Saturday, March 25, 2006

Another Salieri moment

Subject: Cinema
Almost 2 years ago when I got started with this blog, I confessed a bit about my obsession and disfunction about "Noir", about how I felt like the character based on classical composer Antonio Salieri in the movie "Amadeus" -- adequate in his own life, but able to recognize (and be insanely jealous of) the creative superiority of Mozart.

The real Salieri was nothing like that, of course; at least as far as history is concerned. But I can't help but feel that I've somehow cheated myself along the way.

I watched Pixar's "The Incredibles" again tonight, seeing as I've been rather dissappointed overall with what I've been watching post-"MADLAX". I knew I'd like it, and like it a lot, like I've gushed about in previous posts (holy crap, almost exactly one year ago!!). And I have to admit that I feel a bittersweet aftertaste to it.

Like I said in that post a year ago, I took a shot at working for Pixar back in their early days, and didn't come close to making the cut. But before I redoubled my efforts and attempted to get better, I "sold out" and took a comfortable corporate job; a job which has steadily grown further and further away from my goals at the time. Stuck in a cubicle (well, now I have an office) in the middle of a vast beauracracy, thinking fondly of the so-called "glory days".

Having a bout of "Post-MADLAX Syndrome" and the mid-life-crisis-inspiring angst was bad enough, but to through this on to of it was a bit much, I guess. The worst part being that I enjoy these shows immensely! They're brilliant, both in their own way.

And I can only ascribe that to some sort of jealousy.

Okay, seriously, it's not all that bad, and I get over it pretty quickly. But if I were to really want to be just as successful, I'd use them as inspiration to put in the effort I would need to make even an approximation of that sort of breakthrough. But instead it feels like I'm taking some sort of easy way out instead.

I really shouldn't complain. And I really shouldn't delude myself so much that my life would seem so unaccomplished and useless. Because that's not really true. Yeah, I'm not slaving behind a computer in a classy building in the Presido. And I'm not slaving away in a quirky little half-cubical in a Japanese studio. But who knows what the future may bring...

The Curse of the Where-Was-It?

Subject: Cinema
I was delighted to find that the recent Oscar winner for Animated Feature, Nick Park's "Curse of the Were-Rabbit", was on the Hi-Def "On Demand" selection on my cablebox. So I stocked up on some Wemblyville and crackers and fired it up.

...and, sadly, was a tad dissappointed.

I met Nick Park briefly at the the Ottawa International Festival of Animation in 1990, where he won for his short film "Creature Comforts" (recently a BBC series that will be on CBS here in the states very soon). His trademark Brit-humour-in-clay, as told by animals in a zoo, brought the house down. He was wearing a huge sparkling-green bow-tie -- another trademark, as witnessed by his Oscar acceptance.

Subsequent festivals introduced me to the "Wallace & Gromit" franchise. Absolute classics, culminating in what was probably the Best Short Clay Animation Ever, "The Wrong Trousers" -- the pentultimate Penguin Jewel Theif Caper Film ever. Everything about that film was dead-on rip-roaring hilarious.

The first feature-length "Wallace & Gromit" film, "A Close Shave", followed shortly thereafter, and I have fond memories of that as well, but not quite as seared in my conciousness as "The Wrong Trousers".

Sadly, "Curse of the Were-Rabbit", while valiantly attempting to recreate the ingredients that made "Trousers" so successful, failed at continuing the magic that the earlier works managed to bring to the screen.

It lacked a lot of the subtle wit I remembered. And the embodiment of that wit was in the visual timing of Gromit's reactions to Wallace's clueless bumbling. The timing back then was so stellar, so dead-on deadpan, that you couldn't help but laugh contagiously. The moments, the jokes, the homages and visual puns -- all brilliant in their understated Britishness. And "Curse" lost most of that.

It had the distinctly bland taste of "written by committee" to it; like a vacuum-wrapped slice of Kraft American Cheese on white bread. It wasn't without it's moments, sure. And the animation, the attention-to-detail; all of that was quite well done, as well it should be considering the pedigree of the creative team. But the execution and package as a whole was greatly dissappointing compared to my expectations set by memories of past triumphs.

