Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Halfway past the weekend....

Subject: Noir
...and barrelling towards another one. *sigh*

I didn't get a chance to mention it, but DDD had another one of their big sales, so I caught up with my wishlist backlog and bought the latest round of Ghibli releases ("Howl's Moving Castle", "Totoro", etc). They just showed up today, hooray! Also in the box, at least as far as anime is concerned, was "Steamboy" and the "Wild Arms" thinpak. Interestingly enough, though the DVD credits never mentioned his name, "from Koichi Mashimo - the director of Noir" is plastered all over the box. Hmm. Anyway, I picked it up because I had the urge to, well, collect. I know, scary.

Anyway, back to the weekend. To encapsulate:

"Fantastic Children" disc 2 -- Neat. The story continues. The characters are interesting, and have what I think is a really, really old-skool look, now that I think of it. But I'm too lazy to look up what I think it is. At any rate, it'll be a while before I get a hold of the next one, but I'll keep renting.

"Read Or Die" disc 6 -- Still not done yet. *sigh* Decent action, though, but it is starting to wear thin. The last disc is on it's way.

"Tsubasa Chronicle" eps 33 & 34 -- hey, what do you know, I had an extra one laying around that I forgot about! Anyway, another pair of Mashimo-directed ones. A few of the cheesy lower-budget shortcuts were a little too obvious this time, and the CLAMP storyline for this arc is really building up rather tritely, but I don't have too much to complain about beyond that. Not too much to praise, though.

"Popolocrois Story" ep 20 was kind of trite as well, but the whole series isn't exactly Shakespeare, after all. It's a kid's show, and it lives up to that. But like I've said many times before, it has that fascinating little spark of life to it that you wouldn't expect otherwise. Wholly underrated.

".hack//Roots" ep 12 -- the story keeps on digging deeper into the mystery, and the characters as well. But at this point, it's really just "sit back and watch"; there's not a lot I find to put me on the edge of my seat. I think "//SIGN" was kind of like that too.

No more "Spider Riders" raws for some reason. The dubs from Kid's WB are showing up on 'torrent, which I suppose I'm lucky for, because my DVR didn't quite take to my "Record all new episodes" command.

That's about it. This weekend kicks off the Independence Day holiday, and I've got friends coming over for some BBQ, but I should be able to squeeze in a little time for disc 1 of "Eureka 7" (which I put in my queue for some reason).

Friday, June 23, 2006

TV down to two.

Subject: TV
Now that it's the summer, I'm down to watching just two shows on a regular basis. And one of them I have to download in order to see it!

"Deadwood" season 3 started up the other week. We rejoin our dysfunctional desparados diligently deciding Deadwood's direction. *cough*. Oh that's right, they speak in iambic pentameter, not alliteration. My bad.

(I don't think I could speak in iambic pentameter on purpose, even if there was a gun to my head... Good thing I'm not on the show!)

At any rate, besides the mundane details of Deadwood's impending elections, and the starting of daily schoolin' for the young-uns (as it were), we quickly establish that there's going to be a whole lot of tension between Ian McShane's brilliantly nasty Al Swearengin, and the newcomer in the camp, the legendary mining kingpin George Hearst, played by Dabney Coleman.

By the end of of a tense (and strange) episode 2, you can tell that they're about to get their war on. But will it just be a cold war? Doesn't seem likely.

The dialogue seems a little awkward this season. It's like the writers are trying a little too hard, and the actors didn't get enough time to become comfortable with the lines. In previous seasons, it seemed a lot more natural. One other un-natural element would be Sherriff Bullock's attitude. Particularly towards former nemesis Al Swearengin, but also in general. He's softer, more agreeable, and maybe a little more anxious and fearful. There were a lot of events that closed out season 2 that likely percipitated these changes, I'll grant that, but it seems a bit disconcerting compared to my expectations. Still, he did suddenly beat the mayor to a bloody pulp all of a sudden... Hmmm.

