief for an episode, but Jil's party members, powerful smug golfing wizard Melt and his very young adorable super strong sidekick Coopa who serves as his conscience and carrying mule, perform this role most often, and they are one of the most fun, endearing and memorable dysfunctional odd couple duos ever.
English dubbing is excellent and there are no badly voiced characters in the English version. The voice actors and actresses give their own fitting personality to every one of the characters.
Animation is really fluid and appealing and it creates great mythical atmosphere.
Tone of the show is not always balanced, so more often than not, a fun comical episode will be followed by a more somber adventurous episode. Episodes are in general either comical or serious and rarely there's a mix of the two.
Violence is very PG and it never goes into gruesome territory. Although the story features monsters, the show never crosses into horror and it's for the best.
This show rarely kills its main characters and even when it does, it handles it well and gives some poignancy to it.
There's plenty of fan service that includes soft nudity (there's at least one obligatory male or female bathing scene in each and every episode, although this could also be considered a parody of the fan service cliché). The problem here is that the age of the characters is not defined, and the show can get downright uncomfortable when it throws in a scene of some character who looks very underage like Coopa taking a nude bath with little left to the imagination. These scenes aren't overtly sexualized, though, and they don't last too long, so if you turn your head away for couple of seconds or hit fast forward, it shouldn't bother you too much.
The ending of the show is quite climactic and satisfying, but since this show only follows the first half of the story, its also a cliffhanger.
The follow-up "Tower of Druaga Part 2: The Sword of Uruk" (2009) is alright, but this first part is the stronger, tighter and more fun of the two series, and its way more balanced.
If you want epic adventure and memorable lovable characters crossed with a fun good-natured parody of the genre, look no further. This show is a hidden gem and an unsung adventure classic.
A promising show with great premise that never reaches its full potential
Himitsu - The Revelation (Top Secret - The Revelation) is a manga-based anime set in the near future about a small special Japanese police unit called Section 9 (short for National Research Institute of Police Science's 9th Forensics Laboratory) that operates the groundbreaking apparatus called MRI (short for Memory Reproduction Imaging) that can reproduce dead people's memories as long as the brain hadn't been dead for longer than two days. This, of course, helps solving crimes tremendously.
The show starts with the arrival of the team's new lip-reader Aoki. Since the memories are visual only, someone has to read the leaps of people who talk in them. The team's leader Maki is a stoic who inspires his team but has issues. While watching the memories of a sadistic serial killer, his former partner and best friend went insane and tried to destroy MRI, so Maki had to shoot him dead. Maki never got over that and this incident, as well as Aoki's growth as a cop and a person is what the show's loose arc is built around.
Like many procedural shows, this one also starts in an episodic fashion, but slowly builds its overarching storyline. Unfortunately, this arc suffers from similar issue like The X-Files arc - it bogs itself down in a conspiracy theory that ends up half-baked and quite unnecessary.
In fact, the biggest problem with this show is that it rarely uses the full potential of its intriguing premise. What if you could see people's deepest secret actions? And even if you could, should you? It's still a taboo idea. The show does delve into this, but often superficially and it's pretty much gone as a theme in the later episodes.
The show does hit the mark when it comes to societal and moral issues. "Joyful Song" deals with a serious issue in Japan (and elsewhere) where elderly parents become a burden to their family's budget and living conditions. "No One Sees Anything" three-parter deals with a complete failure of civilized man, when fear and detachment overcome humanity and empathy within a group of strangers on a train. Episodes like these ring true to life and handle the premise of the show well.
There are good mysteries here as well, like the Visitor, two-parter where Maki again faces the monster who turned his partner and friend insane.
The whole show has a somber and depressing tone, but that doesn't mean it's without fun moments. Episode 22 "Countdown" keeps depressing elements, but also introduces fun comical moments to the mix.
However, some episodes are half-baked, silly or obvious. Two-parter "Top Secret" deals with the murder of a fictional US president, homosexuality and even incest. It has ambition, but completely underdelivers. Its resolution is half-baked, the mystery is obvious, the story goes nowhere (although it is referenced again in the final episodes), and the incest issue pretty much resolves itself.