I could be seeing it through a haze of nostalgia; perhaps the older installments were just as superficial, but had more impact in an audience of fellow animation-lovers. But I think I'm pretty sure that something was legitimately lacking this time. Sad.

That said, I'm still looking forward to the domestic airing of the "Creature Comforts" series. I hope it captures at least a little of the old spark.

Uncool wannabe

Subject: Noir
No, I'm not talking about the days when I owned an electric guitar... Instead, I gave "Outlaw Star" a try.

And I pretty much gave up halfway in to the first episode. I could tell right away that it held no redeeming value whatsoever, and I really didn't feel like wasting my time. I suppose if I had to say something nice about it, it would be that the sci-fi inspired designs looked alright. But really, the animation was rather sub-standard, the characters totally lame, and the whole experience rather vapid.

It's often brought up in threads about "what to watch if you like 'Cowboy Bebop'", and I've always been skeptical of that connection. It's a show that reeks of being developed by a committee that saw the success of "Bebop" and decided they wanted in on that action. Total poseur of a show. Bleh.

In a slightly different vein, I also caught disc 2 of "Trigun", and while I think the various little "serious" notes it started to hit made it a little more interesting, I realized something: it's following the exact same formula that I saw in "Chrono Crusade". Well, vice-versa, actually, as "Trigun" preceeded "Chrono" by a while. But it's the exact same "silly meets faux-seriousness", almost to the episode. Go figure. I think they're both from the same studio, too, though I'm too lazy right now to go look up any other parallels. I'm sure this formula probably runs rampant through the anime universe anyhow. I guess it's still entertaining enough for lite viewing, so I guess I'll keep up with it for another disc at least.

Also entertaining, and I think quite underrated, is disc 3 of "L/R: Licensed by Royalty". I would also call it "clever". It's simple, lite fun, and leans big-time on the Anglophile side. Well, except for the baseball game. I figure I'll finish this one, though it's not quite purchase-worthy.

Finally, somehow, I wound up renting disc 1 of "Rurouni Kenshin". I suppose I just started desperately clicking anything that looked slightly good on the GreenCine review lists. And really, it isn't all that bad. The characters are a bit interesting, the animation isn't too bad, and the typical anime-comedy bits aren't too off-putting (I must be getting used to that or something...) But it's a samurai show for girls, it would seem, and I'm having a hard time maintaining interest in it beyond what I've mentioned. It didn't quite hook me like "Escaflowne" did, so I don't think I'll keep up with it.

"Windy Tales" = delightful

Subject: Noir
It's a peaceful, though gray morning, and with my week-long bout of "Post-MADLAX Syndrome" finally fading, I figured I'd catch up with the latest releases of "Windy Tales" (episodes 8 & 9).

It's one of those "slice of life" shows, where you get into the simple, almost trivial day-to-day experiences of the characters. And normally, I don't have a lot of patience for that sort of thing. But this one is different in a couple of ways.

First, the storytelling is really, really good. Sure, it gets a little sappy, or a little "young" or me (well, okay, a lot "young" for me), but it's never immature, and it's often insightful in it's simplicity. In fact, "young" as the lead characters are, they are actually quite mature, and the grownup characters provide an added perspective that makes this something far more than just a show about kids.

The other aspect is what drew me to it in the first place: how it's drawn. It's a rather fanciful, almost abstracted style of simple, raw shapes, muted-yet-nuanced watercolors, and a rather low framerate. Yet these characters are a thousand times more real and alive than those in programs that fans would label as "realistic". You can see the in the animators' expressiveness the care for, and delight in their subjects.

I figure there's not much hope of a domestic release of this one, at least not through the traditional anime venues. Which is a shame, because I think with the right positioning, it could become one of those little crossover gems that appeal to people who are hungry for quality storytelling. But I suppose there isn't much of a market in that...

Monday, March 20, 2006

Round three??