Anyway, on to "Doctor Who". I finally caught all the way up with it this week. The second half of the "Cthulhu-in-space" mini-arc was quite an entertaining ride, and very, very old-skool "Doctor". This most recent episode focuses more on a young bloke who's path seems to keep crossing with the Doctor, ever since his childhood. And it's got some astonishingly silly sequences dominating almost the entire thing. Yet, there's this little dark edge to it that keeps building. And even though the end itself couldn't help but devolve into one last silly payoff ("We still manage to have a bit of a love-life" Bwa-ha-ha!!), it kicks you with one last dark message, restoring the "campy-vs-edgy" ratio to the usual.

I'm guessing the show is going to remain a bit of an acquired taste. It's too over-the-top, and it really relies on an overall exposure to the history of the show in order for the payoffs to be worth it. I think it might prove to be quite entertaining to newcomers though. As long as your expectations are to be entertained, not enlightened.

This Week In Anime (Redux)

Subject: Noir
Hmm, this post I made the other week, with the same title, seems to have gotten stuck as "draft". I hear Blogger has been a bit touchy this month, so I went and un-stuck it. And, essentially, follow-on with a bit more...

".hack//Roots" episode 11 -- We seem to be confounding the situation even further, and that seems to be taking its toll on the characters. Everything's starting to fragment. But I guess there are bigger surprises in store. I can't say I'm on the edge of my seat, but I'm still looking foward to it nonetheless.

"Spider Riders"... first off, I watched the dubs of episodes 1 & 2 that premiered on Kid's WB on Saturday. It just worked out that I was settling down to a late breakfast at that exact time, so I said "what the hell?" and gave it a try. I've mentioned my impressions over on Bee Train Fan, so I don't have much to add beyond that. I might keep recording it just to see the episodes with Aqune (a.k.a the dark and brooding Spider Rider babe) with translations so I know what her deal is. Heh. Plus it might just contribute to the ratings someday...

Oh, and the raw for episode 11 mixed between some rather amusing bits (in an otherwise predictable battle tourney) with an interesting, nearly dark continuation of the underlying storyline. It's starting to get to the point that I wish I had a smidgen of translation for these bits as well. Ah well. I can wait, I guess.

"Noein" episode 23 -- okay, that one wasn't the last episode. Good stuff and all, but I want it to be over already. *sigh*

"Tsubasa Chronicle" ep, uh, 32 -- this one seemed to be delayed for a while or something. I was a bit apprehensive, because it involved the appearance of "Chii" from the dreaded, soul-sucking "Chobits" universe. (Did I mention that I want that half-hour of my life back? I did? Okay then.)

That said, it was another Mashimo-directed episode, so I hunkered down and committed to it. And Mashimo definitely kicked up the melodrama to "11" on this one. One major thread was the exposition of Fay's backstory -- well, at least to some extent. There was more told in his expressiveness and mood than in the actual narrative, and that was quite cool. The other thread that entagles with is the Chii-character's lonliness, her desire to run away. Complete with caged-bird symbolism and everything! *ahem*. Still, it was an episode that was primarily painted in emotions, and it worked quite well, despite the inane side-spurs for the explainations of the kingdom and Chii's existence.

I've got ep 33 downloaded, and I figure I'll watch it Sunday, along with ep 20 of "Popolocrois Story".

Finally, disc 2 of "Planetes" finally arrived. It's been quite a while since I saw the first disc, and my impressions are pretty much the same. Simple, reasonable storytelling. Maybe a little bit sillier with these episodes, but also a little more overwrought on the melodrama. It will continue on in my "rent" column.

This weekend I have disc 2 of "Fantastic Children" (cool!) and disc 6 of "Read Or Die" (is it over yet? No? Oh well...). With the sun setting at nearly 9pm, it'll take me the whole weekend to get through them, I'm sure.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Cheese and crackers

Subject: Music
Just a quickie about my new baby girl...

One thing about driving a convertible is that all your cheesy-music predilitcions are broadcast to the entire world to hear. Especially when your convertible has a 500 watt MP3-capable stereo replete with subwoofers, etc. *cough*

I don't listen to the radio much anymore, so there are a few tunes that I know have been overplayed over the last, oh, 30 years; but for me, they still have that cheesy-cool patina to them, and in a retro-styled summer cruiser like my Mustang, they come to life in a way that was probably intended back in the day -- the day when even I was just a tot.

