Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Some Heroes are..." redux

Subject: Cinema
I was on a bit of a "hero" theme this week, sort of by accident or coincidence, I guess.

I didn't quite finish up Ken Burns' opus yet, though it's been recording on the DVR. I had a few more items on the DVR I wanted to give a go instead, seeing as I figured they'd make for, well, a "hero" theme. Heh.

First up was the premiere of a new TV show this season. Go figure, it's Yet Another Remake Of A Cheesy 70's Show. It's got some production (and acting) crossover with "Battlestar Galact-oh-yeah". It's probably the least likely thing I should have found myself curious about this season, and that's saying a lot because there's a lot of crap out there.

Yes, I'm talking about the new "Bionic Woman".

Now that your eyes have stopped rolling to the back of your head and you're continuing to read, hear me out! *grin* It's not that bad. Like Galact-oh-yeah, it's supposed to be a "darker" (though not really that dark) re-imagining of the Jamie Summers "du-du-du-du-duuu"-athon spun off from the non-inflation-adjusted "Six Million Dollar Man". This time, though, she's been been suddenly thrust into a weird technological underworld (with some mild "Blade Runner" atmosphere homage) where she suddenly has cyborg super-powers and an obligation to "save the world".

Though she's going to have an opponent. Who's also probably going to be a bit of a mentor. Galact-oh-yeah's re-imagined Starbuck is playing the "first" bionic woman, who has become an evil, insane fugitive. And she's doing a rather marvelous job of that, I think. Quite a lot of fun, and an instant transfer of "oh-yeah" over to this one.

Of course, there's a layer of schmaltz, what with her superstar-surgeon boyfriend who bionicized her in the first place, her familial responsibilities for her younger sister, etc, etc. But if they can keep up a tone of conflict and bad-assitude (and a little nice-assitude doesn't hurt *ahem*), then this might be some fun popcorn to fill the time until the real return of Galact-oh-yeah in January.

Anyway, enough about that, on to the movies...

"Superman Returns" -- That one just kind of came and went at the theatres, huh? And I can kind of see why. There's nothing particularly bad about it; in fact, it was fun, well performed, and well visualized. A good escapist fantasy world with enough detail and design to help suspend disbelief. Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor was particularly fun, as he applies a great presence to what is otherwise a goofy role. It's got a smidgen less camp than the Christopher Reeve movie predecessors, though, and that's for it's benefit as well.

But it didn't really achieve much else beyond that. There's an assumption that you know the story and the major players because it jumps right in to a "story in progress", with is perfectly fine considering it's "Superman" after all. There was nothing particularly inspiring about the storyline -- just another kind of serial sort of plot, and despite the attempt at really making a personal "shocking" revelation, it never really connected on a personal "why should I give a shit" level. Not to say that they weren't enjoyable to watch. But it's pretty much just another bit of popcorn entertainment. Maybe the first of a recurring series, maybe not. I won't be holding my breath until the next one, but I'll probably watch it when it shows up.

Finally, "Hollywoodland" -- a 1950's period piece with some post-noirish overtones surrounding the investigation into the apparent suicide of George Reeves, the star of the old TV version of "Superman". Ben Affleck plays Reeves, and does a fine job putting a backstage face on an earnest (albiet cynical) B-actor trying to break through, but who got stuck (and ultimately typecast) in role that, while extremely popular with "children and shut-ins" (as one line put it), was a bit of a silly day-job that didn't quite take him where he wanted to go.

The events surrounding his death were a little bit sordid, as he was involved with the wife of the head of MGM Studios, and there was always a sort of dark underworld surrounding the efforts to maintain an "image" for the studio system and those involved with it. And the fact that it's a story that isn't particularly well known, and might even be a surprise to some, is probably the one thing that keeps any level of viewer interest.

Atmospherically, it's well done and captures great "period" details. Perfomances overall were fine and not particularly noticeable in either direction. But it's the slow reveal of the "behind-the-scenes" parts of the story that held my curiosity. Kind of like that one a few years ago about Bob Crane of "Hogan's Heroes", though nowhere near as wierd and creepy.