Subject: Noir
Well, that was a lot of fun. I haven't had that much fun since, well, since the last "MADLAX" disc showed up... *cough*

That said, it was maybe a tad too much fun (oh really?) and so I decided I need a slightly more, uh... sober appraisal of the ending. Since I'm taking a couple of days off this week, allegedly to be a bit productive around the house (and you can guess how well that's going), there's no better time than the present! So I'm winding back to disc 5 and diving back in.

Besides, I've still got a lot of leftover pasta to finish...

UPDATE: Maybe sobriety doesn't help... we'll see a little later when I can think about this more abstractly. In the mean time...

"Madlax, I'm going to keep on watching you"


Yeah, you know it.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Round two....

Subject: Noir
...this time it's serious!

I did a little calculation, and I pretty much have to start the rest now if I want to finish by 1 AM or so. I don't want to go too late into the night with gunshots going off and all that; I'm sure my neighbors wouldn't appreciate it.

Not that they've mentioned it the last 6 or 7 times I've done it... Hmmm....

UPDATE: I'm about to start disc 6. The final roller-coaster ride is about to begin. There are so many little bits of foreshadowing up to this point that I'm about to go totally nuts. I can only hope that the translations for the last episodes will help make sense of it all and not totally f* with my head.

Yeah, right!

UPDATE #2: "You are the affection within madness. A kind killer."

"Yes, that is Madlax"...

Oh yeah.........! (now it's time for disc 7. After all this time...)

Ep. 24: "By taking life, by throwing life away, they confirm each other's existence. Humans are such tragic creatures... But I hold that quality beloved..."

UPDATE #3: Elenore. Vanessa was bad enough. Now Elenore. Way back when this first aired, someone on Animesuki mentioned that this episode was both the funniest and most tragic of all of them. And I still agree. 2 more to go...

UPDATE #4: "I am the pain of when we touched truth."...

UPDATE LAST...: And I really don't know what to say. I'm going to have to watch it all again to be able to comment on it in any sort of reasonable way. Right now, though, I'm a total puddle of emotion. The end cut off too short, I think, compared to the actual Japanese version, which really makes it hard for me to reconcile just what the f* happened. Yet I think the actual events before it were rather completely and helpfully done; but it was too fast and too sudden for me to deal with it. I'll try again soon. Hopefully I'll manage to sob myself to sleep quietly with all that happened just now. Wow.

UPDATE REALLY THIS IS THE LAST...: Okay, I compared to the ol' fansubs and what there is on the DVD is exactly what ended on the Japanese version (which showed the final credits during the last couple of scenes, unlike ADV's version). And for the final quote, which is going to stick with me forever:

"There's a me inside of you."

That's the key to the entire series. That's the key to everything, really... (okay, I need to get some sleep; it's late... but still...)

Friday, March 17, 2006


Subject: Noir
Well, I'm definitely starting tonight; I'm halfway through disc 1 already.

For St. Patrick's Day, I'm making quite a tasty corned-beef-and-cabbage dinner; but I've got plenty of pasta fixin's for tommorrow. If, by some crazy chance of fate, I actually pull an all-nighter and watch all of it tonight, I'll just have to watch all of it again tommorrow so I can cook the appropriate pasta for the finale!

(Yes, I have a problem. *ahem*)

UPDATE: I just noticed another thing about episode 4... girl kills her father. Wow, that's kind of obvious when you think about it, huh? Anyway, realizing that made the episode even that much more different than when I gushed about it all those months ago... More to come!

UPDATE #2: Nope, no chance of me watching all of it tonight. I only got through disc 2, and I'm tuckered out, as they say. 5 discs worth tommorow will still be rather impressive though. And hooray for pasta!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

It's heeee-eeere!!

Subject: Noir
"MADLAX" disc 7 has arrived!

But I'm trying to figure out if I'm going to watch the whole series split over two nights, or try for an all-in-one marathon on Saturday. Hmmm...

Well either way, I won't see it until Saturday. So I'm sure plenty of people will have a chance to watch it before I get to it.