Speaking of taboos, the show has themes that some could call controversial. Couple of episodes deal with incest, rape, underage nudity (in a non-titillation manner, thankfully), occasional regular nudity (fan service is surprisingly low in this show), assassination of a fictional US president, gruesome violence (although most episodes are closer to PG-13 than R) and homosexual and lesbian desire (controversial to some, non-issue to others).
However, most of this is common in anime, so who knows why this show never got an official English version, although unofficial English subtitles do exist.
The show is set in the future, but there is absolutely nothing futuristic about it except the MRI. You'd think it's set in present day, but that's fine, because it helps the show feel timely.
And the characters? Aoki has some depth, Maki as well, but the other five members of Section 9 have only a handful of character development moments. Even so, they do have some personality and there is chemistry between them.
Ironically (or intentionally), the strongest chemistry is between Aoki and his boss Maki (who is always drawn with slight feminine qualities). They almost have a platonic thing going on like Mulder and Scully, but it's never the focus of the story. In fact, Aoki has at least three female love interests (the least we say about the first one, the better), but even the sensual intro and outro animations imply that there's a gay romance in the subtext.
Maybe it's just a Japanese way of showing deep male friendship, but I doubt it. Speaking of Japanese ways, the show has a significant Japanese feel to it, meaning that it often depicts Japanese tradition or customs, but in a non-intrusive way that won't confuse a viewer who's not from Japan.
The show has some action, but it's primarily a mystery with heavy procedural, dramatic and thriller elements (and Sci-Fi, although it almost crosses into fantasy towards the end). Gore and violence are present, but majority of the episodes don't show the bloody "money shot". Characters are very emotional and only Maki has any "brooding, silent tough guy" qualities to him. The characters often do incredibly stupid things (like not reporting where they're going or what their plan is). The show resorts to killing regular side-characters towards the end in an unnecessary way, so be warned. The show ended before manga, and the two endings do not match.
The animation is nothing spectacular, but it does build a decent atmosphere.
The intro and outro songs are okay, but you probably won't remember them after five seconds (especially the J-pop ballad outro song).
So, should you watch this? Despite all its faults, I'd say - yes. The premise is original, the characters are likable (once they grow on you) and the plot is often intriguing.
It's not (the superb) Psycho-Pass (2012), but still, Sci-Fi and (psychological) thriller aficionados should apply.
If you like 90s B movies (or FMV games), you'll love it
In Ripper and Johnny Mnemonic FMV games, you got to scratch your cyberpunk bone. Here, you get to uncover a paranoia-filled supernatural mystery set in a museum that just opened its Mongolian exhibition, with Genghis Khan's items being its central piece, and maybe even save the world.
If Ripper is akin to a blockbuster production, this game is closer to a TV production, but that 90s B movie quality is very much present here as well (with some fine tuning, it'd even work as a better Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt episode). There's cheese, overacting, underacting, awesome museum set designs, ambitious (if predictable) storyline with a very fun and out-there premise that even Chuck Norris would found amusing and let's not forget the obligatory quirky, comic and supernatural moments that add flair to the menu.
Now, truth be told, it is more entertaining to watch a playthrough of this game (not unlike watching a movie) than actually playing it, mainly because you can get stuck due to not knowing what to do next. It's no Myst, but it can get annoying. Puzzles are rare and mostly very easy (and fun) with a couple of clunky complex-ones thrown in just to mess with you.
Having said that, the story makes this game one of the more memorable FMV games and it's definitely worth checking out, so go buy it, play it or just google it and watch a silent playthrough, but don't miss it!
Extralarge: Black Magic (1992)
P.I. Extralarge vs. the Voodoo cult
They don't call it Voodoo in the show, but that's what it is. Anyway, it's a pretty standard episode for the series with some very unusual elements (the only episode featuring supernatural) and a lot of obvious yet convoluted plot twists. Spencer is as relaxed and as slick as ever. Dumas gets a little annoying with his "jokes" and quirks after a while, but does prove useful. Pacing is fine and the mystery is not that bad, but the plot takes too much unnecessary turns to get to a standard conclusion. Actors are fine if a bit lethargic. The actor who plays the preacher steals every scene his in, though. Atmosphere is not bad and there are occasional stylistic use of light and shadows and simple but effective special effects (like fire that won't die out). There are only few very short action scenes, mostly featuring fistfights or XXL shooting a bad guy. The final scenes are a bit campy, but this is a TV show, after all. Housekeeper Maria and the police inspector have small roles in this episode. The sound, for some reason, isn't that good, but it could be a copy's fault. There are some rare light comedy moments. If the show went all the way with the horror elements this could have been the best episode by far. As it is, it's still a must for the fans of the show, and a decent introduction for those who are interested to see what Bud had been doing since he left westerns and buddy movies.
