Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Karaoke Crush: Keep On Powrballin'

The price one pays for flashbacks I suppose.

Blame it on my most recent Analog Diaries post at Anime Diet, but one of the first pieces of music to invade the brain case during the making of that writeup was this little ditty from Glasgow-based band Urusei Yatsura. Yes, you read correct. For a time, I had almost completely forgotten about this band, and that they split after only three albums to have leader, Graham Kemp start Project A-ko. I wish I was making this up.

Anyway, here's the song in all it's bendy glory.

(and thus a hundred kamehameha AMVs were born...)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Coming To Terms With Evangelion 2.22

Well, I guess it's time to post about something I swore I wasn't going to. After two mildly diverging posts regarding this film via Anime Diet( Here & Here) , I guess it had made a much bigger impact on me than I had initially imagined. And it isn't for lack of trying that the second installment of Gainax/Khara's big-budget redux/sequel to the Shin Seiki Evangelion saga came off to me as something of a disappointment. But upon catching this again in all of its Blu-ray glory this week, it is perhaps more about running into what this film is by form, rather than what I was hoping it would have been as a feature. And in this manner, I rather enjoyed it much more this time than any time prior. And it is perhaps due to the fact that I am finally coming around to what it is, rather than some kind of imagined ideal. Especially considering that there was indeed a time when a Hollywood-produced live action version was in the planning stages.

And with this thought in mind, I can now see that what has happened is something quite possibly BETTER than anything that could come out of a large english-language production. (consider - AKIRA..) So what has happened here, is that Anno/Tsurumaki have beat Hollywood at their own game and fashioned a brilliant response to what could have been, as well as a reasoned response to the original classic series and films without tarnishing any of the legacy that made this property what it is. To now consider that this is a splashy, loud actioner with a reverence to what has come before makes it a heartening project when considering what it could have also been; a cold, forced rehash of the series made only for venture capital reasons.

And seeing as how in many ways with it's relentless easter egging, and scattered visual & thematic clues, what we have is a piece that functions less as a complete, coherent narrative, and more of an exploration of this apocalyptic tale from a looped perspective. With our leads unknowingly in a position of "doing it all over again", we are privy to a sort of spiritual growth of sorts. It works not unlike when a celebrated musician does a revitalized, mature version of an old favorite. The notes have a taste for the familiar, but the keys have changed, offering another emotional dimension that wasn't there prior. This is where 2.22 works for me personally. As a testament to the story and characters that have gone on to icon status with their broken, flawed personalities, and conflicting motives, to see them take new turns, and exhibit parts of themselves that the original scenario denied them is a welcome feeling. And this is done in a way that in no manner feels as if it's some kind of "apology for past sins", but rather an affirmation that these parts of Shinji, Rei, & Asuka were always there, the chance just never before revealed themselves.It is here that the films work as moving new twists in the mythos, and supercede the jumbled, and often rushed narrative which is likely what would have happened in a much less satisfying fashion in an american version.

So yes, this is an incredibly commercial, "actionized" take on what was a much more drawn out, pessimistic tale the first time around. But this was the Anno of the 1990s, with all the pain and sadness that came with it. So for better or worse, this could very well be the famed anime director's way of signalling the anime/manga creators of the future to continue creating more personally-driven works within a commercial medium. That it is in fact possible to inspire weighty discussion with an art form that has recently fallen into disarray. Goodness willing that even more new and original creations will come to fruition after the wholly new Eva films come out with an entirely unprecedented new finale. If these films can build upon the legacy of such a classic series, and thereby inspire a healing Japan's need for newness, then maybe these films are a completely necessary means of revealing a new identity.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Week In Watching : The Revenge

In the attempt to gather steam now that a work schedule is back on the menu, I figure it was time to go ahead and continue with these updates before reviews and such come roaring back to these pages. And one of the cool little ways I've been able to do some re-watching, as well as finally pick up those titles that have slipped my queue for one reason or another, has been to make an occasional stop by the local Big Lots, and dig deep into their dirt cheap dvds. That's right. Just because things have been thin lately doesn't mean there hasn't been plenty of neat finds in the deep dark bowels of the LB area. Just as it has been a gold mine for sadly overlooked anime masterpieces (ala MEMORIES a few years back), it has also been quite a place to finally get my mitts on the kinds of films that I'm sure are well established cable tv material by now, except with all the added goodies one can hope for in the best days of the dvd format. And this week's haul was no batch of lightweights, I have to add.

