Saturday, July 29, 2006

The musical: all gone to shit

Subject: Cinema
I want to shout out a hearty "fuck you" to Lars von Trier.

Back in the day, I never really gave that particular genre of film, the musical, much thought beyond the whole notion of "outdated" and "boring". In film school, though, I saw for the first time "Singing in the Rain". That little bit of genius changed my mind forever and helped me appreciate what it was all about. Of course, it didn't actually help me feel like watching any other musicals, but at least I developed an appreciation for them.

I knew von Trier's "Dancing in the Dark" was, well, dark going into this. It had been languishing in my GreenCine queue for quite a while as I prioritized the crazy eye-candy of Japanese cartoons over real thoughtful films. And, of course lately, dark films really weren't the sort of thing that I wanted to subject myself to.

But this one snuck it's way in, and has been sitting by the DVD player for a couple of weeks now. So I got all liquored up and subjected myself to it.

Okay, I'll admit that it's very, very good. I've always liked Bjork, of course, and I think she did a fantastic job here. von Trier's technique, a peculiarly Nordic manifesto of sorts who's name escapes me right now (it involves a sort of ad-lib from the performers, and a cinema-veritae look & feel), serves the film and the performers pretty well. Tying in the spontaneous "break into song and dance" peculiarity of the classic Hollywood musical into this Nordic-style faux-veritae was all the more interesting and endearing.

Which, of course, he goes and takes full advantage of by rubbing your nose in it, then hitting you over the head with the unavoidable conclusion like it was some heavy metallic blunt object. What was it they said in the trial, 42 times? 45?

I didn't know how it was going to end, let alone evolve, as I've avoided much of the discussion around it to this point. So for a while, I had this impending feeling of doom, this feeling of being set up for something awful on the factory floor, which didn't actually transpire. Instead, it became one of those frustrating examples of powerlessness and injustice that piss me off to no end. Which I'm sure he intended.

So like I said, a hearty "fuck you", Mr. von Trier. Thanks a fucking lot.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Newer than new

Subject: Noir
Apparently, a new season's worth of anime started up recently. Unfortunately, I've been a bit out-of-touch with all of that, so I hadn't particularly paid attention. I did a quick catch-up over on AnimeSuki just to see if I could spot anything interesting, though most of the posters there tend to gravitate toward stuff I don't find appealing.

There aren't too many, and from what I can tell, none of them are by Bee Train, who has there hands full right now anyhow, I would figure. Out of what was listed, only three caught my attention. And out of the three, only one has gotten subbed thus far.

That one is "Chevalier", or, as I should probably call it, "'Blood +' as if told by Alexandre Dumas". I mean seriously. Starts off with a reasonable enough premise -- set in pre-Revolutionary Paris, a young member of Louis XV's secret police is searching for cause behind the grisly murder of his older sister and how it's linked to the mysterious dissappearances of numerous Parisian women. The story hints at a dark underground society and some doings.

And then.... heeeeerrrre come the vampires! Replete w/ the whole blood-charging-the-sword thing, but with the added twist of the young man's older sister's spirit taking over his body. Or something... they ended it with that little "surprise".

I dunno. I was sticking with it because I thought there might be some potential with the story, and there still might be. But there's a lot about the animation and technique that's really not helping me here. It's Production I.G., which, before "Blood +", I would have figured would be really reliable in this area. But it's really more of the same there. The art was kind of bland, the characters kind of lifeless, and the little bits of CG were just annoying.

In addition, with regards to the camerawork, it's almost as if someone read my musings about how I really like how Mashimo uses the camera as if it were another character, and keeps it moving and interesting even with mostly-static artwork -- and totally missed the point. They were moving the camera all over the place and, on paper, utilizing a lot of the same techniques. But they had absolutley zero sense of timing in how they did it. None, zip, zilch. It was dreadful.

By contrast, the raw I saw of the first episode of "FLAG" was all about the timing. It was untranslated, so I only know a little bit about it from the synopsis I read, but the whole episode was visually portrayed with the POV of various cameras -- the narrator and the lead character are war photographers -- through the lenses, photos, video footage. A lot of static images in montage, all intercut with the narration and narrative. Very little actual animation, and that was mostly quite simple, but reasonably well done.

