Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: The Year We Made A New Blog

Only a few hours remain of this most fascinating inaugural year of 2010, and it only felt right to share some thanks with all who have braved these pages in search of some of the more unusual dream worlds the Variable Zero family love to indulge in. As much as a more focused central theme may be important, it only felt proper to give a home to not only the cool things happening around me in the visual entertainment realm, but also to some of the quirkier sights and sounds of the pop culture universe. In a time where as Patton Oswalt has stated that anyone can become an otaku of one kind or another, The Kaijyu is becoming a home for both personal hobbies, as well as views on anomalies new and old. Items that perhaps get better exposure in other corners of the blogosphere, but can have room to breathe as objects of study, to see what is it that divides fan from critic. Effort is required in order to make it all special. And in this, I can now see as something of a new year's resolution.

In this, I would love to thank those willing to read on and seek out knowledge beyond this area. If I can in any way help set off discussion big or small regarding the things mentioned here, it works as an echo to me, a means to expand what I wish to do with the site. And even as projects multiply with podcasts (Combo Attack & Adventures), short videos, music, and others, there is and always will be room to make the Wandering Kaijyu a home base for the fringe blobs of color and idea that float around my mind. A sort of filtering depot for inspiring pieces of pop art, animation, and cinematic weird. Without the support of not only you, but of friends and family, this site would be nothing less than another ghost blog with little to say, and less to share. It has been a truly enjoyable first year, and promise an even wilder 2011. So until we meet again in the future...

Keep on stomping....

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Movie Review - Tron: Legacy (2010)

It is interesting to consider just how much of the cultural & evolutionary landscape has morphed since the days of the original video game systems, and personal computers housed in wooden cases with bulky dial-up modems. Memories flood of the early Commodore systems, and the upcoming issues of ENTER magazine, detailing the latest achievements of a small number of brilliant minds, longing for a new utopia residing with the ever changing world of the microprocessor. And as all this was happening, the young dreamer in me was transfixed by one film, willing to explore the depths of this strange new frontier. TRON in my childhood was less a gap filler in the days between when an Empire Struck Back, and A Jedi Returned, and more a promise of undreamt of possibility, strange valleys of black, and an almost spiritual peek into the world of computerization.

So why is the 200 million dollar-plus TRON:Legacy such a troublesome letdown? Aside from being one of the most benign megabudget films ever produced, it simply falls victim to a growing trend of film projects that seem merely made to co-opt nostalgia highs, with a little subculture nods in order to generate success through identification. Oh, sure, the tale of Kevin Flynn and his adventures in the cyberspace netherworld of "The Grid" was a simple, and at times bland exercise in ideas rather than story, but in regards to time there is a sense of fun and adventure that seems lost on this new attempt to expand that universe. In this wildly belated sequel/remake, years have passed since Flynn(again played by the ever wonderful Jeff Bridges, while most welcome,seems quite lost here) returned from the digital world to become a Bill Gates/Steve Jobs analogue who's son is left orphaned when in 1989, he again vanishes. This time, never to return. Flash forward 20 years, and the young Sam Flynn(Garrett Hedlund) has avoided his responsibility of inheriting his father's technological monolith, ENCOM Corp, and playing annual pranks on the current personnel in charge who have ideas more profit-centric than his more progressively-minded father. It is when old family friend, Alan Bradley (reprised by Bruce Boxleitner) that a mysterious message, possibly from his father has surfaced, which leads the reckless Flynn on a voyage into a darker, meaner version of the world his father once shared tales of. The system had been saved once before, but it is now an ever more threatening realm of gladiatorial combat as a spectre from the elder Flynn's past has a tightened grip on this vast digital society of programs.

On paper, it is another spin on Homer, but in the hands of first-time director Joseph Kosinski, the film is an art director's wet dream, and a truly missed opportunity. Where we are meant to find reason to identify with Hedlund's wayward son, we are thrown headlong from situation to situation, with little to no context, which does little to help us understand his character, or even frame of mind before he is transported into the computer dimension. We are often expected to fill in those gaps ourselves. And in the hands of truly capable writers/directors, this could be possible. But here, it is a case of perhaps the screenwriters (Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz, as well as several other contributors) being so preoccupied with the visual fireworks, that Sam winds up little more than a cipher. And even as the film goes out of its way to hit those nostalgia buttons, it all rings hollow, as if to cover up what isn't really being said.

So once, we are in The Grid, we are given next to no reason to relate to our new lead, only making his immediate entry to the Disc War stadium all the more dull and uninvolving. (in sequences Disney has been building up so much noise for nearly three years now) Never before has something to conceptually unique, and singularly visual been so disconnected from the audience as to render me about as interested as if looking at another iTunes visualization while pumping Daft Punk. The sequence, while filled with wonders, have a lack of relatability to our lead that it becomes near impossible to invest anything. So when he is rescued from The Grid by rogue program, Quorra (played with fun by a fascinating Olivia Wilde) and taken to meet The Maker himself, a reunion ensues, only to reveal that the realm has been enslaved by father Flynn's old security program CLU (a bizarre digital facelift performance by Bridges again), making it near impossible for him to return home, explaining his 20 year absence. So when it is revealed that as in so many would-be epics that the fate of not only the digital, but real world are threatened due to a small, tangible Macguffin, everything locks into rote action sequences, tried cliches, and some wholesale sequences ripped off for good measure. (when your daringly visual action sequel co-opts a scene from the original Star Wars, it is less an homage, but rather a desperate cry for ideas.)

While we're on the idea of making CLU the antagonist, this again on paper sounds terrific as a metaphor for a workman losing grasp of his own flesh and blood, and tending to his obsession, only to have it enslave him, but here the whole surrogate son concept completely falls apart since the film does little to nothing with CLU. And as much as some may wish to defend that the technological limitations toward making Bridges appear youthful, one must also consider that it wasn't too long ago when we witnessed a near Oscar-worthy performance by a digital creation, rendering this defense moot. To make matters worse, for a digital creation, there are moments where his movements wander into Spirits Within territory. (and that was nearly a decade ago) Had the writing been strong enough, this probably have been less of a problem, but there it is.

As for elder Bridges, again as much as I find him to be something like a cinematic uncle to me, he seems less like the central spiritual core the film needs to be, and more an ornament for geek cred's sake. And let's not even get into Boxleitner, who really feels the brunt of this shaft. I truly wanted to believe that the world of TRON could be expanded upon, having two of the original's characters near center stage, but it comes off more like glorified window dressing. No amount of cute "dudes", or "man" from Jeff could save it, no matter how welcome it was to see him. The connections between this and the 1982 original are cosmetic at best, and unrealized at worst. Hedlund seems to really want to give it a try, but again, the script, and direction leave much to be desired. Perhaps it is merely me, but it is Wilde who comes out of this near spotless as a young disciple of our wandering elder Buddha, who is revealed to be more than she seems (**surprise**). There is a sense of innocence, and fun that is evident, even when the writing doesn't seem to call for it that works.