No Logo (2003)
OK introduction to problems with international corporations and global trade...
Now that's a sexy summary... :)
If you wanted to know what's the deal with all the complaints about corporations and with the way they create global economy, this is a good place to get your basics. Famous author Naomi Klein introduces the audience to various seductive ways corporations use to sell their products and various unseductive ways they use to produce their goods as cheaply as possible. Even if you already know all this, you'll still probably learn something new during the 40 minutes of this interview.
This documentary is not perfect, though. Some of her complaints are not really relevant and the solutions she's suggesting seem like an afterthought (as if she put all of her effort solely in explaining the way the business works and problems it creates). Having said that, this explanation is excellent, understandable to a common man and the best part of the documentary.
If you want a quick course in big business economy, this film and Michael Moore's excellent documentary Roger & Me (1989), where he shows an example of the damage to (his) local economy that a corporation can leave once it exports its factories (and jobs) out of US, will do the job nicely.
Black Magic Woman (1991)
Warning: This is not a skinflick! More like a lesser Tales from the Crypt episode
If you're expecting this to be an erotic triller, then the movie poster did it's job - it mislead you.
This is unfortunately a cheap sub-par horror (with slight slasher elements) that looks like a TV film or, at best, a Tale from the Crypt episode.
There are three (laughable) sex scenes in the movie, and all within the first 20 or so minutes. Two of them feature Apollonia, but she is nude as much as Lindsay Lohan in Machete - hardly for a second and even then you can't see anything. The focus of the movie is on Hamill's attempt to stop the deadly spell, not on sex. Lethal Weapon 2 was more softcore than this. Apollonia's casting was a marketing stunt. Even if you just want to see her acting, she's in this for about 15 minutes and most of that time she isn't doing very much.
The plot twist at the end is hinted at throughout the whole film, characters are awful, and acting is good for a few laughs (and this is not a comedy).
All in all, unless you want to see Mark hamming it up, or what a reject screenplay for Tales from the Crypt probably looks like, you can peacefully skip this.
Kurt blir grusom (2008)
Fun if you don't take it too seriously
The author Erlend Loe's stories about Kurt the forklift operator make some of the most successful novels for children and adults alike in recent Norwegian literature. Naturally this led to a CGI animated adaptation of two of his stories combined in one less than hour and a half long film.
Kurt is a man with short temper, nostalgia for "the good old days" and a quirky family (wife is a successful architect, older son is a snob, younger one is intellectually far beyond his boyhood and daughter is a metalhead). Their traits as well as the world around them that's just a bit off, make for some very involving adventures. This time Kurt feels unappreciated by his neighbors, wife and family. When a very successful snobbish doctor moves in next door, Kurt snaps and decides to outdo him in the game of success even if that means running for the mayor's office or becoming a doctor.
Although it does have a lot of social commentary jabs, this is first and foremost a story about family and what really means to be successful. If you can view it in that light you will enjoy it. However, certain "little things" (like the sailor character) might insult some. Considering the books did the same thing, guess you could say it's just being true to the source material.
If you want to see a family film (not for the youngest, though) or just want to see an interesting although goofy and slightly racy adventure try it out. It could have been better (it does tend to be a bit hectic occasionally) but it's a good first try.
If you like the books definitely see for yourself how this adaptation turned out and if you don't like Kurt's stories this film won't change your opinion.
If you've never heard about Kurt, it's not a problem. You don't have to know anything about the books to be able to follow or enjoy this first Kurt's big screen adventure.