Notables on my playlist:

- Heart "Barracuda"
- J. Edgar Winter "Frankenstein"
- ZZ Top "La Grange"
- AC/DC "Back in Black"
- Ozzy Osburne "Crazy Train"
- Def Leppard "Pyromania"
...and, of course, the pentultiamate...
- Van Halen "Panama"

This is entirely uncharacteristic of me, and you really have to get a load of the look on my face when I've got this mix playing. But I swear, it's an awful lot of fun. F* what everyone else thinks! (Heh...)

Texture + intimacy = "In the Mood for Love"

Subject: Cinema
A while back, Bee Train Fan member Ombrenuit posted a review of Wong Kar Wai's "In the Mood for Love", which prompted me to put it in my rental queue to fight for a spot amongst all of the anime I've been sampling. I'm purposefully not re-reading it at the moment so I can try to put my own impressions down without influence.

It was a bit accidental that it showed up at all just yet, as I'm still kind of sensitive about emotional situations, and really don't want to mess with moody programming for a while. Thankfully, as moody a piece as this was, it was all about romantic relationships as opposed to familial/parental ones, and I was able to handle it without nary an issue.

Part of that may be because I didn't get emotionally hooked at all.

No, it's not the fault of the film, per se. In fact, there was nothing actually wrong with it, and I was quite satisfied with it. A lot to like. But I was just a spectator... no, a voyeur, of a series of very intimate and personal moments in the lives of two characters. I was watching it while being kept at arms-length.

It's not for lack of empathy, as the two leads, Mr. Chow & Mrs. Chan, are very human and noble, and their suffering is barely masked by their attempt to maintain their individual dignity. It's not for a lack of "place" -- the sets and the costume design are exquisite and detailed, providing for a rich layer of detail in their surroundings that draw you in and hint at many layers of the experience that don't need to be expounded in the narrative.

So this was a good film. But I never really connected; I never quite identified with the characters. Like I said, I was the voyeur, kept at arms-length. The fact that we never learn the leads' given names leads me to believe that was probably on purpose. If I were to guess, I'd figure that it has something to do with a certain level of Asian formality (which I'm only speculating about, and have no experience in), which I think makes a great contrast with what is otherwise a very intimate and personal exposure of two individuals worthy of a European classic. It just wasn't a personal experience that rang true with a cold-hearted bastid like myself... *cough*

Thankfully, I don't actually have to "connect" to appreciate it. The storytelling was involving, and the only rare moment where I broke from that was when there'd be an unusual edit or subtle symbol that would take me out of the moment and make me wonder what he was trying to accomplish there. But that's just my old film-school reflexes kicking in. No foul there. And, of course, Critereon's DVD transfer was outstanding, which really made my evening. *grin*

The only thing that bugged me is that it almost fell apart at the end. Partly I have to blame my lack of knowledge about the Hong Kong of that era, I'm guessing. They hint throughout that the environment is a little unstable, but I wrote that off more as a part of the texture than of something of import. Suddenly, though, we're watching a television broadcast of Gen. DeGaulle visting Pol Pot in Cambodia. Huh?? And then we see Mr. Chow in the ruins of a Bhuddist temple for the closing. We know exactly what it is he's doing, as there was a fine moment of dialogue earlier where he describes the event. Though it's supposed to be with a tree, not a hole in an ancient stone wall.

So I guess there's a layer of symbolism and history there that totally escaped me. In fact, that was likely occuring throughout, but everywhere else, it was part of the texture, and so I just absorbed it and accepted it even though it didn't entirely evoke what was probably intended out of me. But there at the end, it was a bit of a "huh?!" pall that overshadowed what was otherwise a fine, poingnant, and intimate moment.

At any rate, while I have heard a lot about Wong Kai War's films, I never dipped my toes in those waters. Now, I'm encouraged to keep going.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I'd like to introduce everyone...

Subject: Musings
...to my new little girl!

(No, no, I didn't go reproduce... *cough*)








She's a 2006 Ford Mustang V6 convertible. Relatively basic, and with the current incentives and "X-Plan" discount (and 0% financing!), quite reasonable in price. I also managed to get a decent trade-in price for my Jag (though it still stings to think of how fast the value dropped from what I originally paid for it. *sob*).

I'm pretty happy with it. It's no Jag as far as interior quality, ride, or accelleration goes, but at nearly half the price, the benefits it does have more than sufficiently make up for it. Plus, it's cheaper to insure, cheaper to repair, and I like the service department a lot more than the guys over at the local Jag dealership.