But the timing of every cut, how it flowed, how it came together -- fantastic! Well, until they got to the extended 3-D mecha-fest. That was a bit overdrawn and completely clashing with the mood and pace they set up with their innovative little technique. And without subtitles, the narration really dragged a bit too, though there was some interesting visual storytelling going on for the most part.

This is supposedly an OVA being shown on the online "Bandai Channel", so really, I shouldn't be legitimately watching it without paying Bandai. It probably explains why it isn't subbed, and I didn't know about it before finding the raw. There hasn't been any subsequent raws either. I don't know if they'll keep up the technique for the whole series or not; seems like it might wear thin after a couple of episodes. Still, it may be a long while before I actually get to watch it for real, but I'll keep my eyes open for more.

Finally, I've downloaded the raw for the first episode of "Project Blue SOS", but it doesn't really have enough of a hook for me to watch it untranslated. It looks like it has the potential for being an interesting, if cliche story. It seems to be set in a present-day alternative that looks the way it would have been envisioned 70-100 years ago, but kind of in a dorky way. "Detective Conan" meets "Flash Gordon" or something. Anyway, if it gets picked up and subbed, I'll give it another chance.

I can't tell if I've missed anything else, but I suspect I haven't yet.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Very few fansubs

Subject: Noir least compared to the early days of this blog...

One that's "new-to-me" was recommended by Makoto: "Zettai Shonen". It seems to have an interesting story, at least, more interesting than most series so far. And the characters have potential to be interesting, though they seem to be made up of the standard archetypes on the surface. It doesn't seem to be licensed yet, so I will probably try a few more. Oh, and one point-of-interest: It's screenplay credits show a couple of writers from various ".hack" offerings. Cool.

Speaking of ".hack", "//Roots" seems to have come back from it's little sideline from last week, and appears to be starting a new arc. Ovan is lurking about, Haseo is going mad, Tabby is feeling useless, and, for some reason, Col. Richard Burton has started playing... Huh? Okay, okay, so all the Bee-Train mustachioed characters have some similarities; still, you can't tell me that wasn't the first thing you thought of too? *sigh* Anyway, that's yet another new character introduced with no real grounding as to why we should care. But he's got that mature "badass" intensity about him, so I expect he'll wind up being cool enough.

I'm still waiting for someone to be a veteran from "//SIGN" though!

Another episode of "Tsubasa Chronicle" finally surfaced, as well. It wraps up the very CLAMP-y arc in what seems to be a very CLAMP-y fashion. Whatever that is. Though you know what I mean.

Still, something's brewing, and we may finally get to an episode where we'll get into the real meat of the plot. Hopefully.

I've tried to watch more of the "Spider Riders" dub. But I just can't do it. It's really, really awful! I'm starting to get a bit lost with the Japanese episodes as well, as the actual narrative is starting to mean something, I think. It's still fun to watch on a totally academic level, but it's getting to the point that I'll just need to wait for translated, subtitled DVDs to show up in order to get anything further from it.

Finally, I caught up with the most recent "Windy Tales" release from Shi-Fa. Very literary, and focused on colors. Nice, but I guess I wasn't as much in the mood for the usual pace of things this time, and got a bit impatient with it. I would guess that it's going to wrap up with the next episode or so, as I can't see how they'd be able to sustain this beyond a typical 13 episode season. It's a neat experiment, but it doesn't really grow or evolve any further. Which is fine for what it is; that's why I figure it can't go on much longer.

...Oh, I almost forgot; I rented and saw "Riding Bean", which was the OVA that preceded "Gunsmith Cats". Also set in Chicago, also featuring a bit of a vehicular and weapons fetish, and co-starring Rally Vincent. Short, fun, and amusing.

Like a good neighbor...

Subject: Cinema
"My Neighbor Totoro", a classic from Hayao Miyazaki, has recently been re-mastered, re-translated, and released as part of the ongoing project by John Lassiter to bring his and other Ghibli works over and give them the treatment they deserve.