Some endings, some beginnings

Subject: TV
Most of the shows I've been following had their season finales lately. "Life on Mars", originally billed as a short 10-episode run, predictably enough, didn't actually conclude. It's going to go on for at least another "season". I haven't searched around to find out the whens and the wheres, but I'm sure I'll hear about it when it does.

But I was kind of hoping it'd end for real. It was a decently done episode, and the series as a whole has been entertaining, but I think it probably would have been stronger if it were a tighter and more-focused short run like I thought it would be.

I haven't blogged much about "Stargate: SG-1" since the beginning of the season, if I have at all. Compared to the classic episodes of the past, at least through the nostalgic haze that enshrouds those memories, it was a rather weak season. It predictably ends on a galaxy-threatening cliffhanger with lots of spaceships blowing up and whatnot. Yeah, fine... okay. Will I continue with the next season? Well, if I don't have anything better to do, I suppose.

"Battlestar Galactica" ended with a big 90-minute cliffhanger itself. And it was chock-full of "WTF". I mean, really; "One year later..." -- WTF?? Though that awesomely cheesy mustache Edward James Olmos was sporting almost made it worth it... Heh.

In the "beginnings" corner, after nearly 2 years after the last season ended, "The Sopranos" comes back for its "sort-of-final" season. And it comes back with all of it's classic ingredients intact. A little bit gritty, a little bit funny, a lot shocking, and the characters and situations and details all suck you in to one of those moments after another. When I found out that there was going to be this long of a hiatus from the show, I thought that by this time, I wouldn't have cared anymore and wouldn't have bothered watching it. But sure enough, even though I have a DVR and could record it to watch any time, it's still one of the shows I'll tune in for right when it airs, and on Sunday at 9pm, I was all ready to give it my undivided attention. And there go my Sunday nights for the next couple of weeks...

And "Deadwood" isn't even back yet...

HBO has started another series that they're hoping to hook "Sopranos" viewers on; something about a polygamous Mormon and his multiple households, called "Big Love". I didn't stick around for it, but it's on the DVR, and I figure I'll give it a chance. We'll see.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

And speaking of "sucked"...

Subject: Cinema
...I watched the recently-released DVD of "Thumbsucker". It had some buzz as being one of those nifty "indie" projects that had the potential of being like the "next Sofia Coppola" or some nonsense like that.

I dunno. It all seemed kind of forced to me. Way more contrived than most, and only just barely escaping the faux-depth that a student film would labor under the delusion of. I've complained plenty in the past about not being interested in watching whiny tales of teenage angst/anxiety/inner-struggle anymore, and well, here it was all over again.

I followed it up by dipping into my collection for something that actually didn't suck, but I can't say I really got a lot out of it either. Francois Truffaut's "Stolen Kisses" is a 60's French farce that's part of the "Antoine Doinel" series, following the antics of the hapless Parisian loser Antoine as he is kicked out of the Army and tries to find a job. Amusing, but if there was a point, it was lost on me. I guess I wasn't quite in the mood to let myself just escape into it, and I don't think it did an awful lot to help. It seemed to be a set of character studies more than anything. Also, it's the first time in a long time that I watched something set in Paris and I didn't find myself longing to go visit; it's like it was depicted as just another "normal" backdrop. Curious.

Finally, also in the "didn't suck" category, I had a chance to DVR "Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai", Jim Jarmusch's quirky Jersey mobster vs. an urban twist on the Bushido code, starring Forrest Whittaker as a very large African American hitman with a strong samurai bent. I've seen a couple of Jarmusch's films in the past, yet without looking them up, I don't think I can actually name any of them off the top of my head. But his films have a very strong indie sensibility that "Thumbsucker" can only wish it had. But it also definitely leans toward "quirky", and it might be hard for some to get into his style.