The humorous part, at least for me is that much of this new batch is essentially like a vault of memories spanning the last five years for me. These were all notable favorites that either evoke strong, location-based feelings, as well as have been films I had been hoping to own at one time or another. And even if one selection is almost completely for a commentary track, it all bears the markings of that all-too-familiar cliche of measuring compatibility by looking at a new date's shelf. Just another means to know my more pop-cineaste side. That said, one might be surprised at my last pick..

But first comes the original cut of Neil Marshall's 2005 XX-chromo horror opus, The Descent. I have to admit this right now. Upon seeing the as campaign for the US release back in '06, I was ready to hate it. And why not? Much of H-town's treatment of horror at this point in time, either catered for a hopelessly impatient youth market that apparently prefer wanton jumps as opposed to actual dread. And by the looks of that trailer, it looked like more of the same tripe that had been packing the houses up until that point. And no, I hadn't yet experienced Dog Soldiers. So upon finally seeing this on a weekend with little to do, nothing prepared me for just how over the moon I was going to be with this. For the first time in possibly decades, did we have a true gut check of a horror piece that actually believed in build-up before any hint of freakish fireworks. A true breath of minty air, the film is that rare breed of horror that actually compliments its femininity, while kicking unholy ass.

For those unfamiliar, The Descent is the tale of an international group of outdoors adventurers setting out to explore an apparently well-documented cavern deep within the Appalachians one year after one of their members suffered a horrific tragedy, losing her husband and child. Two of these members, having been estranged of sorts since the accident, see this as a potential means to rekindle their fragile friendship as new, seasoned adventurers join them. But it is when the group travels deep into the wild, and away from civilization, that their trek into the deep dark unknown that the film takes some truly amazing turns. And after having only seen it once before, and considering that hindsight might prove my initial impressions moot, I would gladly report that the film still very much delivers with interest. There just hasn't been a genre film like this, let alone a horror one, in a very long time. And even though I haven't even spoken a word about what renders this a "horror" film, let it be known that for those who still have yet to catch this, there is a certain joy that comes from not having all of the plot spoiled for you. And even if the internet proves too strong, and one does see what the film has in store, it works regardless. And mostly all due to the steely hand of Marshall, who not only filmed the show in sequence, but also kept quite a deal away from the cast in the process. It's an old school approach that evokes memories of favorites like ALIEN, and The Thing, which this movie really does feel like a fond love letter to. And that's welcome to me in any cinematic climate. We can go ahead and lament that Marshall has yet to helm anything since with this type of originality and ferocity, and pretend that a sequel was never made to this. As far as I'm concerned, there is only one Descent worth taking, and this is it.

And speaking of The Thing, I couldn't pass this up..

Some may know this of me, but I am a huge sucker for the early films of John Carpenter. Even though I could perhaps be lumped in there with the legion of 80s children who grew up as part of the Amblin generation, who were granted a sort of wild funhouse mirror of filmic past through the films of Spielberg, and the like, there was a dark side residing in me at an early age that Carpenter certainly spoke for. Even when this film was my least favorite of the era between indie and mainstream success, his follow up in The Fog was still an atmospheric ride that still emitted the creeps in good measure. I used to catch it on tv every year. And it was one of the few Carpenter films that I could watch with no problem with the parents without having to sneak around. (nervous laugh) There was something both romantic, and quietly distressing about the seaside town of Antonio Bay that Carpenter, Debra Hill & co. that truly hit that nightmare sweet spot in me as a little one. It introduced me to Adrienne Barbeau, and helped instill the notion that girls who reminded me of Jamie Lee Curtis were super cool in my book.

And the film is as simple as it can possibly get. A town cursed by a terrible secret, haunted 100 years later by a relentless presence shrouded in a glowing plume of fog. A threadbare idea for a campfire tale is all it takes for this film that plays it loose and fast, and is more about essence than anything truly tangible, which can also be considered to its detriment. And yet, it's still a very memorable experience with several iconic Carpenter moments. All done on the cheap, the dvd is also worth getting for the commentary by the man himself, along with the late, great Debra Hill who recount the tales of making the film in an environment that was quickly changing into one of splatter quotas and cheapening scares. This is also something known about me, I love the commentaries for Carpenter's films, as they are as entertaining as informative; especially when regarding just how obvious it is that this is his life. These commentaries are always so candid, and unpretentious that it feels like sitting there with a relative recanting a favorite story. He's one of my favorite film commentators, and there's no shortage of goodness in this pick.