"Totoro" has been around for a while in a dubbed, pan-and-scan format, and that DVD was considered to be quite sub-standard, so I've held off from watching it. I finally picked it up during the last DDD sale, and got a chance to try it last night.

Miyazaki's magic is in the details. And the details are magical, to say the least. Every little aspect of every frame and every show shows an attention to the little things, yet the primary focus and direction are never lost; it's a masterful balance.

It's a wonderfully imaginative, yet simple tale. It's very much geared for children, but it still maintains an intelligence and maturity to it that makes it accessable to all ages. The characters all have a spark of life in them, and you can't help but connect with them.

I suppose what I wrote there is something I write every time I watch a Miyazaki film. In fact, it's probably what everyone says about him. But, hey, it's true!

So while this doesn't usurp "Porco Rosso" as my favorite Miyazaki work, I found it quite enjoyable, and I'm glad it's in my collection.

"Bubba Ho-Tep"

Subject: Cinema
This one I had in my rental queue for a while, but never got around to watching it.

In theory, the idea of Elvis teaming up with JFK to fight an evil undead Egyptian mummy sounded like a lot of campy fun. And in some respects, it managed that well enough. But overall, I was a bit dissappointed.

In fact, the movie seemed to be more a statement about dignity vs. indignity in death. And being a tad sensitive about such things right now kind of threw me off. Coupled with the over-long exposition of why Elvis was still alive in the first place, and I really started to lose interest before the "action" kicked in. So much so that it didn't really feel like there was much "action".

Positive points -- Bruce Campbell's dessicated Elvis was pretty well performed. And the entire atmosphere and design was sufficiently quirky, as should be expected from a movie billed the way this one was. And there were a few moments of mild amusement.

But overall, it didn't connect with me. Oh well.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Bee Train Fan is down again

Subject: Noir
Sorry about that, all. My webhost will be going along swimmingly for weeks on end, then suddenly do something that brings most of their sites down all of a sudden.

No outlook on when it will be up again, but seeing as they're a relatively major provider, they are probably working on it full-tilt.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


Subject: Noir
I caught up with eps 14 & 15 of ".hack//Roots" this evening. While there's no doubt I'm enjoying the show (especially the eye candy and overall Mashimo-ness), I can't say that I have any idea where this is heading.

That is to say, the whole "mystery" thing isn't really catching on with me.

There's a lot of (what I assume is) MMORPG mechanics going on in the guise of a character study. And I like the character study part, don't get me wrong. But short of a few dramatic events, I'm having a hard time feeling any connection to a "plot" of any sort.

".hack//SIGN" managed to hook me after two discs, and there were episodes that made it tough to discern any "plot" there either. It was all about the character study for a while there. It's just that I figured by episode 15, maybe there'd be something a little more to it.

Shino's coma, and the events surrounding it, are all well and good, but this "Tri-Edge" business isn't making much sense, nor is it instilling much foreboding. Everything's just a tad to obscure right now for me to sink my hooks into it.

I suppose when it's in the final arc, I'll find enough redeeming value to forgive all of this, but right now, especially now that it's competing with nice outdoor weather and a busy, busy schedule, I'm struggling a bit.

On a different note, regarding "Spider Riders", I've got up to ep 14 (S^M is naming it wrong because they skipped one), with ep 15 to go. And probably because my expectations are a lot lower for it (a lot lower!), I'm still enjoying it. Raw and all. I haven't been keeping up with the dub, but the Japanese raws were cool.

I seem to have drastically fallen on the Google rankings for "Spider Riders", so my daily hit count has fallen as well. Oh well. It's not like I've been able to say anything insightful about it.

And as for "Tsubasa Chronicle" -- where the heck did that dissappear to?? Just when it was getting interesting again... (that is, just when it was getting directed by Mashimo most of the time again... Heh.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Subject: Musings
Well, not terribly so. My crawlspace under the dining room is flooded and has maybe 6" of standing water in it. The garage was half-flooded.