There are even moments where it all truly feels like it is getting matters together, as if Kosinski really is getting a feel for certain scenes. And yet, they are often derailed by a clunky action scene, or half thought out dialogue scene with more stiff lines than a Star War prequel. In fact, this is the closest comparison I can make at the moment. For all the visual flare that reminds me of my days as an EBM clubgoer, fantasizing about worlds not unlike this one, all that it lacks is the pulsating heart that made such music and art so thrilling for the younger me. So much is promised by these visuals, and yet it becomes impossible to corroborate a singular or cohesive theme to hold it all together. Which is a terrible shame since films regarding virtual worlds have evolved so much in the years post TRON. To see this not take full advantage of not only these changes, but of ones in our culture regarding our relationship with technology and each other within it, and hit for the lowest road is not only saddening, but almost offensive. So much so that by the end, not much has been resolved, and no catharsis has been reached.

So...200 million for a glorified light switch rave? I'll stay home next time, thanks.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Karaoke Crash! : REBECCA

That's right, a new feature that will hopefully gather steam over the next year focusing on J-pop favorites both recent and classic that often become playlist fodder for our occasional trips to the box in Little Tokyo! Another thing one needs to know about me, is that I'm a bit of an old school Japanese pop junkie, and it only makes sense to feature this passion here. So settle in, find your favorite mike, because it's time for another all nighter!

Our first outing features the ever cool, and hopelessly 80s sounds of the launch pad project of internationally recorded singer, Nokko, known as REBECCA. Based on the title of Kate Douglas Wiggin's novel Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm, the REBECCA project was classic J-Pop, decked to the nines in bubble excess and Tokyo cool.

Here's To Friends: (sing along if you wish!)

More Karaoke Crash to Come!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

New Combo Attack!!: 10 Years Of Battle Royale

                                                                         It's Here...

Seriously, this conversation has been a long time in coming. The bunch of us at Combo Attack!! finally came together to share thoughts, and reminisce about the unrivaled shock & awe of Kinji Fukasaku's thrilling swan song, Battle Royale. We cover quite a bit, including the concept, characters, origins, as well as some more assorted geekage expected from this decorated trio of pop culture vultures.

A truly fun episode as it was to record, it was a nightmare to edit, but the end result is something I can say is worthy among the very best episodes we've come up with thus far.

BE WARNED: This is a **SPOILER MELEE** episode of Combo Attack!!, so we warn that if one is not familiar to the film, to please catch it when possible. Or, should you be curious as to how audacious the film still is..then by all means.

Fight or Flee?


Now we're on iTunes! Subscribe if you like what you hear!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Movie Review: INSIDE (2007)

Sometimes, I can be very guilty of having a deep seated interest in seeing just how far can I push myself viewerwise. There was indeed a time when in those angry young man days, a simple horror film wasn't enough to test out those chill factor boundaries, which of course led into an interest in often darker crannies of the video dome. Yes, sometimes a Traces Of Death video would be found, lying around alongside various Industrial & Experimental noise CDs. It's safe to say that this was a sort of means of reveling in newfound adulthood in some respects. But when discussing horror of the fictionalized world, few recent works have the accumulated oomph, and psychic terror than the 2007 french effort À l'intérieur directed by Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo. A film that so easily transcends fair description as it carries with it burdens far beyond the clearly established, and instantly shocking premise of a young mother-to-be (Alysson Paradis) stalked on Xmas eve by an unknown quantity (Béatrice Dalle), outside her home, bound to get into the house by any means....and to take the unborn baby, by any means.

It is a singularly ghastly idea, made all the more so by the carefully executed script & direction that alludes to more beyond the simple plotline regarding the turmoil of the world outside. Made soon after the 2005 Civil Unrest France experienced after several youths were allegedly abused at the hands of local police. The resulting fervor also incited worries regarding the largely immigrant population of the surrounding suburbs of Paris, making it quite difficult to live there as many of North African descent fell under increasing scrutiny. And in the film, we take the simple idea of a young pregnant woman, who recently lost her husband in a horrific car accident, in an understandably moody haze in the hours before the birth of their first, only to get a knock at the door by someone who apparently knows too much, and won't leave until the unborn child is in her hands. All the while, news reports are awash throughout the narrative of the unrest, keeping local law enforcement at bay, making matters even worse for our central character who is home alone. The film could have easily enough left us with the premise, alone to shock and chill us to the bone with all the sure hand of a young team of filmmakers, but this is far from a simple stalk & slash, as it clearly has a lot more in mind.

And yet, the film takes the stance already laid forth by other French Horror Wave filmmakers (Think Haute Tension, Frontiere[s]), and offers up no remorse, no simple solutions, and an experience in self-testing rarely rivaled in the genre. Even as police are called, friends visit, assorted parties are led to the lonesome home setting, little feels safe about 's world, as the stalker seems to also not know what she is capable of. In this manner, the performances by the two leads is at times truly upsetting, and fascinating. Just as much as we are in awe with just how far the film is willing to go, The Mother(Paradis) & The Wannabe(Dalle) are equally as unpredictable, which adds some visceral flavor to an already aesthetically lean plot. And yet, once barrier are broken in regards to where the story goes, it takes directions that run contradictory to what most horror tales have shied (and most often,understandably) away from. It isn't afraid to take that last ounce of adrenaline, piss & vinegar to take the film into realms of the profoundly troubling, which strangely enough is thematically sound. And we haven't even touched upon the surprisingly lovely camerawork by Laurent Bares, and the effectively eerie score by Francois Eudes.

Which isn't to say that the film isn't above some desperate last ditch attempts at shocks near the uncompromising finale, but it is by far one of the most effectively wrenching & exhausting horror films in recent memory. Horror tales are meant to affect and last, with sacrifices made, and harsh lessons to be shared regarding the contemporary human condition, no matter how challenging. And quite possibly, this is an ultimate example of extreme horror. Traverse with caution.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sometimes It Writes Itself (Evangelion & The Aum Anime)

No sooner do I get back into old habits and I stumble into something so bizarrely fascinating, it just calls for me to write something about it. And a lot of this came about in a sort of two-layer fashion (naturally for me) as I began looking for materials to share with my Combo Attack!! co-hosts regarding the anime phenomenon, Shin Seiki Evangelion, and an upcoming podcast. Now this has been something that I often fall into whenever talks begin to brew over the 1995 series/franchise, I begin looking into the history of the series, and revisit certain totems of the time in which it first aired to remember just what contributed to such a cultural supernova.

And over the years, I have caught up with many devoted fans with the internet's capturing of the general zeigeist of Japan, and discovered many things that may, or may not have contributed directly. One major one being the deepening economic recession whom Japan has still yet to ever fully recover from. Others include closer nuggets of the true to life regarding director Hideaki Anno's crippling emotional state in the years following Nadia. But one of the most curious, and admittedly unexpected elements that so many miss out on is the ordeal dealt out by the at-first considered benign cult known as the Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth), who went on to create a media firestorm the likes few had ever seen in Japan. Led by the charismatic Shoko Asahara, the religious group went on to spark a reign of terror upon Tokyo's subway stations as well as targeted high ranking officials in the hopes of starting what Asahara saw as a coming(and necessary) world war. No laughing matter, and aside from the horrific 1995 Sarin gas attacks perpetrated in several train stations, crimes such as multiple murders &  forced servitude were revealed over time.

