Monday, June 25, 2007

"El Cazador" must be like the surf...

Subject: Noir
...because just when you think it's receding into mediocraty, another wave of cool comes crashing back in it's place.

At least that's the vibe I got from the untranslated raw of ep 13. Finally, a strong visual storytelling again! There's a lot of dialogue around the key bit of backstory, but even so I could get the overall drift of it and found it quite satisfying.

Hopefully this trend lasts a little longer -- we're only halfway through though, so I can only expect that a few more lousy ones will creep in there. *sigh*

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Long-belated "Anime Roundup" revisited

Subject: Noir
Compared to the early days of this site when I was nearly overwhelmed with quality titles to watch (in order to catch up for years of mostly ignoring it), the anime pickin's of late have been slim. As have been my DVD rentals thereof.

Last night I tried an old-skool OVA "Five Star Stories". The style was kind of a mixed-bag (I'm not that into the "pointy" character designs it was using), but the animation was pretty good overall. And that old-skool storytelling style, while fractured and incomplete, was still entertaining. Beyond that, whatever.

I got "Tsubasa" disc 1 a while back. Weeks ago, actually. The disc was reasonably well done, and the dub was actually tolerable (though I didn't watch more than 2 out of the 5 episodes that way). But, admittedly, my enthusiasm for watching those episodes again was a little muted.

It's been quite a while, sure, since I saw those first 5 eps, but there wasn't a whole heck of a lot to them. There was Sakura, of course, who was the most lively and interesting character in the bunch (even though she was in a coma for most of this disc). And there were a few of those noted "Mashimo moments" that I like so much.

But in a way it was foreshadowing my current frustration: "El Cazador". There just wasn't much "there" there. The lighter "comic" moments seemed a bit out-of-place, the serious moments seemed not-very-deep, and and there were an awful lot of animation shortcuts and static dead spots that I had a real hard time keeping in the moment during.

But my expectations weren't all that high at the time, and I was fine with the moments that were there and I enjoyed both seasons far more than the usual CLAMP fan, for sure.

I'm not having as much luck with "El Cazador".

I was a little bit premature with my previous "happy dance", as episode 12 was about as weak as they've been this season. When I watched the raw, I couldn't help but post my frustration over on the forum, and I wasn't holding out too much hope for the subtitled version helping any. Well, I was definitely premature there, too, because once again, the little gags and side commentary were quite amusing once I understood what they were saying. But if I could find an untranslated "Spider Riders" visually interesting, amusing, better animated, and tells a better story than the much-anticipated third "Girls With Guns" installment, then I think something is wrong. The "Mashimo moments" are few and far between, and the animation and editing in this episode was mostly abysmal and mediocre.

I'm cursed with noticing those things. But there was no way of getting a coherent visual story out of it, so I had to fall back to the gags in the dialogue (and the tiny bit of plot exposistion scattered therein). So I was frustrated, and I looked longingly at the top shelf of my DVD collection at the "Noir" and "MADLAX" boxes, tempted to just escape into them again and confirm that what I saw there wasn't actually an illusion or something. Ah well.

At least I've been getting my "quality animation" fix elsewhere this season. "Denno Coil", of course, is a story about schoolkids and has a lot of classroom scenes and other such things that I normally try to avoid, but because the story and setting are interesting, and the character animation is delightful and lively, and the overall production quality is above par, I really enjoy it. I'm not expecting any particularly deep themes or high drama, but I'm sure as heck entertained.

Also entertaining, with decent storytelling and imaginative design and lively characterizations is "Romeo x Juliet". It's entered a high-schmaltz zone in eps 11 and 12, but though I'm generally fidgety during romantic moments like those, I really appreciate the tone and innocence they're setting with it. Again, I'm not looking for anything deeper here (though I'm certain Gonzo is sure as heck going to try beating me over the head with their attempts soon enough), but I really enjoy the qualities it has.

Of course, is it wrong that I'm rooting for the end to be a proper true-to-the-source tragedy? Well, it's not that I want them to die; I just want to see how well the creative team can handle standing up to the intent of the original.

The only other anime on my plate is "Emma" season 2, and that's progressing along sort of predictably, but the attention to detail and the competent storytelling are enough to keep me with it for whatever Sunday mornings a fresh fansub is available. Honestly, it's not much beyond moving-manga, but it's decently done to the point that I really don't mind.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Didn't go to Toronto, and I'm okay with that.

Subject: Musings
I never did find out in time what theatre "Paprika" was going to be in, but it was amusing to see a couple of Google hits for the same question I had.

Turns out my little girl had a birthday this week. She needed a bath badly, and I've been really busy with work. Today I took the time to wash her inside/outside and get her set for the summer.

Which kind of already started. It's been gorgeous up here on the lake these last few weeks. Maybe a little chilly, but that's what layers are for. Unfortunately, I haven't had much chance for "working virtually" from my deck. Friday was when I demo'd my big "secret" project for the VP who was paying for it, and it went well. It'll be a while before that one kicks in to needing the same kind of time commitment again, though I'll have to take some time catching up with a dozen things that were on hold while I was working on it. But for July, I'm thinking I might be taking at least 2 weeks off for the holiday, and enjoying this prime-time here on the shore.