My gutters, which I had just freakin' cleaned were clogged again, so that was causing some serious drainage issues. Also contributing would probably be that new patio I had put in last year. So this evening is occupied with aquiring new dehumidifiers, pumps, hoses, and whatnot, and getting all mucky. Bleh.

Prime time I could have used to catch up with ".hack//Roots". Whatever; just another busy evening in a busy week. At least I finished up all the paperwork I needed to do to transfer my Dad's minivan into my name.

So I guess I now drive a minivan. Who'd have thought? At least I have that Mustang to bring balance back into the universe...

Friday, July 07, 2006

Heading out of town again...

Subject: Musings
...just for the weekend. I'll be a little ways outside of Boston at my Mom's, hopefully to be of some use.

Haven't gotten to watch much this week, so hopefully I'll be back on schedule upon my return.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Opposites don't necessarily attract

Subject: Cinema
As a symptom of me "running out of anime", a couple of actual real-people movies slipped into my GreenCine queue again. Quite a rarity.

I started off the evening with disc 1 of "The Yakuza Papers", a series of classic 70's Japanese gangster films. This disc is set in the early post-war era and tracks the formation of a Yakuza gang and tells their story. It's a little dated in a lot of ways, but there's also a lot of ingredients in there that you'll find in most post-modern Hollywood ganster films, like Al Pacino's version of "Scarface", all the way up to "The Sopranos". Another interesting aspect is that, unlike Hollywood, murder by gun is usually a messy, many-many bullet affair, and there's generally a lot of fear and anxiety in the actual act. Still, it does tend towards a bit of a cheesy bloodfest, but even so, the characters are interesting to watch, and it's entertaining overall, even if it's not high art.

On the opposite side of the spectrum was the 1955 Danish film by Carl Dreyer: "Ordet". For once, my word-association game came right into play in the very first minutes. "Meticulous", I thought. The details of the set, the performances, the blocking, the camerawork -- all of it was very precisely staged and choreographed. And at first, I figured I wouldn't particularly be drawn into it, being as formal as it was.

The story hinges on the differences between different residents of a small rural town who believe in different flavors of Christianity. They both seem fundamentalist in their ways, but their seemingly insignificant differences are a barrier between them. In the middle of it all, though seemingly at the margins, is the son of one family who has "studied a little too much Keirkegaard", and now wanders around believing that he's the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ.

Sounds weird, but remember, this is a very formal, very staid, 1950's Danish film; apparently based on a play by Kaj Munk.

At any rate, the characters and the simple scenarios we're set up with draw you into the story, at least out of intellectual curiosity, despite the religious thematics. And then it hits with a heavy hand and draws you into a very sad, very realistic situation; a tragic, unexpected death of one of the characters.

I wasn't entirely prepared for that, but I managed alright. I found myself with a lot more appreciation for some of the aspects of how they were presenting the aftermath of it -- how the characters were reacting, the emotions (or masking thereof) in the unfolding of events.

But then I wound up greatly dissappointed at the very end. Which probably says a lot about me.

I'm no longer a religious person. For a while, many years ago, I was firmly Catholic, and very convinced about the spiritual teachings I had been brought up with. There was no one single event, per se, that changed all of that -- just an overall realization and understanding that supplanted those notions over time. But I don't hold any of my past beliefs in contempt, nor do I think any less of anyone who still genuinely holds them.

But at the very, very end, a miracle occurs. And I was strangely very dissappointed by that.

Earlier in the movie, it seemed like a miracle would occur then, too; right at the point of that character's death. And when it seemed like it was about to happen, I was more accepting of it; it would be a feel-good fine relief to the tension that had built up. And it would be totally realistic.

But then she actually died, suddenly, after everyone thought she was recovering. (which experiencially was kind of harsh for me, but like I said, I managed). Then there was the meticulous portrayal of the final moments of the wake. Again, kind of harsh for me at this time. But fascinating at the same time at how much more I was able to identify with different aspects of what was going on in the different characters than I probably would have previously. The moments were a whole lot more authentic than I probably would have realized, despite the meticulous staging.