And amidst this time, the Aum went so far as to procure hard weapons training in Russia, and had an impressive influence before things went haywire. Naturally, the reports were all over the news around the time of Evangelion's production, so it does stand to reason that there is some significance to the use of religious symbolism, as well as the apocalyptic storylines, whether they be of a global, or psychological one.

And one of the strangest findings I made today was of this little snippet of anime, obviously made as the group was still gaining steam, and hoping to welcome scores of new members. Perhaps it's just me, but the surreality of seeing Asahara animated in this manner makes me wonder of the folks at GAINAX ever saw this, or took any of this in as it was going down. I can't help but think of Ayanami's desolate room, with only a glass of water & bandages to adorn it.

The Doraemon theme is a nightmarish little touch...

Friday, November 19, 2010

That Gainax Brand Kevlar Vest

Finally got to listening to the latest Speakeasy Podcast from the Reverse Thieves today, which not only piqued my own wishes to expound a little bit on my own relationship with Gainax, but to also chime in on how much my feelings on the popular anime studio have metamorphosed over the course of almost twenty years. And seeing as how something like this can take up possibly more space than any blog can naturally handle, perhaps it may just be best to just say that with all the ups and downs I have experienced throughout the years with this at times supernaturally blessed group of artisans/marketing machines, I have learned to anticipate with something other than merely rolling eyes, or spontaneous gushing.

This may just be the words of someone who can now (shudders) consider himself a patch-wearing member of the old guard of anime enthusiast, but it possibly requires some historical context to clock just how deep an impression can help create the feeling of untouchability (even if history can provide evidence to the contrary). So when Hisui Narutaki wonder why it is that so many fans place the studio in a positive limelight whenever a new series comes to bat. And while I myself can remember a time when this feeling was somewhat familiar to my being, I can also recollect those first moments when that bulletproof flag showed a few gaps. Oddly enough, it was in the form of merchandise before any animated project ever did such a thing. And it was upon discovering the existence of the first iffy-Ayanami vinyl figures &  Cybernetic High School that tipped off to me that this was a company with about as much marketing irresponsibility, as irrepressible personality in animated form. And yet, there was still enough pull & charm for me to overlook such things.

Even as Ebichu kind of softened me enough for a flying knee-groin attack in the form of Mahoromatic, nothing prepared me for the kind of embittering pain that would come once another show came along in 2005. And yet, whenever there seemed to be some glimmer of hope that the Gainax of Nadia, Gunbuster & That (Other) Show emerged, I went ahead and bit, only to either react in near-horror, or with monster hugs (ala Furi Kuri & Gurren Lagaan). The disconnect has been so sporadic that apprehension is now often the most common reaction. And even in a time when their most significant creation is experiencing a new life as a multi-part movie series, I often look back at those times when the connect of their best properties reached an almost fever-pitch. They worked in ways that few to no fankid-centric works have ever been capable of duplicating. As mentioned recently on Twitter, there has always been a certain DIY spirit to the works of Gainax that renders them in a very unusual position in the japanese entertainment world. In the post Yamato/Gundam world, they helped create anime with a most particularly human face. Even as the merchandise began to torrent down in the years post-Evangelion, working for a US-based anime distro in cahoots with these folks helped me better understand that success can be a strange animal, especially when the industry was largely spearheaded in new directions wroth by your own creations. It can easily be said that they changed the landscape, and with it, fell into the pressure to pander harder and harder as the competition heated up.

The output suffered as a result as the bills piled up, and passion projects seemed to dry up. In the years before Gurren Lagaan, it truly felt as if the beast that was EVA continued to mutate the very spirit that led to the creation of their most notable shows. But if one took the time to peek into the production roster to see who was responsible for many of the decisions behind the scenes, it may help illuminate some of the more glaring problems as well as help us fine tune where the quality had gone. It's also no wonder that early guard have moved on, and even led to the formation of separate studios (IE-Studio Khara).

The point is, that there is a big difference between admiring from afar, and then when faced with it (no matter how indirectly) as part of your job. Being inundated with not only an ocean of merchandise, but of stories and decision-making within earshot, a name that was once something to hold up high as a standard of quality, one may be privy to a strange rollercoaster of emotional extremes. Which is to say that I remain a fan of them in their best moments, and lament when they opt for the easy sell. If there was anything I gathered from those halcyon days, is that the marketplace became a pretty foggy place to navigate, making it harder and harder for even a Kare Kano to get made. Groundbreakers can be broken, but the damage isn't always irreparable. I happen to have been consistently surprised by Anno/Tsurumaki's Sequel/Remixes of the Evangelion series. And like I had mentioned before, Gurren Lagaan worked well beyond expectations (especially in a time when this jaded fan's hope felt most lost). So it became something more of an educational experience on how art versus business can have near bi-polar effects.

And yet, why do I feel that Gainax tends to get a so-called "free pass" as opposed to so many other animation studios that have long since emulated their approach? Before anyone says "Hard Work & Guts", it likely is more a case of:

a) Frequency Of Effective Gateway Drugs: It is highly probable that the fervor that still comes when a new show appears is due to them having some of the most significant gateway titles in the last 15 years. There's just little denying the power of merely three shows with the kind of after effects that came in their wake.

b) No Armor Is The Best Armor: One of their most significant traits (especially in their early years) is that of the self-reflective otaku. Even as they were among the first studios to actively acknowledge their love of science-fiction/fantasy/horror & anime tropes, they also did so with a near scathing amount of self-criticism. Something that in the right doses can be disarming to viewers. As geeky as they are, they also are aware of the social problems that come with the lifestyle. Rather than blindly embracing their loser-status, many of their best works have enough baggage to grant us an almost Grunge-Music-era level of self-awareness & effacement.

It may be safe to go ahead and state now that my feelings on Gainax has been run though the gutters from time to time, followed by the occasional barrage of gunfire, and even an acid-bath in the form of He Is My Master. And yet somehow, not unlike so many others, whenever a new project is announced, I take notice. But if there has been anything learned from all of this, it has been to take less stock in company name recognition, and more in seeking out where the talent is. Looking up names of writers goes a long way toward figuring out what titles are going to work for us. The life of a company, especially one as small and tightly knit as this, is in a difficult position when the market is changing at such an alarming rate. Sometimes, the fan in me feels lucky that we even had the hits we did. As to whether or not we'll see something to the level of a Third Impact remains to be seen.

I for one, never expect, but am always hopeful.

(Even in lieu of P & S, always hopeful).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Some Words Regarding Battle Royale 3D & Anchor Bay's News

Oh boy. It was only a matter of time before I had a chance to share feelings on this. Seeing as how Toei wasn't going to skimp out on making even more money off of one of their biggest releases. And they have an all-too-willing Kenta Fukasaku at the ready to shill his father's (the late, great Kinji Fukasaku) final completed work for a tenth anniversary. We just knew that something like a Japanese equivalent to the US 3D upconversion boom that came about in the wake of AVATAR was bound to happen if they couldn't muster up the will to create a wholly new film in 3D themselves. Harsh words, I agree. But the fact remains that the original Battle Royale film, while awash in arterial spray & hyperviolence (between kids, no less) was filmed in a most old-school Panavision style that only feels fit on a 2D plane.