The attempts to tie together a broader story about heroes and fathers and dashed childhood dreams and whatnot were kind of transparent and not ultimately the sort of thing I connected with. I guess I must have been more interested in the gossipy aspects than the drama, which is a bit of a surprise, but then again, maybe it's all it really had.

The second-to-last "Taco Night"

Subject: Noir
"El Cazador" is over, and I've finally watched the untranslated end.

I was waffling on whether or not I'd do it now, or wait for translations, but then I told myself: "Self, if, on Friday evening, your friends want to go out for Mexican food, then it's fated that you should watch it." And lo, tasty tacos were to be had that night. So I dialed back to ep 21 or so and got through to the end.


Well, I'll need to see it again. With translation. Ep 25 is still untranslated as well, so I think when both are done, I'll do one last "taco night" and sum up then.

But my quick impression? It was nice. "Nice". Some very sweet little personal moments (which I've been touting as a positive thing for years, so yes that was a good thing). Also, some very funny, albiet eye-rolling moments. The return of the taco song was cute & silly. I was a little dissappointed that it wasn't the "origins" episode I was hoping for, which means there's quite a bit of unanswered questions still. But I'm not too concerned about most of them.

Except Nadie's. Which maybe the dialogue will help a tiny bit with. But those tiny little hints throughout the show not coming to any kind of conclusion or wrapup is a little dissappointing. There are so many episodes that I'd gladly trade for some better focus on Nadie, because I really enjoy her character a lot.

Still, much of the animation and design had a lot of attention paid to it, a lot of care, unlike a few of the notably frustrating earlier ones. And ultimately, the finale reflects the overall series -- it's the personal story of two girls, how they affect their surroundings, and have a few gags thrown in for good measure. Meta-humor, where they're meaningful (well, "meaningful") to the fans of the show, and the fans of its predecessor.

More later once the gaps are filled in, as this show still tends to surprise me now and then with what little gems get said.

Now to decide whether or not I want to watch the "other two" this weekend or not... I'm still undecided.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Some Heroes are better than others

Subject: TV
I didn't realize that NBC's "Heroes" had started up again this week until I noticed it on my DVR. The season premiere managed to shake up a couple of expectations from the ending of the first season, and in some ways give a nice little twist, and in others, well, it twisted a bit more predictably. Or, I should say, a bit less interestingly.

Still, it's the same show that is somewhat addictive, mostly cheeseball, and otherwise entertaining. The new arcs for this season are mostly set up, most of our favorite characters are re-established (and our not-so-favorite characters show up in the preview), and we get a few new characters to round things out. I'm probably not as likely to be treating this as "appointment TV" this season, wherein I tune in when it's airing (after a 25 min interval so I can FF through the commercials on my DVR), but I'll keep with it. Fun.

Of course, the reason I missed it is that I'm watching the latest Ken Burns epic on PBS: "The War". "The" war is obviously World War II, which I've mentioned (probably a bit drunkenly) a couple of times after watching WWII-based Hollywood films like Clint Eastwood's. And at the time, I'm sure I've mentioned just how staggeringly vast and incomprehensible that even was to me, and how hard it is to project any tiny bit of the contemporary "real" world on to it, despite the violence and awfulness going on. World War II was different, the era was different, yet it's still such an ingrained part of us. And it still has a lot of fundamentals of human existence sewed up into it.

The style of this particular documentary (which is running 2+ hours a night for the whole week) is very, very Ken-Burnsesque. Folksy music, letters from various everymen being read by celebrities, slow pans on photos, and up-close interviews with eyewitnesses. It flits from strong-ish story to strong-ish story, sometimes repeating footage, sometimes repeating smaller facts, but ultimately trying to draw you into a personal eyewitness-level portrait of the humanity in the event, which tends to be missing in the endless cable-tv "Hitler-this" and "war-machine-that" kind of programming thrown together from public-domain footage and filling hours upon hours of repetitive airtime.