And sorry to spoil the ending, but then in the last moments of the film the delusional Keirkegaard-damaged character walks in the room and the miracle occured (gee, just guess what that was). And it was almost a betrayal of all the reality that had been interjecting itself up to this point.

It was a moving moment, most assuredly. And it's not like I wanted her to actually be dead; she was a great character and I liked her a lot. But, reality is reality! I find absolutely zero comfort in the notion that, if I just had a little more faith in a Christian god, that a loved-one could have been brought back from the dead, or even spared of it in the first place. It's almost kind of insulting, and I think I would have found it as such back when I actually believed.

So I guess if there was a more symbolic meaning to it all, it wound up being lost on me after they pulled that stunt. I was quite content to accept all of the moments as they were presented, and even accept the opposing theological viewpoints as a point of philosophy. I also guess that I probably wouldn't know how to have ended it otherwise besides a very sad, solemn, final closure. But I guess I figured that a Nordic film wouldn't have shied away from such a thing. I guess 1955 was too soon for that.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Rose Tylor says "This is the story of how I..."

Subject: TV
...What did she just say?!?

Holy Moly!

Doctor Who episode 12 commences the 2-part season finale, and boy, howdy, is it a cliffhanger. Now, I know if you've been following the British Entertainment press, you can kind of guess what she's getting at. But, wow, they really set it up with a very dark, bleak tone when they open with her monologue like that.

At any rate, this was pretty much the setup for the big battle in the finale. And ooh what a battle it will be! From last week's previews we see that those pesky Cybermen are involved, but just wait 'til you see the special surprise guests!

They are also setting up the upcoming spin-off series "Torchwood" (an anagram of "Doctor Who", by the way), so we'll see where that goes. Seems kind of silly so far; at least that aspect of it, and the characters involved.

".hack//Roots" licensed

According to ANN, Bandai Entertainment unsurprisingly announced that they have the license for ".hack//Roots". Obviously announced after the cliffhanger*. Good timing!

*("What cliffhanger?" you ask? Oh, right, I haven't blogged about it yet. More later...)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

This weekend's rentals

Subject: Noir
I've got a few friends coming over to BBQ on Sunday, so I've spent most of my evenings and all of today cleaning up around the house. So there are a few downloads I haven't gotten to yet. But I managed to squeeze in my GreenCine rentals for the week.

"Read Or Die" disc 7 -- Is it done yet? Oh, yeah. It is! Yay. Actually, it wasn't too bad or anything; I was just growing a little weary of the overdone melodrama bits. And the story itself kind of devolved into total wierdness, what with the British Library trying to reformat the world's brains and all... Uhhh...

Still, to sum up, the characterizations were quite lively and unique, and they held their own despite the wackiness. The animation was quite well done where it counted, and even the shortcuts were mostly tolerable. A 5.1 surround soundtrack in Japanese, with a fun score helped a lot. Still, a bit too overdone in spots, but it managed to be fun enough to be a worthwhile rental.

"Eureka 7" disc 1 -- Right off the bat, I winced. The opening shot of the OP was of a kid on a surfboard. And not just any surfboard, but a rocket-powered surfboard. And not just any rocket-powered surfboard, but a flying rocket-powered surfboard. And, as it turns out, the show revolves around giant robots who fly around on giant rocket-powered surfboards.

(Okay, I know they're not actually "rocket" powered, but close enough for blogging purposes...)

Add on top of it all one of my least favorite cliches: the young teenage boy who has a crush on the emotionally un-responsive, far-too-mature-for-her-age girl.

That all said, it wasn't all that bad. The animation is pretty reasonable, and the action has it's plusses. There's a bit lacking in the overall narrative structure though, and it seems to devolve more into the usual relationship cliches as the episodes go on. And it only went through 4 of them so far! *sigh*

I dunno, I guess I won't be in too much of a hurry to keep renting this one. I am pretty much out of anime rental ideas, or at least I will be shortly. So I guess I'll at least give it another chance.

That's about it. Hopefully I'll catch up with ".hack//Roots", "Tsubasa Chronicle", and (finally) the latest raw of "Spider Riders" sometime soon.