The very idea of it being retouched without his father present is the first of what I suppose troubles this writer. Had Kinji lived to see this day, and had gone along with it, I would have gone ahead and allowed him his Jorge moment. But as it stands, I suppose this makes perfect sense as Kenta (who penned BR's screenplay, based on Takami Koshun's surprise hit novel) has shown himself to be nothing less than a schlockmeister with only name recognition, and access to slightly higher budgets than say, Noboru Iguchi, who's films are done with near nothing, and are infinitely more effectively entertaining. (personal note: My breaking point with young Fukasaku was his version of Sukeban Deka, featuring idol, Aya Matsuura. Submitted my papers promptly after.) So at least Kenta knows where he is coming from.

But for such an immense experience as BR still is, this is still nothing less than naked opportunism. Far more exploitative than many may accuse the film of actually being, and well below the film's ability to shock, even today.

And as for Nippon Cinema's post regarding the long-delayed acquisition of the Battle Royale films (1 & Kenta's ill-fated 2) via legendary horror-friendly company, Anchor Bay, I still feel as if this is another major case of too-little-too-late. All release controversy aside, the original BR has had an entire ten years to flourish as an import (and likely notoriously popular download), even going so far as to being a staple of Hot Topic for nearly five years now. So a release like this, while welcome, feels a lot less a reason to celebrate, so much as a reason for most western BR fans to merely shrug at it. Truth is, that multiple companies have been selling English-Subtitled versions of these films for years (including the Battle Royale SE releases, with additional scenes, and behind the camera footage.).

So yes, Toei found another way to round up the cash cow for another ride (I'm sure the bidding numbers were absurd.), but seeing as how BR has possibly become the first true internet cult phenomenon of the 2000s, I'm not sure why it's any real shakes.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The End Of This Pilgrim's Journey?

And so sound the viola...or lone acoustic Fender?

That's right, it's time to put another toy back into the box, end the waltz, shovel the dirt. After over three-plus months of reporting about both the comic & movie versions of Scott Pilgrim, it is now time to say goodbye in fitting fashion.

                           This weekend's latest Combo Attack!! podcast, while filled with musings, and explorations of Bryan Lee O'Malley's signature comic opus, obviously left the batch of us bereft of one of the most fun pieces of cross-media to have come around stateside in quite some time, but the guest star of the show makes such a ceremony something for the history books. My buddy & cohort from Adventures On Infant Island, Jenny Park joins the team this time, and gives an entry worthy of the greats as we also celebrate today's dvd/Blu-ray release of the movie

And watch out for extras!

Check It All Out Here!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Re: The Sucker Punch Trailer & A Scott Pilgrim Bonus!

Without going into too much detail regarding my er...attitude toward the latest trailer of Zack Snyder's first non-adaptation/remake, Sucker Punch, it just didn't connect (hic) in any way this time. All I saw was a succession of pretty images set to a poorly edited audio track, only made more painful by dead/campy delivery which seems to be either intentional, or a product of Snyder's signature laziness with actors. And considering that Snyder's reputation thus far has been in helping create some memorable trailers, it is quite a disappointment to witness. Perhaps the previous teaser was boosted by using an old club favorite of mine from the 90s? Anyway, from opening setup of our heroine's plight, it is almost completely killed by the obviousness that the acting is going to be this mean hurdle ala Malin Ackerman, again. it is as if Snyder himself regards his actresses almost solely as window dressing, and cares very little for squeezing out any believability, or even emotion fro his performers, which is sad considering the imagery on display. The disconnect instantly works like a scratching LP, it just doesn't work. And with the grand stuff on display, it feels no less like another big budget video game commercial with very little appeal for me. So if that makes me seem like a soulless downer, then perhaps one may be right.

But I just want this guy to deliver something beyond a cool trailer for once, and if this is the best he can muster, I can't help but worry.

So what does it take to start November off with a bang? Celebrating DVD/Blu-Ray release of some cult faves, perhaps? Especially when it is pretty clear that Hollywood had themselves another one of these esteemed few within their grasp late this summer, only to expect it to be a clever blockbuster. Of course, again, I'm speaking of Edgar Wright's adaptation of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, and just felt like sharing some video I took at an event that took place at the Grauman's Egyptian in Hollywood this Monday to a packed house. Featuring super cool host, Guillermo DelToro and Mr Wright himself, they not only chatted up a storm regarding the geneses of the film, and the kind of obsessiveness required to make such a one-of-a-kind film experience. (Not to mention Mr. DelToro's colorful vernacular that reminds me of family.)

The video here is the introduction from both directors who have a little surprise for us admirers of the film!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Doppelgangers Of The East?

Okay, perhaps I'm just being another starstruck cineaste with this one, but I couldn't help but be again hit with the anime star sighting bug upon re-watching Kenji Kamiyama's & Production IG's Eden Of The East (Higashi no Eden - My review from last year.). What I'm talking about here is when Japanese animators pay homage to live action film icons by sometimes placing their likenesses as characters in their projects. This has happened before numerous times in anime, and among the most famous ones can be traced to shows like Shinichiro Watanabe's Cowboy Bebop(1998), where the likenesses of even Woody Allen can take shape on the run from our ever starving space bounty hunters. An early one for me was during the run of of Kimagure Orange Road, which not only made a valiant nod to Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967), but in the second season featured a character wearing a certain sunglasses-wearing Austrian bodybuilder's face for a killer mask. At this point, it is more than common practice in places, but rarely do I ever see anime parody japanese cinema that isn't as leaning on genre as I've recently pondered.

When I think of the films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the first mental images that come to mind are that of long stretches of quiet as the camera breathes in the atmosphere of a particular moment. two actors also prominently come to mind in his works much like a comfy blanket, and a cat by my side, and they are often in the form of Jun Fubuki & Koji Yakusho. Many of his films revel in the at times dark material, punctuated by a certain unspoken wisdom in letting the scene play out naturally, instead of manipulating our emotions. And Yakusho & Fubuki are masters of this manner of verite. And they're pretty iconic to look at to boot. Whether it be in Kurosawa's Charisma (1999), or the often brilliant Seance (2000), and even in the more mainstream J-Horror subversion, Kairo (2001), their presence is almost ever constant. It's no wonder the director loves working with them.

Adding this to a series featuring a romantic lead with a love of the cinema (as his only remaining memories post brain-wipe), Eden Of The East is a sweeping series with added movie savvy, and I'm not doubting if Kamiyama, along with noted character designer, Chika Umino made a minor reference to Kurosawa in a character that helps establish the central plot. Doing my best to not spoil anything, I'll leave these images here for thought purposes. And again, I could be very wrong, but there's just something about this character and his arc that reminds me so much of the plight of many of Kurosawa's characters. Especially when his arc is fulfilled, it is a moment that ranks among one of my favorites in recent years. And executed with a naturalistic tone, not unlike the in-the-moment style of one of my current favorite filmmakers in the world today. 