Now to step out of the horror milieu, and into another well-regarded name from the past that had left a deep impression on me as an undertall tyke in the Caifornia deserts. Many would probably never pick me for a "Rocky"-kid, but I have to admit it. Like so many others of the time, Stallone's underdog saga had a grip on me that rooted deep. And while even I as a young boy could see that the films became increasingly mechanical and silly, there was something about the core characters that kept me coming back. But none of the sequels would ever have the impact that Avildsen's earnest first film had. A simple populist classic, it is an archetypical song, directed and performed to a perfect pitch, and remains an undeniable metaphor for untapped potential, and the power of dreaming. So when a series so long dead after such an upsetting fifth installment, there seemed to be no way that the character could ever figure out a means to thaw my iceberg heart. In 2006, I was so happy to have been dead wrong. The Stallone written & directed Rocky Balboa, for me remains an understated perfect finale that has unfortunately revitalized the icon's penchant for unnecessary sequels, and cash-ins. But there's still something to be said about this almost unthinkable sixth chapter that emotionally plowed me like a steam truck, seeing it with siblings. It was as if IV & V only existed as some kind of bizarre fame-induced drug haze, and someone, somehow found the central characters' long neglected hearts, and allowed them to be exposed to all to see without any guile, or self consciousness. I won't say much more about this, but for all the mixed talk it still gets, there is still enough for the little fan in me that laps it all up with a huge, horrible grin. I'm all a goo for Rocky Balboa, and I don't care who knows it.

And lastly....Oh how I didn't expect to find this in Big Lots! of all places.

The last time I saw this left-field manga adaptation, it was as I myself was becoming more and more surrounded by the then already-in-transition American anime industry. So wearing thin with how television anime has been growing at the time, STUDIO4°C had been something of a respite from formulas as many of their shorts, and experimental projects, alongside their entries for The Animatrix. And when it was established that their follow-up to the brilliant MIND GAME was to be a feature version of Taiyo Matsumoto's three volume manga TEKKON KINKREET, I was intrigued to say the least. And not only because this made for such the militant denial of what the anime medium is largely known for, but because of the name attached to direct, former FX artist, and producer Michael Arias. Such the ballsy series of decisions deserved a watch, and the film lives up to the studio's reputation, and still offers enchantments for those seeking something less overt, and more on the symbological side. Much like a collage, and less like a concrete narrative, the film tells the tale of two very young orphans, and their struggles to survive the streets of the imaginary Treasure Town, all the while taking on rival gangs, yakuza, and bizarre interests bent on recreating the town's underbelly for their own ends. While embracing much of what the casual viewer sees as "anime", the film also carries with it a more mischievous exploratory side that leaves much of what happens open to interpretation with the harmoniously divergent "Cats" at the emotional center of the tale.

While it does suffer from coming off as a bit remote in places, the film is also a breathless display of experimental animation that melds hand in glove with Matsumoto's unique visual style that feels less like commercial manga, and closer in spirit to street art. This second viewing yielded an interesting response in me that was unexpected, as I felt that the most interesting element in the whole film is a subplot involving a yakuza character experiencing a rather personal arc that in many ways was far more involving than that of the two kids, Kuro & Shiro. And perhaps this is where the film reveals itself as more a tapestry of ideas rather than a structured story. Which I supposed is par for the course for a studio best known for omnibus material like MEMORIES, and GENIUS PARTY. But the essence of what is being attempted is best summed up in a simple visual motif involving what looks like the red sun of Japan that recurs several times throughout the whole film. A call for diverse ideas in a place growing increasingly small, filled with minds only centered on shallow ideals, and less about community. However way one looks at it, Tekkon Kinkreet bristles with energy, and originality, and stands as a reminder of how the anime art form could diverge into new, and interesting creatures. Still a fascinating piece of textured animation, and well worth the find. 

So yes, hopefully this will continue to be a surrogate means of catching up, while matters improve. Feeling the itch to write a lot more, as well as podcast, so look forward to more digests like this in the future.

So at his rate, would it mean that I should check this place out again within a year, and perhaps find another film from STUDIO4°C ? (Kidding, naturally.)