There's some serious shit that happens to a person in a war, sometimes heroic, sometimes brutal, sometimes incompreshensible... sometimes all at the same time. No new breakthrough there, and I'm not going to attempt to rationalize it myself, having no experience in the matter. The interviews with the various veterans who were there obviously show that what they did took it's toll, and even 60 years later they still break up over it. Many interviewees were never aired because they just couldn't make it through the interview, despite how hard they tried. 60 years later. It's unimaginable, even with the graphic footage and narrative.

The whole thing, though, does fall just a teeny bit flat and cliched. It's like there's not really much "new" information that hasn't already been covered by those endless technocratic hours of footage before it. It's just capturing as many individual stories as it can as it's primary goal, and trying to set them against the atmosphere of "life back home". There's a lot of exposure to the vast injustices of ours back then (Japanese internment camps, racial segregation, etc), and that's compelling, but again, nothing really new there.

Still, I'm watching the show nightly, enough that I've missed the comparatively shallow and escapist "Heroes", who's heroism obviously pales against those of the time. I'll get over it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Short Mashimo interview in October's "Anime Insider"

Subject: Noir
'Fan member ligbi helpfully transcribes the contents of a short article about "El Cazador" that's in the latest issue of Anime Insider:

Flash in Japan. Why overseas otaku dig El Cazador De La Bruja. By Andrez Bergen.

El Cazador De La Bruja may have copious gunplay, a murder mystery and a Spanish title that translates to "The Witch Hunter", but according to it's director, Koichi Mashimo, it's above all else a road movie in anime clothing- one that's headed straight to the border.

The highly respected helmsman of Madlax, Noir, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle and most of the .hack outlings drove the notion home in a recent chat with Anime Insider.

"It's a road movie-style story in which two girls, Ellis- a target of bounty hunters- and Nadie- a bounty hunter- join up and then head south," he relates.

El Cazador ranges well into Mexico, where the amnesiac Ellis is hiding from some relentless bounty hunters until she can figure out just why she's been accused of a murder she can't remember. Even Ellis' array of unusual powers can't keep the feisty, self-assured bounty hunter Nadie off her tracks in a dusty Mexican township. But instead of turning in the girl for the reward money, Nadie joins Ellis in her flight south to uncover clues about her missing memory.

It's the setup for countless shootouts and general mayhem in the style of Noir, yet Mashimo believes that the locale, the character-driven plot and the quirks in the style of the unfolding tale are the real strengths here.

"The story itself is serious, but this time I took a more cheerful angle, with a consciously light and easy sense of taste, in order to avoid too much doom or gloom," he explains.

"Putting a little gag into a serious scene, such as Ellis' innocent regular line, 'Yes Sir', makes for a different approach from my previous two projects, Noir and Madlax. And the story in Latin America, which is unusual for anime, also creates a more open atmosphere than the previous two series."

While the series continues Mashimo's pension [should be "penchant" -ed] for gals with guns, even stronger character development is part of a newly baked approach here, taken in tandem with his co-driver, writer Kenichi Kanemki (Hell Girl).

"I think that Nadie's character, who is an ace gunslinger but has another side as a silly soul who pushes her luck, plays a big part in the outcome of this story," he muses.

The same goes for Nadie's would-be-sidekick, Ellis, in this murder-mystery yarn where nothing is quite what it seems.

"In Ellis' background, there's a big secret about her birth," Mashino says. "That secret relates to a key person in the large-scale Project Leviathan plot, and the friendship between the two girls undercuts the suspense surrounding the mystery of that project.

"Another key point is that the two heroines don't actively clear up the mystery very well, and they don't seem to care! Although they hook up for their own purposes at first, they unexpectedly get along with each other and start to think that it would be pretty nice to continue traveling together, so they enjoy the journey itself, without hurrying forward at all. I think this carefree abandon reflects the Latin setting."

Femmes and firearms aside, Mashimo sees a direct path between El Cazador De La Bruja and his previous series, Noir and Madlax, in part because of the principal producer he worked with in all three.

"I discussed the project with producer Shigeru Kitayama of Victor Entertainment, who worked on the other two titles with me, and we drew up this project based on his draft," he recounts.