A Near Decade Of Restless Dreams: Silent Hill 2 on Combo Attack!!

And yet, it all feels just right..

The latest edition of the cross media culture podcast, Combo Attack!! features an at times astonishing look into the darker corners of the video gaming experience. Joel, Alain and I are joined by film CG Texture Artist/Modeler, Krystal Sae Eua for what is easily my favorite episode thus far as we talk up current habits, upcoming stuff, and get up to our bleeding eyeballs in that oh so special place called Silent Hill. Finishing out our October series on a pretty high note, this is a 90-minute plus, super-episode filled with insight into the world of a unique gaming experience, and perhaps a little on what has happened to games of this ilk since SH2 debuted on the PS2 nearly a decade ago.

Technical issues aside, this was a great show to put together, and I'm proud to share it with all my fellow creatures.

Go Here For The Episode & Link Here For More Fun!

Taking On The Ultimate Monster Question...

Roughly a week and a half ago, Infant Island partner Jenny and I went right ahead and dove head on into the depths of a great mystery, and came up with one truly fun podcast for everyone to enjoy. This is one that from the creation of the Adventures podcast, I had been longing to gather data from, and it is at long last here.

Whether it be Toho's beloved behemoth, or Daiei's champion to children, there's no denying the simple power of a good giant monster film, so we decided to take them both on, with interesting results. I may have a growing affection for these films of an era long past, but hearing about them through new eyes is what it's all about.

So who wins out in the ultimate kaiju battle?

Find out here!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Nightmare Fuel Runner-Up Rundown!

Okay, so for those not yet on board, we at the Combo Attack!! podcast recently opted to, out of the many pillars of cinema freak-out that are out there in the ether, share a singular DVD pick that best encapsulates the Samhain season for each of us. This was largely due to scheduling, and frankly budget issues that left us with only so much space to work with. But when one thinks about it, this also makes for a potentially interesting, since there are so many other horror classics that I was think of when the leaves begin to fall, and winter's early chill begins to take hold. And since I only could pick one (which will be online shortly - Alain drew first blood HERE) , here are my top five that missed the hallowed spot.

Keep in mind that like favorite children, I'd pick them all had the podcast allowed for it!

So let the carnage begin!

5. Halloween (1978)

I'm not sure if there's anything I can add here that hasn't been raked through the coals already beyond recognition. John Carpenter's indie masterpiece is a thing of sheer wonder that while the world we live in now couldn't be more different, the tale of babysitter murders on Halloween night has something of a mythical quality that hits where it counts. Such a simple premise played to the hilt by cinematographer Dean Cundey, as well as the iconic performances by Donald Pleasance, and Jamie Lee Curtis. In fact, the entire tapestry of the film's production is a case in conceptual perfection. (Can one imagine Halloween without Carpenter's spiritual mindscrew of a score?) And topping this all off by utilizing the squeaky-clean seeming suburban hells of L.A. as Haddonfield, Illinois , as endless labyrinth. While it does very little for gender politics, it more than makes a strong case for independent female leads in genre film by an impressive bound. And let's not discount that still astonishing finale that drives home the ultimate expression of fear in familiar places. One cannot truly kill evil.

4. Night of The Living Dead (1968)

C'mon! They are going to eat us!!! Alain said it best when he mentioned the primal fear that runs though us all in our last Combo Attack!! There's just something truly horrid, and bold about what George Romero and pals set out to do as the world was on edge with change. The fear of living with a wholly new order of thought as they advance upon our complacent way of life is a powerful notion, and with Night, it is encompassed with the kind of veracity, and acerbic wit often missing from most horror films. And even as zombie films have 'advanced" over the years, into a state of pre-packaged irrelevance, this film stands as a powerful indictment of a nation's shameful hypocrisies, and offers the dreadful end result of such lack of any real connection between neighbors.

3. Kairo (2001)

As much as I enjoyed a few major entries in the J-horror wave of the late 90s, including Hideo Nakata's RINGU, and Takashi Shimizu's Ju-On, few riffs on the "angry ghost" cliche nailed it with as much topicality & power as Kiyoshi Kurosawa's brilliant inversion of the subgenre. Less interested in playing it like a film, and more like a dark stage parable on the mutual divisiveness of internet culture, Kairo is a no-holds-barred haunt fest, filled with enough memorably eerie sights and sounds to fill several films. While most definitely a slow burn, Kurosawa makes it clear with his youthful cast of net neophytes, and experts that he is concerned with his nation's increasing cloud of disconnect seemingly linked to technology in time of extended economic recession. The use of largely abandoned cityscapes, interiors, and some seriously troubling music by Takefumi Haketa, creates a world becoming overwhelmed by the machines that once heralded pride, and comfortably nestled in increasingly desperate isolation. Forget that unforgivable US remake, this is true fear.

2. Psycho (1961)

Hard to imagine the slasher film ever happening without this coming down the lane. Leave it to the mighty Hitch to deliver a one of a kind look into the look of varying degrees of evil. And yet somehow, he also finds a way for us to relate to the killer. And that is for me, PSYCHO's masterstroke. Forget that phenomenal swerve early in the film, and keep in mind that with most films of this kind, the so-called monster is often viewed as an external force to be dealt with from the outside of the good. (aka -Us) With the tale of Norman Bates, Alfred Hitchcock establishes the convention of the slasher by doing something most films wouldn't dare do now. Case in point is the scene where the vehicle carrying evidence is run into a watery bog. To see the vehicle stop sinking, we ourselves are implicated, and this is where the disorientation begins to take full shape, and we are now accomplices to the crime. All performances by Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, and even Martin Balsam are wonderful, but I doubt they knew what kind of game changer they were involved in. Still stunning.

1. The Exorcist (1974)

And now we're down to it. yes, I understand just how obvious this all seems, but it just stands to reason. Few films embraced as equal focus on the realism of a world, as well as the supernatural. It is at times the perfect marriage of verite cinema ever attempted as the worlds of the dramatic and horrific do a rare dance that defies expectations, and delivers one impactful scene after another. In some ways, I'd love to see William Friedkin's classic as less of a "horror film", and more a gut-wrenching mediation on faith. Excellent performances by Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, and Max Von Sydow highlight this cinematic equivalent of a penultimate magic act. Even after so many viewings over the years, the film loses none of its potency. As the frazzled Chris MacNeil finally convinces the faithless Father Karras to bring in noted exorcist, Merrin, and the film's climax begins proper, there's this sense that it is time to truly check your gut at the door, because it is an ultimate expression of the eternal battle between polar opposing forces. The battle for little Regan's life is handled in a manner that still defies belief, and instills me with that rare feeling that movies can...rarely achieve. And even as the calm reappears in the final moments, Mike Oldfield's classic Tubular Bells serve as a reminder that this is something to be mindful of, always. While I may be a lover of being frightened, The Exorcist is a reminder of things beyond the screen in a way that rivals profundity, and transcends belief systems all over by walking the walk, as if over the finest razor's edge.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rubber Gods & The People Who Love Them

Feels pretty good to be able to get back on the back of the creature once again, and share someof what's been happening as of the last few days. And among the cool things in the works at the moment, we here at Kaijyu have finally been able to coordinate, and finish what could be a signature episode of the Adventures On Infant island podcast! With the completion of a full watch of several James Bond films over the last several months, we have also go ahead and completed a long awaited viewing of 1954's Gojira, as well as 1965's Dai Kaiju Gamera respectively, so that we could share some words with listeners. So in the spirit of drumming up some anticipation for this episode, I found it to be fun to share a few things that came rushing to my mind this time with two films that have long had a history in my life.