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Week In Watching (Early April 2011)

It's Friday evening out here, and that means it's time for a quick run-through of what's been shaking in the watching department, along with progress report on gathering back lost steam. That's right, as of this weekend, the Kaijyu shall be back to full speed with renewed energy, including all the activity one comes to expect from the several sites I dedicate time to.

So let's just get into some digests of what I've recently checked out:

Well I finally got around to catching the Smith-produced remake of The Karate Kid, starring their still larval-staged son, Jaden alongside the legendary Jackie Chan, and I have to say that despite my fears, this wasn't as horrid a project as I had feared it would be. Which isn't to say that this isn't a desperate, arch, shallow attempt at co-opting American nostalgia, which it truly is. But it at least offers enough new tweaks, and accents to the familiar story to make it at least watchable. By setting this version in China, and enlisting the production cooperation of the government, it creates a whole new cultural disconnect that transcends some of the more oversimplified elements of the original. Especially impressive is in how the script takes the time to allow these characters to breathe within those early stages of the story, before our titular kid begins to look for help from the mysterious local handyman in Mr. Han (Chan). It is clear that Smith's Dre Parker is a charismatic, likeable presence, that while is essentially the same character as Ralph Macchio was in the '84 film, has a completely new set of quirks and issues. And in the role of the teacher, Jackie shares what is easily the best english language role of his career. It is perhaps in this dynamic that allows the film to actually deliver in ways the original wasn't allowed to. And while the film does run a bit too long (2hrs and 21 minutes is asking a bit), it is hindered by a rushed finale, and a few annoying reminders that we are also watching a Chinese travel brochure in action. And lastly, henceforth, I will continue to call this film by its rightful name because there is no hint of karate to be found.

After years of putting it off for a number of reasons, I finally went ahead and took the amber plunge with Oshii's digitally "enhanced" version of his seminal anime classic, Ghost In The Shell. And all I can say is..WOW. There is no reason GiTS 2.0 to exist other than for some bizarre market subset not me. It's the very reason not to do a re-issue. For my whole review, please check this out. And the saddest part of it is, is that it feels closer in feel to the late 90s Star Wars Special Editions than anything. If there's a fate worse than some half-baked, bargain bin "special edition" dvd sold in a liquor store, this is it.

Also this week, I had the chance to revisit s film that I hadn't seen in the years after the overnight success of their second film, The Matrix. Seriously, I hadn't watched 1996's BOUND since it first came to home video well near fifteen years ago, and boy so much came rushing back reminding me of what made this sibling duo's work so entertaining, albeit removed from any sort of reality. The Wachowski's if anything are masters at styling up noir environments with hammy characters, and exaggerated actions. I remember chuckling like crazy at just how far they went toward portraying this pair of sexually confined leads as they attempt to dupe the mob out of 2 million. As much as some attempted to say that this film was a sort of first for LGBT-laden thrillers, there is so my hyperbole in character mannerisms that it borders, no strike that, reaches cartoonish heights. And even back then, I found Gina Gershon's jeans-wearing, tattoo-sporting ex-con, Corky to be little more than an exaggerated stereotype hidden under a fun performance.(swing that lugwrench!) And Jennifer Tilly's sultry & borderline desperate Violet have much to contend with as the ever master scene-larcenist, Joey Pantoliano struggles to outwit the pair of would-be runaway thieves. And yet this critically-acclaimed film never lets us forget that we're watching a movie-movie, and that it's all about assured style & over the top antics. Which clearly worked, as it opened the door for their biggest claim to fame three years later. And no matter how this film still makes me laugh, there is certainly a telling amount of material in this film for more Matrix fans to mine from regarding how much cinema has indeed changed since then. Also worthy of note is the still brilliant photography of Bill Pope (Matrix, Spiderman 2, Scott Pilgrim) which was apparently done on the cheap, and still looks phenomenal.

And lastly, after nearly two months of struggling with re-editing, tweaking, and generally rearranging, a new special episode of the Combo Attack podcast is on the air. Highlighting our Top Five Special Effects Milestones, this long in the making 90 minute episode features a return visit from old friend, and CG Texture artist, Krystal S., who also offered a list of the films that inspired her to become part of the FX community, as well as gives us a lot of insight into working on Cameron's FX landmark, AVATAR. It's a scrappy, illuminating, and monstrously geeky good time. Check it out!