I've been looking for a less "snooty" vehicle for a while now, and with the Jag misbehaving when I needed it the most last month, I was motivated to make the change. My mom is giving me my dad's minivan, so I no longer need a truck or year-round utility vehicle, so I figured I'd buy something fun for the summertime.

There's only been a few cars that have managed to pull of the "retro-yet-modern" look -- one of them was my Jag, and another is the new Mustang. I will probably do a few minor appearance modifications -- but very subtle, modern ones; like de-badging, and getting non-chrome, hi-tech wheels.

The stereo isn't too bad, but the speakers could stand to be swapped out with a set of Polks or something. Still, with the stock components and subwoofers, it gives a bit of a thump, and overall it's quite clear even with the top down (which is the primary mode the car will ever be driven in *grin*). Oh, and it plays MP3 discs, which is cool. The inaugural song that I cranked up when I drove it off the lot was...




..."Salva Nos"! Go figure.

(Still haven't gotten to "Nowhere" yet... But soon!)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

This Week in Anime, digest edition

Subject: Noir
Aside from "Bebop" and "Gantu-whasis", I managed to catch up with a few more shows.

"Read Or Die" disc 5 -- continuing the new arc, there's not much more I can say other than "continuing". There's nothing particularly insightful about the show; it just maintains a fun pace. Ends with Yet Another Cliffhanger, and is liberally sprinkled with melodrama throughout. There can't be too much more left to this, I figure.

".hack//Roots" eps 9 & 10 -- both showed up this week; 9 came late, and 10 was turned around in seemingly record time. Of course, with such speed-subbing, I get the feeling that I might be missing something. Everything seems more vague than usual, at least in spots. There's some very interesting character identity clues, which makes the mystery a little more interesting, but it's still kind of baffling and I think I'm probably just going to have to resign myself to giving it another viewing when the discs finally come out in the US before I can get a better picture of it. Otherwise, it still looks & sounds great, and it's chock-full of special little character-driven moments, where more is said with the visual expressions than with the actual (vague) dialogue.

"Popolocrois Story" ep 19 -- I almost missed this release entirely; thankfully I thought to go searching to see if there was a recent one. More of the "kid's show that has something more to it" vibe. There are obvious moral lessons and such things in the main plot, and it's mostly predictible how that goes, but it's still got that little bit of magic to it -- and not just because it's 1/2 magical-girl show... Anyway, as usual, skip the annoyingly saccharine OP & ED. Bleh.

Speaking of "kid's show that has something more to it", I saw the raw for "Spider Riders" ep 10 as well. This time we get a lot more time with the "ultra-dangerous, brooding" young lady. I think I said something or other about that archetype once upon a time... *grin* Anyway, good stuff even though I don't understand it. Oh, and the Saiyaman raws have commercials in it. Amusing at first, but they're always the same ones... bleh. The dub will be airing soon on Kid's WB, though I'm not entirely certain I want to subject myself to it.

"Mushishi" returns after a long break with ep 21! And wow, what a creepy-awesome episode it was. Not that I'm generally into the creepy stuff, but the payoff at the end was worth it alone. What a great understated, underrated show! I really should snag one of the HD raws one of these days just to see it, but since the dialogue is kind of important, I will just bide my time.

"Windy Tales" ep 11 showed up by surprise, too. This one seemed to be even more "slice-of-lifey" than the rest, if that's even possible. Atmospherically, I was just fine with it, but the story this time wasn't holding my interest as much. For what it was, it continued it's excellent, quirky execution, and as a whole, the series is still fascinating to watch.

That's about it. I've got what is supposed to be the last "Noein" episode downloaded, but I haven't had a chance to get to it. Or this week's "Doctor Who" for that matter. But hey, the new season for "Deadwood" starts tonight!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

"Be-bop"-a-loo-pa

Subject: Noir
Daaaaaaang.....

The "Cowboy Bebop" remix disc 6 just showed up today, so I watched it just now to finish it up. I rented it just over a year ago, and have been anxiously awaiting the chance to revisit it. Last weekend I got to see disc 5 again, so having disc 6 so soon was quite the bonus! *grin*

There's so much going on that it's hard for me to actually figure out how to expound upon it; especially this late at night (and especially after this many brewskis... *cough*). All I can really say is that it's very impressive all-around.