Ah, the coals are ready... time to start grillin'. I think I'll watch the "El Cazador" fansub while eating dinner. *grin*

Monday, June 11, 2007

The "El Cazador Finally Has a Plot" happy-dance!

Subject: Noir
...and not to the "tacosu" song, either!

...Which, I swear they knew we were going to latch on to as fans, and then proceeded to plan to beat us with it repeatedly!

...But anyway, I'm not here for the tacos, I'm here because "El Cazador" finally has a plot!!

I watched the raw, untranslated download of episode 11, so I'm sure there's even more plot that I've missed, but visually, there's was plenty of things going on to indicate that this show is finally turning a corner from being just a quirky little comic buddy/road movie, to a full-blown conspiritorial the-chase-is-on action show. Hooray!

And it looks like it's gonna be dark. Not a typical "clever" ending with a comic twist. There was a slap-upside-the-head wait-what-just-happened kick in the short-shorts. And the preview (besides showing that we finally get to see Jodie in full hubba-hubba "Blue Eyes" mode) looks like it's going to continue.

You see, we've finally been introduced to the actual "El Cazador". The Hunters. The Hunters of Witches. Well... I think so, because if they said it I missed it. But I think it's pretty obvious that these evil ninjoid bastards are the real bad-guys here. Then we have a mysterious council chamber filled with a hooded cabal -- but I can't quite tell what side they're on (and may likely not even if I understood the dialogue), but they seem to be where Jodie/Blue-Eyes belongs, and I am so looking forward to seeing what's up with them.

Especially since one of them is voiced by the same actress as Noir's Mireille! (The magician our duo befriends this episode was voiced by the actress of Madlax and Aqune... lot's of cameos throughout these).

So I haven't had a lot to say about "El Cazador" up until this point -- 'cept over on the forum of course. We had a brief panic that the show might only be schedule for 13 episodes (an episode 14 title just showed up on the main site, so that's not likely anymore... dunno about a full 26, though). But overall, besides enjoying the clever little jokes, the clever little moments between Nadie and Ellis, the clever little "journey-not-the-destination" fables along the way, it has been a bit lacking in the vibe that I've been wanting for a show worthy of "The Third Girls With Guns" title.

And honestly, perhaps, my expectations were so drastically lowered over the course of episodes 1 thru 10 that I may find myself forgiving quite a bit of what's about to start happening more than I would if it were in that context from the start. But that's okay, really. It'll be entertaining, and I'll be clinging to every frame as it's released. And when it comes to finally having this show go somewhere, I'm going to cling to every little scrap of happiness that brings me! *grin*

Sunday, June 10, 2007

That sound you just heard was the howling cry of millions of Sopranos watchers....

Subject: TV
...all calling for the head of David Chase, served on a platter.

I will resist spoiling the ending for any of you who are timeshifting, but suffice to say, it's not just Guilliermo Del Toro I'm yelling "fuck you" at this weekend.

For different reasons of course. Here it is, the most anticipated grande finale on television in years, and... and... Arrrgh!

And that sound you hear now? That's millions of Sopranos watchers slamming their doors as they march out of their houses, ready to storm HBO headquarters with torches and pitchforks.

...Okay, honestly though, I'm laughing uproariously. Both at the outright audacity that he did what he just did and just angry he just made everyone, and frankly, at just how freakin' brilliant that was. The buildup, the misdirection, the weird little "normalcy" of it if it weren't for the high-intensity pressure of our own expectations... And then there's Meadow trying (and failing) to parallel park. Over and over. I'm speechless.

Does anybody know where "Paprika" is playing in Toronto?

Subject: Noir
None of the typical movie-listing sites show anything about where "Paprika" is opening on June 15th. There was a press release on ANN about it's "limited" Canadian debut, and there was another list going around with all of the US cities' theaters. But I can't figure out where it's supposed to be showing in Toronto. Google fails. Grr.

On a whim, I decided that would be a fun trip. After my big demo I'm giving at work Friday morning, I'll book outta there and drive up around the lake (takes 3-4 hours depending on the border and the traffic), check in somewhere near the theater, scope out nearby restaraunts & pubs, and make a night of it, returning sometime Saturday.

(I know, I need to spend 2 nights to get duty-free pricing at the border on the way back. Whatever; it's no real bargain anymore...)

Still, the missing ingredient is where am I going to check in? I don't want to grab a room downtown if I have to schlep to the suburbs. And I really should consider booking a downtown room pretty soon during this time of year. And I really don't want to stay in the suburbs, for that matter.

Oh well, I'll figure it out eventually.

"The Fountain": indie soft-scifi

Subject: Cinema
I saw Darren Aronofsky's "Pi" a few years back; well most of it, as I surfed into it on cable TV. Low-budget B&W indie with a slightly twisted narrative and a slightly-gimmicked editorial style, it was okay but nearly as headache-inducing as the lead character's on-screen predicament. I didn't take much else away from it since I was really just casually watching it and wasn't really into it otherwise. Maybe if I were still in film school...