Miimu iro iro yume no tabi (1983)
A True 80ies Edutainment Anime Classic
One of the best edutainment products on the market, this anime gem has all the trade marks of the 80ies, from the (fine) quality of hand-drawn animation to the vision of the future with robots, cybernetic environment and virtual games as part of the culture. The story in the show is simple. Couple of kids get a special computer, which upon receiving an entry, releases a "ghost in the shell" in the form of a little female pink genie (acordingly named Ginnie in the English dub). Ginnie has the power to take the kids in the virtual reality of the past so they can see with their own eyes how penicillin was discovered, or what was Benjamin Franklin like (we're talking G rating here, so no worries).
The show's main goal was to entertain kids with the futuristic setting and yet teach them a few facts about history and it's greatest names. This is probably one of only a couple of shows that actually succeeds triumphantly in this ambitious goal. Kids will love it, and adults will have fun as well, if only for the wonderful imagination that was used in these sequences.
If you like anime, edutainment or simply want your kids to have fun and learn at the same time do try to dig this up. There's also a very good English dub for those who like that kind of translation. The show later grew a subplot with futuristic robots which was probably an attempt to keep the viewers with something new. This was the weaker part of the series, but the first part was highly enjoyable...
Below Sea Level (2008)
Great as a film, not so great as a documentary, in either case don't miss it
The biggest strength of this film is that it's about people. No politics, no comments, no analysis. Just people, their lives and their will to move on despite the fact that there is no "on". That might be it's biggest flaw as well...
Californian desert is a place where the "lost", left with nothing but a vehicle and some stuff, come to try to find peace in seclusion and not succumb to tragedy that had destroyed their "normal" lives, or they come simply because they have nowhere else to go. They stay there as long as they want, and no one harasses them for no one lives there and the place is too big to be crowded anyway. People with similar life problems (death of a loved one, jail time, homelessness) slowly make contacts with their neighbor in pain and soon a small unsteady community starts off. There is no electricity, running water, or police, so they find alternate ways for providing things they need. It's almost a post apocalyptic vision of Mad Max (without the violence or gangs) and the fact that these are real people makes the whole thing look even more surreal. The people of this community, whom director chooses to follow through the years, are truly interesting and often sympathetic characters with incredibly quotable dialogs (for a non written film).
This is the main problem with this documentary. It looks like a Jim Jarmusch movie. Documentary is not suppose to look like a movie, because that destroys the impression that what you see is real, and turns compassion into fun. That's not to say that documentaries should be dull, on the contrary. What I mean is that you sometimes have to show the crew of the film. You have to show their impact (which is bound to exist) on the subject of your documenting. You have to show real realism (in which you exist there as well) or this can turn into a Big Brother show with homeless people.
People, who are here because they want absolute privacy and seclusion, completely ignore the camera (the object opposite of privacy) almost the whole time. This often happens when a documentary film crew spends enough time with their subjects. They get used to it. The director was visiting them for five years, but you at least have to show the first couple of times when the people had a problem with his taping. Otherwise it looks ludicrous when people who left civilization (after it gave up on them) to find seclusion, allow to be recorded naked or while telling their life stories that they never told anyone or while having fights and mental breakdowns.
The film is not dull. You want to hear these folks, you want to know what happened to them and how they ended up here. You want for them to make it in the end. Again we see the problem with this movie. You're not suppose to cheer for them (they are not movie characters). You're suppose to be motivated to actually help them somehow. The movie does not clearly point out how completely broken the social system is when it's so easy for anyone to wind up lost in the world, with nothing but a car in which to live out their years of slow and silent demise while hoping for a miracle. There's no message from the director. Viewer can take the movie as he or she wants: A fun but heavy movie about interesting homeless or condemnation of the failure of the system which hadn't, in any way, helped these real live people, whom you might easily join if your life takes a few wrong turns.
There is one final problem with the documentary aspect of this film. I'm sure this wasn't the director's intention, but without some message it seems like director had used these people's stories to make a film, then used the film to make himself a carrier and then completely forgot these people and their plights that made this film possible.
In any case do watch this movie. It is without a doubt one of the best films (not just documentaries) of the year, and it will not leave you without an impression. This film should be seen also because it is truly about people and a battle to keep some dignity even when there is nothing else you can really do with your life. These people are as real as they come, and their plights should be known.