Tear-jerkingly emotional, action-packed, exceedingly witty, and tremendously well-animated, with a fantastic quality soundtrack, and an attention-to-detail that is unrivaled. Yet it's still not my favorite series; heck, it's only #3... (yes, "Kino's Journey" has definitely fallen from that perch as of now)

At any rate, this will be another series that I will gladly double-dip when it comes time for a cleaned-up video release. I kind of doubt there'll be an HD release, as there are a lot of digital effects going on that would be difficult to upgrade seamlessly, but should there ever be, well... I'm there. If "Noir" comes out on one format, but "Bebop" is released on another (HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray) -- well, I guess I'll have to buy both. *sigh*

Anyway, more about the other stuff I've watched recently later. Not much to say about them.

Oh, and I bought a car today. More about that later after I pick it up, just to make sure I don't jinx it like the last time... *ahem*

Friday, June 09, 2006

"Gankuts-WTF?"

Subject: Noir
Okay, not really "WTF"... In fact, almost the opposite.

That said, I actually got caught up in "Gankutsuo" disc 4 a little more than previous discs, though I was still kept at a bit of a distance by the thinness of the storyline. The moments were pretty good. The art direction is something I always thought was pretty good, though it tended to emphasize the backgrounds so much that the foreground got lost -- that has been improving of late.

Still, I guess my biggest dissappointment with the show is the fact that, because there are so many good things going on with it, I think it's totally blowing it's potential. More often than not, the animation is rather lifeless and wooden. There are a couple of shots that aren't, but on the whole, shortcuts aside, the animation just doesn't come across as genuine life and movement. Flashy, gaudy moving manga, for the most part. But it's inconsistent; every now and then, one of the animators gets it right. The ones who don't, well, they distract me a little too much.

Story-wise, there are a number of well-written moments. But on the whole, it's still rather predictable, or at the very best, cliche. Tonight I turned off my cynicism a little, so I got into it a little more. But as it was happening, I could only just contain my desire to roll my eyes now and then.

But let me reiterate what I like about it: It's very unique, with a well-studied grasp of experimental techniques from a non-Japanese background. There's a lot of effort put into the details and the art direction that make it quite lush and rich. And even thought the story framework is rather long-in-the-tooth, it carries itself forward without being entirely vapid or obtuse.

It's just the spoiled potential that gets on my nerves and makes me get a little negative about it. A unique, creative story; consistant animation; a better balance between artsy shenanigans and real look 'n feel -- those things would have made this series unstoppable to me.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"The Sopranos": an exercise in "WTF?!"

Subject: TV
(...and not in a good way...)

I was trying to come up with how to sum up this latest season of "The Sopranos", but I think this Salon article covers it pretty well. (Unless you subscribe, you'll need to watch a short commercial to see it... Also, it's full of spoilers, so don't bother if you still haven't seen it.)

The first paragraph has a quote that sums it up:
[...] it was hard not to shake our fists at the sky and moan, "We waited two years, for this?" Why do the gods mock us so?
The show had it's moments, for sure. Funny little touches, touching little moments, and a couple of shocks and surprises. But it set up a whole situation where there really weren't enough surprises, though they keep setting you up with a sense that "the other shoe's gonna drop". Any time now... we're waiting!

It's like the writers spent all their time coming up with clever little scene-change contrasts (like the "Paris sculptures"/"Bada-Bing sign" mentioned in the article), or little cinematic homages (a scene where Vito is in bed with new-found, uh, identity, cuts to one of Bobbie's model trains going into a tunnel. Gee, guess what happened? *cough*)

Anyway, it's kind of dissappointing, and to top it off, we've got to wait another 6 months or so to get to the final 8 episodes. After waiting 2 years already. That's probably the real irritant to the whole thing.