And "Ghost Dog" seems like a difficult-to-get-into film by it's description. And also it's rather staged; there's a lot of "intentionally-obvious" symbolism and a blatently-announced homage to "Rashamon", the Kurosawa film I found the most annoying for some reason. But there are enough hooks and quirky/funny details, and even fascinating-yet-simple moments of dialogue that make it worth going along for the ride. It's worth a rental, at least.

Yet Another Summary (in which the Author Thinks Everything Sucked)

Subject: Noir
I suppose if I actually posted when I actually watched these shows, there might be a little more activity around here. Oh well, it's not like there's much to say -- so here goes...

"S-Cry-Ed" disc 1 -- I'm not entirely sure why I wound up putting this in my rental queue, seeing as it's just another typical fighting-teenager show. I guess I'm casting my net out a little desperately of late. Anyhow, it didn't totally suck, and there were some reasonably well-done animated sequences, but there's really nothing there to hook me or make me interested in watching any more.

"Gilgamesh" disc 1 -- Yup. Getting desperate, I guess. Actually, this one's description read like it was at least a little more serious, which is what I'm looking for, but it has that souless bland goth look and really poorly executed character animation that seems to be the cliche of "serious" anime these days. I mean, it was even more boring and lifeless than "Blood +"! The potential of the storyline seemed to have some promise, but considering how flat and dead the rest of it was, why bother watching it on-screen when it would probably do better as a comic book or something. And it probably already is/was. And really, I don't care. Meh.

"Tsubasa Chronicles" movie -- Yeah, okay, I'm bending the rules a little. Okay, a lot. But I was kind of curious, and I've kind of missed having "Tsubasa" around on Sunday mornings. And, yeah, I'm probably going to watch the next season as it comes out, which means it's time to drop my high-and-mighty "ethical" act, and switch to the sheepish, guilty-as-charged act instead. Which is all besides the point, since I was kind of dissappointed in it. Sure, there were some decent, higher-budget animation & artwork touches. But like I've said before, a higher framecount doesn't necessarily make a better animation.

The obvious difference was in Sakura. I've attested many times throughout the first season that it was the sparkle that they managed to give her that kept me hooked. And all the characters had at least a little life to them, despite all the "standing around". But it was pretty much missing in this short 30-minute theatrical release. They were just another set of ordinary cartoon characters, and it relied on your own foreknowledge of their characters in order to fill in the gaps for their motivations. And for me, no sparkle, no sale.

Still, it was better than the other two shows. But that's not exactly a difficult standard to meet. I've also got the "XXXholic" movie it was paired with, but now I'm not entirely certain I want to bother with it. I suppose I'll wind up bored and curious sometime soon. Or I'll want something to complain about...

Friday, March 10, 2006

Ohhhhh-boyohboyohboyohboyohboy.... final chapter

Subject: Noir
Once again:

We thought you'd like to know that we processed your Invoice today.
This invoice contains:
1 | Madlax: Reality - Volume 7 (2006)

Hooray! I'd better stock up on pasta!!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Flying trains, past and present

Subject: Noir
I wound up renting the recently-released "Galaxy Express" under the mistaken assumption that it was actually a re-release of the old-skool "Galaxy Railways 999" series that I could just barely remember seeing back in the day.

Of course, it's not. It's from the same "universe" in general (heck, where else are there going to be flying space trains?), and it's chock full of homage to that whole old-skool style, with far more modern (yet rather low-budget) touches. The character styles for instance: mostly rather modern, though with those old haircuts and fashions. Then they'll throw in a guy with those beady eyes high up on a squeezed forehead. But the way they did even that was kind of a modern, almost believable look. Interesting.

Otherwise, the nostalgia bits kind of wore thin after a while. So I dug around to see if the original was still around, and it seems that the license had run out, and one of the fansub groups has a bunch of episodes from it. I've snagged them, and caught the first one. Sure enough, I remembered it far better than I thought I would.

It's definitely dated. Hoo boy, is it. Seems primitive in comparison. But one thing it has over the modern re-telling is that great little "spark of life" that you so often get with old handmade classics like that. So I'm sure I'll enjoy refreshing my memory about it when I get a chance. But I probably won't continue with any more discs of the new version.

