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.