With this weekend's viewing, it came to pass just how diversely these films affected me as a quiet, introverted 5 year old, living in the quiet farmlands of South Cal. To see both of these films back to back, it suddenly occurred to me which one was the more scarring, indelible piece of work, while the other was an encompassing of everything that was being young, and coming to terms with a world not well understood. Honda's monster movie, was something of a grand scale parable of horror that helped me understand what it was to survive within the malestrom of clamity, whether it be disasters of the natural persuasion, or man-made ones. It's a scary, personal piece that helped put those frightening paintings I saw in maritime museums with mankind's grandest creations succumbing to the monolithic forces of nature into more vivid perspective. While Yuasa's giant turtle movie is something more akin to a youth forced into a world without proper guidance, all the while throwing a gargantuan tantrum via stomping & sucking fire in some fruitless yearning for understanding in a world running for their guns.

Catching these films on Los Angeles-based channels KTLA & KHJ Channel 9 were amongst the more impression-making tv memories I have growing up as these channels often had marathons of english-dubbed kaiju movies. Not only were these films major totems of my childhood in featuring the coolness of monsters destroying cities, toppling models, and fighting increasingly bizarre opponents, but they also served as an early mirror to how another culture handled their heroes, as well as each other with an unrivaled gusto.(they made these elaborate toys, models, and environments- almost exclusively to be destroyed! COOL.) And these were clear, even as the localization often did their damndest to make it easier for us westerners to understand what was going on. And yet, it hardly mattered at the time. Monsters Were Fighting! (And wasn't that a giant robot?)

But it was these two giants that made for some truly unforgettable weekends with family.

While I may use the visage of the legendary "friend to children" on my site, it is more of an embracement of that sense of childhood wonder, and perplexed nature that comes with exploration. As much as Gojira always made the deeper impression, his presence is more of a seething anger with tackling life now co-mingled with the existence of science in the service of mankind's greatest weaknesses, and therefore feels a lot less appropriate. If this were a rant & flame site, carrying some kind of splintery lumber on my shoulder at internet fandom, or some other "them", perhaps the big lizard would have been more prescient on these pages. But alas, the pages of The Wandering Kaijyu serve more as a love for culture, and the mutations that helps spur forward the evolutionary changes that myth may offer in such surreal, promising times. And perhaps through this, we may also find flight, and perhaps even inspire kinship with those looking to inspire, rather than decry.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Horrors Inherent In Waiting

Posts should soon come back to regular rhythm soon, but until then...Surprise!

Two Combo Attack episodes within weeks of each other. This is more like it! Ah, October...Time to kick some tropes around, and see what was so darned good about zombies in their heyday.

This one's for you, George.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Playing Up Desperation (Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt)

Now I'm likely to get flack for the little blurb I have for you this morning, but these thoughts seriously require a home here.

While it's becoming more and more evident that it's probably best to share views on a show after it ends, there are just some projects that are much like sampling foods where some just aren't going to jibe with what it's attempting to accomplish. And that is seriously at the core of my problems with GAINAX's latest.

Horoyuki Imaishi's Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt is a case study in what I'd like to call Lush Desperation. Even as the product itself is made with an impressive amount of enthusiasm, it is all in the service of some misguided idea of commercial value. Played out more like an early day Cartoon Network show on goofballs, P & S w/ G is likely aiming for a market that has long since become a disposable american staple of cable animation, with an added dash of the crude to make it stand out. And the end result is something akin to many ad campaigns of days past, packed with visual flare, but could easily fill the background with noise, rather than any proof that the product bears any value to the consumer. (An intellectually empty - Adult Swim wannabe -CHECK.)

And that's the tragedy of it all, while attempting what clearly seems to be an overture to international cult success, it fails at being remotely funny or engaging. Just name out any number of CN shows with this type of temperament in ADD-drowned entertainment, and it all just becomes a dull blur. I don't really care about what is happening, nor am I amused at the antics on display. And this is a terrible shame, since the presentation is at times brilliant for the eyes, and has so much talent on display. To see this all squandered in a time most in need of a crossover hit, this is more like forgetting the fences, skipping a low grounder with bases loaded, and just aiming for the pitcher's mound.(

While I'm sure many animation nerds will eat it up, there is little to recommend about the pilot, and gives me little hope for future episodes. All I can see is more of the same, with pretty pictures, and more gross-out ala the occasional Korean comedy. It just speaks little to me, and reminds me more of what "Chi" said on ANNCast several months back, regarding the industry's recent number-crunching to seek out the upcoming "fads" in american pop culture. This reeks of that disconnect in a BIG way, and I don't think we're going to see the end of it soon.

What a gorgeous waste of time.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Save Me From Summer's End (Black Rock Shooter & Hen Zemi!)

Oh boy. It's been quite some time since I've delved into the dwindling bin of made for video anime for some material to write about. And even if anime has been in something of a transitional period, the two titles I went ahead and gave my time to are glaring reminders of how much that needs to change before the medium can at least has a semblance of a life after Akiba-kei. As flashy, and at times daring these two completely unique of each other shows are, there's something inherently telegraphed &  programmed behind them that renders them devoid of the life that animation implies. They exist as husks of work; artifacts that remind us of the potential that is being squandered on what could otherwise be more than what they are. In fact, they barely register as shows at all. And even if one bears some smidge of character-based narrative, there's little of anything else to hold on to.

Yes, these are offerings that came about over the summer. Would they be any fresher had I seen them sooner? Doubtful.

First in this duo of time suck, is the much-hyped OVA based upon the popular Huke image turned Supercell track(and ensuing popularity via the mass media juggernaut VOCALOID), Black Rock Shooter. Produced by recently formed Studio Ordet, and directed by newcomer Shinobu Yoshioka, BRS takes the popular black-clad imagery of the original music videos/figures/marketing campaign, and turns it into a two-layer narrative involving a newly sparked friendship between two young middle school girls whom eventually encounter strife when one of them begins to spend more time with a younger, sprightlier newcomer. All the while we are intercutting with a completely otherworldly battle between the title character, and her nemesis Dead Master on an enigmatic island seemingly made of cathedral trappings. Both of whom bear strange similarities to our young protagonists in story one.