There were a lot of articles written about "The Fountain" just before it was released, and it seemed interesting. It was originally slated to be a big-budget project with A-list stars and large epic battles and such. One thing led to another and the big names dropped out and the production needed to be drastically cut back. So Aronofsky returned to his "roots" as a low-budget wrangler and made a much more intimate, and likely smaller, story.

There's an old maxim that tiny budgets and/or hard constraints tend to bring out the most creativity, and it seems to have helped a bit here. There are a number of wonderfully-realized visuals, and a strong undercurrent of design motif to tie the three distinct time periods (and the non-linear narrative flow) together. I'd bet this one was a treat to look at on-screen, and it will likely make a nice HDTV release (as the DVD was very nice in itself). And reading about the "old-skool" photo techniques used for the nebula that wound up being far less expensive (and far more organic) than CG would have been made those sequences interesting to watch. (Would they have held up on their own if I didn't know about it? Hmm, good question...)

Now, for the narrative and the story, well, I'm a little more ambivilant. I'm more than satisfied with the many fine, well-crafted moments that are interspersed throughout. And not only just the visually interesting ones (walking through Queen Isabella's palace with little suspended candles throughout the darkened expanse, like travelling through stars, go figure), but the occasional performances really came through. Hugh Jackman really can get his eyes to transmit quite a bit, and he was understandably central to the entire story, so that helped a lot.

Rachel Weisz -- coincidentally, Aronofsky's significant other -- maybe not so much. That's not entirely fair, as she did alright, and there were moments with her as the present-day "Izzie" worked pretty well overall. But I wound up unintentionally giggling a bit at the traces of Brooklyn (Jersey? LI?) accent that crept in during her Queen Isabella monologues. And in a lot of ways, you could palpably feel that Aronofsky was perhaps seeing her through biased eyes and worshiping her just a little much. Very sweet and romantic for them, I'm sure, but for the rest of us, well maybe a little boring. Well, for grouchy old codgers like me, I guess.

And overall, the attempted poetic and spiritual tone that it tried to convey seemed kind of stilted by alternating incursions of claustrophobia and melodrama. But not so much that it's ruined -- it just falls a little unsatisfyingly short. When the climax happens, it's "well, okay, that was clever, I get it", but you don't really get to feel it because getting hit over the head with the somewhat predictable melodrama beforehand put up my defenses a bit much. Again, I invoke the grouchy old codger defense.

But overall, I think it'll be a "buy" for me once the HD disc format war settles out. But I think otherwise its rewatchability is a bit low, so I'm not in a hurry for that time to get here.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Fuck you, Del Toro

Subject: Cinema
No, seriously. Fuck you, Guillermo Del Toro.

All the talk and hype around "Pan's Labyrinth" made me very enthusiastic to see it. Take my favorites from the Henson shop, "Labyrinth" and "Mirrormask", and add a fine earthy edge and a Spanish Civil War period-piece to it, and it seemed that this dark fantasy of a young girl and her experience with the twisted world of her favorite fairae stories would be a winner.

And, yeah, it kind of is. It's transporting, it's detailed, it's emotional. The fables are a little bit abbreviated, but as a whole, there's a lot of very well executed attention to detail here.

And it's hard to go on much more without revealing an ultimate spoiler. Suffice to say, it's a tragedy.

In reality, I really do kind of yearn for more tragedies in this sort of thing. But when it seems to be so sensless, so empty, so much the antitheses of what leads up to it, well...

Fuck you, Del Toro.

Okay, really, I think I "get it". It's very dark, despite the hope you want to put into it, and it really doesn't fake you out so much that you wouldn't expect it. There's a tacked-on attempt at making it not-so-tragic, though, and I'm not sure what to feel about that. Now it's bittersweet. Or so you're telling me.

Fuck you.

It is a really good movie, though. It takes a number of cinematic ingredients that have been missing in the typical fare and brings you into a different world and sets you up to empathize with the characters and the situation. All the more reason why the sudden, senseless tragedy seems so wrong, so hurtful.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Drop everything else and watch "Denno Coil"

Subject: Noir
Yeah, yeah, I know I haven't been posting enough anime. Well, enough anything, really.

Last week there wasn't any appreciable release of either of my two top shows, so I was kind of listless. In the mean time I caught up with "Romeo x Juliet" and "Emma" season 2, but I really didn't find myself inspired to post anything about them that I haven't already said.

At any rate, my quick little "El Cazador" impressions have been over in the forum, and I haven't gotten up enough energy to try and formulate them into a semi-coherent blog post at all. Maybe if it picks up the pace a little more...

And "Denno Coil"... ! Well, it took a while for episode 3 to reach me and I only just saw it. Continues to be outstanding, and word is episode 4 will continue to continue to be outstanding. Excellent!

I can't do it a lot of justice just blogging about it; I really need to take the time to extract examples of the things that stand out to me. And I just haven't really been able to concentrate to the extent that I would need to. Too many irons in the fire, as it were. Oh well.