Oh well, "Deadwood" season 3 starts next week... Hooray! Though that means my Sunday nights will still be occupied this summer. *sigh*

And "Doctor Who" is blazing along full-steam, with the most current episode ending on quite a Lovecraftian cliffhanger. Nothing like a little Cthulhu shenannigans to add a creepy terror to a campy BBC sci-fi series!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The weekend

Subject: Noir
Just a couple of things this weekend. I didn't get a chance yet to see the latest ".hack" episode; maybe I can get to it before "The Sopranos" finale tonight. No sign of the latest "Tsubasa" episode or "Spider Riders" raw for that matter -- though for "Spider Riders", BTF member Bulmafox noticed a commercial for it on the Kid's WB cartoon block. So I guess that means it's going to be in the 'States later this month.

Anyway, to the watch-list!

"Fantastic Children" disc 1 -- recently released, it finally made it to me from GreenCine. I had watched the first episode of it on a recommendation, but I can't find the post I had made... Anyway, I remember that I thought it was pretty cool and awaited the discs before I continued. And it's worth the wait, for sure. There's definitely life in the characters, and the story is intriguing, though rather obfuscated at this point. But it's set up to make you want to see the pieces come together, and they give you tantalizing little tastes each step of the way. Good stuff.

"Read Or Die" disc 4 -- it would seem that the "R.O.D." series must have been planned for just 13 episodes, because it ended that run in a climatic battle that resulted in quite a disaster. But then picks up at episode 14 with what was almost exclusively a backstory monologue, tying in the events of the OVA and trying to set up the state of the world and the motivations of the "bad guys". Then the last two episodes start a new arc, bringing together the OVA and the series to continue the storyline. Otherwise, no real breakthroughs or anything -- just an expansion of Team Nerdy Girl by a couple more. Nothing wrong with that. *grin*

Finally, disc 5 of "Cowboy Bebop: Remixed" showed up, so that occupied my rainy Saturday evening. Much fun to be had, and I think I've pretty much said everything there is to say about this show. This may edge out "Kino's Journey" from it's #3 spot... Oh heck, it does! It was pretty much a tie before, but I think I'm convinced. Of course, when I finally get around to watching "Kino's" again, I might change my mind again... Heh.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Clooney-rama

Subject: Cinema
(Blogger's been bloggered, so trying again today...)

For the remains of the long weekend, I had a couple of non-anime rentals from Blockbuster to try. After an awesome sunset on Sunday, I was in a contemplative mood, but I also wanted to try and get through at least one of those discs so I could return them eventually.

So I gave Tim Burton's "The Corpse Bride" a try. Armature animation (can't remember if it was actually CGI or poseable figures), with the typical Tim Burton gloomy goth style. And overall it was rather competently done, but I wound up stopping it about 15 or 20 minutes in -- basically, once it got to the song-n-dance number at the "afterlife bar". It was just too cliche and stupid for me to want to continue at that point. Someday I'll give it another try, but I really wasn't in the mood for that.

The other disc I had from Blockbuster was the recent "Good Night and Good Luck", but I wasn't quite in the mood for that either... So I split the difference, and fired up a slightly silly disc from my collection that had George Clooney in it as well: the Coen Bros. "O Brother, Where Art Thou?". I really enjoy this film, and have seen it a couple of times. It's sort of a loose re-telling of Homer's "Oddessy", set in 1930's Depression-era Mississippi, completely steeped in "old-timey" folk music tradition. The dialogue is quintessentially Coen Brothers, and everyone's delivery and timing on-camera is perfect. George Clooney particularly hams it up with the round-a-bout, florid speechifyin'. And the folk songs are quite a refreshing change from the usual soundtracks I listen to. That made for a better cap for the evening overall.

Eventually, I did get to "Good Night and Good Luck", though. This was another period-piece, as it were; set in the 1950's at the CBS newsroom, where Edward R. Murrow decided to expose Joe McCarthy's communist witchunting tactics and rhetoric for what it really was. It's mostly a simple character piece overall, where the intent is to just frame the actual words used in public by Murrow and McCarthy in the context of the time. In fact, there was no actual actor playing McCarthy; just the real footage for the time was sewn into that context.

Obviously, it was intended to let you draw a parallel between the rhetoric then and that found in more current events. If there were differences, those were probably glossed over a bit. Because if you replace the words "communist" with "liberal" or "terrorist", you can pretty much see what Clooney and everyone was driving at. It wasn't heavy-handed or anything, but is was rather illuminating. "Same sh*, different day".

Anyway, more anime coming for the weekend!