In other fansub news, I caught up with "Noein" up to 17. Right now I'm just not going to bother trying to explain or rationalize it, and just go with the flow and enjoy what there is. There was another raw-art battle scene like before, and that was quite neat.

Also quite neat was finding another episode of "Windy Tales" -- I had almost given up on that one for good, but Shi-Fa managed to get us another one. Yay! No new ground broken or anything, but it's still a neat story.

I've built up a backlog of "Mushishi" episodes; hopefully I'll get to them this weekend.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The imagination I don't have

Subject: Cinema
First up tonight was from my "forgotten favorite director". That is to say, if I'm asked about my favorite movies, when I'm not thinking about it, I always forget that Terry Gilliam is an outstanding cinematic artist. I read a few not-so-positive things about his latest "Hollywood" film, "The Brothers Grimm", about how he didn't quite get to do the movie he really wanted, but he still managed to feel like he pulled something off to his satisfaction. And yeah, I think it was a reasonably satisfactory movie.

The things that come out of his imagination are outstanding, and I can just picture how he brought various visual and storytelling elements to the final product. But overall, yeah, it wasn't a total knock-out of an experience. Better than most, but kind of weak where it didn't necessarily need to be. The whole allegory about making movies was rather obvious overall, though I do tend to see allegories about making movies in just about everything, even "MADLAX"... (which I'll bore everyone about in another month once the last disc gets released...)

What Gillliam was missing in "Grimm", could be found in spades in the low-budget, effects-laden, Jim Henson Productions extraveganza, "Mirrormask". I had blogged about it enthusiastically a couple of times when it came out, but never actually went to see it in the theater. Early in the film, it hit all of its notes perfectly. A young lady is the daughter of a couple who runs a circus, and she's sick of it. Her mom says "there are children in the audience who want to run away and join the circus", trying to convince her to appreciate what she has. She responds, "I want to run away and join real life".

Okay, that was kind of predictable. And nothing about what she does in the rest of the film had much to do about real life. It is, after all, a gothic fantasy. But I really enjoyed it. It echoed the earlier Jim Henson Productions favorite "Labyrinth" in a lot of ways, though there were no muppets or aging-rock-stars-in-tights. Just a few things about the tone and the storyline seemed a bit obvious in that parallel.

It did lose a little of it's magic as it headed towards the ending. Not that it wasn't cool anymore, but more like you start to take the universe for granted. It stopped hitting the simple-but-effective emotional notes that it was portraying in the first segment. It disconnected itself from that whole state a bit too far, and revelled more in it's surreal anti-existence; it dabbled a bit too much in the "ooh, isn't this really f*ing cool and freaky" state instead. Which was okay, because it was really freaky-cool. But it could have really hit it out of the park if it managed to successfully play the emotional card a bit.

At any rate, the total lack of "Hollywood" really had a positive effect on "Mirromask", and all the pieces come together quite brilliantly. I greatly envy the world inside of McKean's & Gaiman's heads. There's no way I could have come up with anything even remotely close. *sigh*

"Spider Riders" clips & start date, and ".hack//Roots" start date

Subject: Noir
As found by BTF member thavas, there's now a page Teletoon's clips for "Spider Riders"

I've posted my observations over in the Bee Train Fan thread about it.

EDIT: Oh, right, and the start-dates... both "Spider Riders" and ".hack//Roots" start in Japan on April 5th. Go figure.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Subject: Noir
"RahXephon - the Movie" was a short recap/retelling of the series. A number of condensed plot-points, and an equal number of abject storyline changes that make things a little more direct and obvious. While this essentially looked the same as the series -- the decent use of color and overall design I liked -- by being so condensed, it lost the only two other things it had going for it: atmosphere, and attention to detail. If anything, the dialouge and visual performances were more stiff and soulless.

Frankly, I expected as much, though I was hoping for at least some improvement to the animation, or a widescreen presentation or something. If the framecount was actually higher, you couldn't really tell. "Number of frames doth not a quality of motion make." *cough*