So looking at both worlds as a sort of metaphorical juxtaposition, the OVA quickly careens into music video territory as the destinies between the sporty Mato, and the tall, demure beauty, Yomi begin with friendship, and ultimately into unspecified drama of friendship in danger. Taking the two-pronged story approach seems novel at first, until one considers just how the visuals are so starkly different. Something so visually striking mixed alongside the mundane, while an interesting choice, leaves something to be desired in the writing front, which tragically comes up short for something supposedly scribed by Nagaru Tanigawa (famous for being the creator of the Haruhi Suzumiya series). And therein lies the biggest problem, for such a slight story, and in a medium that has evolved so dramatically in regards to data collection, and distribution, the OVA seems to only have enough for a commercial, and strangely wishes to drag the whole affair for nearly 50 agonizing minutes. Even as the characters seem ready for more than archetypical treatment, the project is about as deep as a tchotcke one would find at a convention. A curio rather than a companion piece. And what we are left with is a pretty succession of moving and still images lacking anything resembling a soul. Being from a background of marketing, this is something that comes squarely out of desperation to an already rabid fanbase. A fanbase content with sheen, rather than emotion. Manufacture, rather than handmade pride. Its no wonder the franchise has about the depth of an internet meme. With noone to give it a heart, the world in which BRS & Deathmaster inhabit seem to be the place in which these ideas are made. In a cold, dark place where thoughfullness is a dream, and feelings are a luxury. A soulless exercise in selling. Now if only the work were honest with itself and have been done within the five minutes it truly deserves.

And therein lies the painful part. So much talent is clearly on display in this piece. The animation in areas is fluid, and thrilling as it captures action angles, and human movement with loving ease at times. There are some truly cool images throughout, but only come in service of what folks would consider when one thinks of the source material, which was merely a piece of art made popular on Pixiv. Outside of this, it comes off as nothing more than an excuse to work, and less like something that felt aimed at something remotely human. It is as if an alien produced a show in hopes of better understanding human jealousy, sans the steps necessary to convey it in any impactful manner. Story is one thing, the telling is the measuring stick to quality, and all we have here is blatant product that lacks the common decency to lie to us as it gives us a business lapdance. Even shows made for kids with lesser budgets aimed at selling robot toys achieved this decades ago. If one is to be a prostitute, at least be honest about it.

Considering the pedigree involved, including head producer Yutaka Yamamoto, one would expect a little more from such a team.

On the other hand, Hen Zemi makes no bones about what it intends to be, and could hardly be more repellent as a result. Based upon the five volume Seinen manga, Hentai Seiri Seminar, this college-based ball of ecchi glee centers on students under the study of "deviant sexual behavior" via a hopelessly creepy doctor named Meshiya, who's web of bizarre curiosities regarding the strange private lives of his students working on their respective studies while partaking in fulfilling the wiles of their mad teacher . And do we have a cast of souls with respective leanings toward exploring the outer fringes of carnal life. There's the would be lover with co-dependent partner, a girl with exhibitionist tendencies, a would-be porno director, a panty-stealing love interest with a penchant for NTR - (Um...a love of seeing one's significant other coupling with another-YEAH.)!! All willing to give it the old college try for the professor's grand experiment, making it clear that the majority of the cast is pretty unique...Save for our protagonist in one Nanako Matsusaka, the one girl without a single unique bone in her body. Perhaps acting as the variable in the grand scheme, her wishes to excel in her studies runs counter to the often shocking nature of her cohorts, making for tons of humor raging from awkward, to just plain ol gross-out. And for this viewer, the only natural reaction was sheer revulsion. Not so much at the subject, but the treatment of such inherently human behavior.

As much as I'm for all-inclusiveness in the world, there's something clearly bereft of taste in how Hen Zemi handles our lead characters, as less like average folks with their own needs and wants behind closed doors, and is more content with making it seem like some kind of freak show. Oh sure, for some..talking fetishes may not make for good dinnertime conversation, and it can also be seen that certain japanese can only talk so much openly regarding sex life, but this is closer to middle-school plop talk. (yes..that's what I said) All I can imagine that came to mind when hatching the original manga was a desk adorned with newly rented copies of Sex Is Zero & American Pie, where someone figured it'd be fun to make a comic just as juvenile, and twice as retch-inducing. Something made all the more glaring when considering the globby art style adopted by Xebec (Seriously guys?) for this Ryouki Kamitsubo directed adaptation. The juxtaposition of gak-geared comedy, and cutesy designs makes for something less revealing of a not-so-widely understood realm of scientific study, and more an exploitation of individual taste. While it is understood that Nanako is the classic audience/reader surrogate, watching her lose her lunch while talking with her increasingly lame love interest makes less for smart comedy, and more for a sadistic viewing experience.

Provided this is the type of experience one is inclined toward witnessing on a Friday night, it could either be the kind best absorbed with mildly inebriated company, and best not discussed in the morning.

And not a single rock was shot...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Subculture Equation

 So yes, things are still in a state of temporary flux at the moment with the search for work, and basic comforts resumes. But it isn't as if I can't have a gaggle of things to post about. And having little grab me in the way of the recent two season of anime has definitely given me room to re-examine some older favorites. Most namely on my recent rewatch list was Palm Studio/Genco's TV version of Shimoku's manga favorite, GENSHIKEN. And even now, there is such a laid back atmosphere, and attention to character nuance that is simply not as prevalent in recent shows. And for a show centering on a college anime club, it also serves as a loving tribute to diversity of lifestyle as well as the lives of those nebbish, reclusive superfans we often bemoan. And yet via Shimoku's playful characterizations of each club member, and their respective types, we are privy to a more human approach to the otaku phenomenon.

Looking at it now, I can fully appreciate that it not only rode the beginning of an almost geek-centric wave of panderhappy shows that were to come months  later, but it also takes a mirror to Japanese youth culture in ways that hadn't been as clearly examined in even Gainax's classic ode-to-loserdom "Otaku no Video".

Looking at how, over the course of only twelve initial episodes(before the OAVs, second season & Kuchibiki Unbalance series') we get a fully realized little world, filled with not only a love for anime, cosplay, models, games, & doujinshi, but also into how they interact with one another as they each seek out their paths in their respective lives. It's one thing to merely make anime-fan-centric gags ala Lucky Star. It's entirely another when characters begin to act out due to the intervention of another's ideas. So when "outsider" and girlfriend to the gang's resident gamer bishounen, Kohsaka, Saki Kasukabe strafes across the crew over their tastes & habits, it becomes a fun game of  "who is being more fanatical?" And in a story when even the opposition has some semblance of gravity, but is no less as repressed & unreasonable, it can make for some entertaining commentary.

 Even as the series plays on the expected "non-otaku do not understand" gimmick, there seems to be a sly implication that even those not claiming to be as obsessive are merely obsessives of other kinds, making it a fun look at youth identity in a media/marketing drowned culture.

Not only does this element fascinate me, but I also appreciate how it doesn't sugar-coat any lifestyle, and rather just plays it straight, making any side of the equation only as strong as the humans that graft onto them.

Another part that gets me now is how it examines the very process of new undertakings, as in to say, "Let's show how difficult it is. Illustrate why so many seem to be content with consumption  instead of production."The rigors of producing something your own, even if it is a printed parody of a published creation, are fraught with tricky procedures, organization & time, as well as personality rifts. The collaborative effort can become a Herculean task in itself, and Genshiken doesn't skimp in this area (another kick to Otaku No Video's slacks). The dream becoming real, no matter the size is an encouraging notion in almost any type of story. It's just exciting to see the most unlikely taking on such a task, even when it seems utterly hopeless. The need to break out and express freely remains bright, and offers an olive branch to our most valuable resource...ideas.

The at times insurmountable truth of the matter is, that no matter the subculture, everyone seems to want similar things, and are merely seeking them out via various avenues.

Perhaps otaku aren't so different after all.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Dreams feel real while we're in them."

One of the many strange perks of living and working in the L.A. area is being within a short walk's distance from iconic locations, structures, and signage. only felt natural for us to present this to folks since one of us works right around the corner.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Monsters Onward! : Sights & Sounds (Labor Day Weekend 2010)

Things are on full here as the transitional life takes hold once again. But one of the cooler parts of this is the extra time I'll likely have to watching and studying materials for further posts & shows.

And speaking of shows, Combo Attack!!'s take on 1980s video game favorites comes to an at times hysterical conclusion this week. Recorded two weekends ago in Little Tokyo, Welcome To The Pixeldome was easily the closest we've come to an on-location broadcast, where anything goes, and edits were scarce. (And don't miss the musical interludes throughout, featuring the evercool sounds of NVR-NDR! -, having some fun at the expense of a most particular rant.)

This particular weekend was geared more toward recreation than anything, so the roomie and I shot off to various stops in L.A. for Korean BBQ, boba-slushies, and some peeking at pop culture finds! A rare kind of day that will likely be best remembered for the great food, sights and pictures taken. Some know me to not be the most enamored with the facsimile Hollywood fantasy, but to dig deeper, and seek the geeky stuff(especially during a busy holiday weekend) makes it all worthwhile.

Also on the horizon, is an all-new Adventures On Infant Island involving (gasp!) Giant Monsters! Stay tuned for that, and more on the way.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Batman: Under The Red Hood (2010) Review

Leave it to the folks at Warner Bros. Animation to heap on the goods when regarding their DC heroes. Especially when it comes to who is perhaps the enduring answer to the grounded superhero mythos, the Batman. Multiple universes have been explored, several major motion pictures, tv series, and comics renditions have been shared to great acclaim, and yet remains one of the few major tentpoles that can remain potent no matter the number of incarnations. Perhaps it is in the symbolism of Bruce Wayne's alter ego that is most integral to fan's cravings. So even if the world of Gotham City has been reinvented, and reinterpreted countless times, the respect for Bob Kane's classic characters remains at an all-time high. Even as the horrors of very real-world crime, and despair begin to encroach onto what was initially considered to be older children's fare, the ever vigilant Dark Knight detective is the material with which even adults grapple with in extraordinarily trying times.

So when the animators responsible for much of the last 20 years of Batman's adventures on television delve into one of the most controversial events in comic history, the result can either be a rousing success, or a flamebait mess waiting to happen, I'm love to say that it is in most ways the former. The daring Bruce Timm produced, Brandon Vietti directed Under The Red Hood is an adult, bleak, and astonishing new addition to the Batman mythology that helps put to rest wrongs on both sides of the page. In many ways a fascinating look into Batman tales of long past, smashed head on into the harsh realm that is the post-Nolan grit of recent years.

The story begins years prior as Batman is unable to save Jason Todd (aka Robin II) in Sarajevo, Bosnia from the ever monstrous Joker, who has been released reluctantly by none other than  Ra's al Ghul.(A story which many may recall being the backbone of one of DC's most infamous moments, 1988 -89's A Death In The Family, which crushingly allowed fans to call in to decide the fate of Batman's reckless second ward. Naturally, his death was a rare event not long forgotten by fans.) It is in this first, unsubtly brutal scene that establishes an entirely new , unflinching tone for the Batman animated franchise. Flash forward to now as the criminal element is quickly being noosed up by a red hooded vigilante with an ultimatum, to rethink their drug & weapon smuggling ways under threat of death. Gotham is familiar with the Red Hood persona, however the goals here seem to be out to control, and possibly eliminate Gotham's burgeoning new underworld. Even Batman is familiar with various versions of the Red Hood, but none of them were nearly as savage, or as thorough. He doesn't even seem to be a criminal, but rather the very shadow of what Batman has always been. A masked wraith, willing to kill to save the world. To go where even Batman fears to tread.

And as the detective along with the help of the ever reliable Nightwing (Dick Grayson, the original Robin), revelations are surely uncovered that will not only haunt Bruce's waking life, but scorch the city as he is run head on into the very nature of Batman's dogmatic codes of virtue. The pressure runs deeper as Gotham's reigning kingpin, Black Mask with increasing panic begins to consider taking a madman off the leash yet again in a last ditch effort to regain control (which many know is often the worst idea imaginable).

To go any further would be a disservice to another exceptional, yet very grown-up look at a mythological icon amidst a radically changing world. Adding punch to this motif, the newly minted cast while clearly feeling their way into such iconic roles, is rooted firmly into this hybrid mixture of Bat eras, and they are often terrific. Bruce Greenwood now dons the cape and cowl with a more internalized confidence that also nicely implies an aging, pain riddled Wayne. Neil Patrick Harris is a truly fun & grounded Dick Grayson, who offers some of the film's much needed levity to the often grim proceedings. Supernatural's Jensen Ackles' Red Hood is both assured, and appropriately tortured in a surprisingly effective performance where it counts. But the biggest transition award goes to John Dimaggio who's more east coast gangster approach to The Joker is startlingly different than his legendary predecessor. While this may sound like faint praise, there is a hugely menacing presence in this film that is integral to the film's finale, and Dimaggio delivers exactly what this version requires. This is a nasty, horrific take on the character that perhaps requires a little adjusting to but is strong in its own right.

Notable support comes from the voices of Jason Isaacs in the role of guilt-ridden crusader, Ra's al Ghul, as well as a fun turn by Kelly Hu as Black Mask's assistant.

It's been a wild ride for Warner Bros. Animation since Bruce Timm's original Batman:The Animated Series took to the airwaves, and Vietti's direction, featuring a script by Judd Winick attempts to merge multiple variations of the Batman universe into a cohesive whole, which naturally abandons sheer grit, and offers a more lyrical aproach to how dramatically their world has changed over the lifespan of the Dark Knight's endless crusade. From the garish innocence of robbing the local museum of modern art, to the scummy junk joints on the outskirts of town, the film features a look at the junction where the childlike wonder of the hero life soon becomes tainted by the desperation of those resilient to law & order. It's this element that takes on truly dark dimensions near the end of the piece where Batman must confront the very inconsistency that has haunted him from nearly the very beginning. Definitely an end result of the immense success of Christopher Nolan's live action films, Under The Red Hood continues to question the very nature of the self-made superhero, as well as the blurring balance between heroism & vigilanteism with relatively effective results.