The director says he can't single out one individual character for praise ("I love all of them," he warmly declares) but he is forthcoming when it comes to his favorite snack food consumption during and after the creative process.

"I often drink coffee, but I hardly eat anything during work because eating slows the tempo down," Mashimo declares. "Still, I like potatoes, so there's nothing better than drinking a beer with french fries after a hard day's work."

This is probably a heavily-condensed version of a fuller interview that's in a related Japanese publication, I figure. Still, there's not really any surprises or new information here. I've said many times that I would have preferred something more along the same attitude and intensity as the "other two titles", which has been my barrier to being satisfied enough with this show.

Still, I'm anxious about the impending downloadability of the raw for the finale, which is due any moment now. I'm so far behind on the translated dialouge, and with all of what I assume will be "tying up of loose ends" that will happen in this epilogue, I figure it'll be more baffling than satisfying as well. Maybe.

But I don't want to wait, I gotta have it! Heh.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Late roundup

Subject: Noir
The fansubs of series I've been following -- the very few series I've been following -- had kind of dried up for a bit, but it looks like I'll have a few built up for later now that there's some catching-up going on.

I did manage to see a couple of DVDs last weekend though. But I guess they weren't all that inspiring to write about.

"Shingu: Secret of the Stellar War" disc 2 -- I'm a bit worn down by the constant skoolkid typicality enough that the slightly amusing, kind of engaging undercurrent that reveals the broader universe bit by bit just isn't interesting enough anymore. 10-1 says that this is actually going to evolve into this "galactic federation" or whatever actually being just like that goofball spy planet, where they're unaware that there's an even bigger political storm surrounding them. Am I right? (no don't tell me...) I dunno, I guess I'll continue, but I'm in no hurry.

"Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society" -- A cool movie (OVA?) that makes up the most recent installment of the GitS franchise, picking up a while after SAC left off. The Major is "retired" and may be the "bad guy". Batou is all angsty. Weird cybercrap is going on surrounding missing children and abandoned elderly shutins. Lots of talking backstory about the political atmosphere (though slightly less expansive and slightly more on-topic than past installments).

Cool action though. Nice work overall. Strangley, the Yoko Kanno soundtrack was conciously recognizable as being hers; previous installments never really seemed to impose that identity and instead let the music just be part of the show. Or I just hadn't accumulated enough familiarity by that point. Whatever.

And, of course, I've been watching the raws of "El Cazador" as they show up on the 'torrent. Episode 25 was quite a maelstrom of bafflement in terms of what the dialogue was probably saying -- one that won't be cleared up until the fansub group catches up. But, visually, it was still pretty obvious what was going on. But what really surprised me is that it was, essentially, the end! As that was becoming obvious, I was starting to get anxious... "wait, what??" "But... but..."

Thankfully, there actually was a preview for a last denoument in episode 26. It looks like we'll either get to see origins (I hope I hope), or it'll be a "1 year later" kind of aftermath. Or both. After I finally see translations for the last of it (however many weeks from now that will be), I try to watch the batch of them together and try and come up with something to say about it all.

I'm not entirely confident there's much more I can say. Nice show, great characters, lots of rough and almost crummy patches in the technical and storytelling execution, and a far cry from what I was hoping for since I first read that there was going to be a "trilogy". Blah blah blah. I'm repeating myself, and will probably repeat myself again.

Next week is that time of the year again, and I'll be taking a few days off. It's a bit of a milestone, too, so I'm uncertain what I'm going to do to "celebrate". If all the fansubs are done by then, maybe something really extra-nerdy... (33 hours in a row of Girls with Guns... is that even possible without severe mental collapse?)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Clark endorses Clinton

Subject: Soapbox
I'm a fan of General Clark's, donated a lot of money to his '04 primary bid, and even volunteered a little time -- which is very unusual for me when it comes to politics. I would have probably done the same if he jumped in for '08 as well.

I figured he didn't have a chance, though. Not this time.

Mostly because of last time. The media narrative gets locked into a narrow, factless droning that tries too hard to perpetuate the notion of a "winner" of the horserace before they've even gone 'round the first bend. And that kills the buzz, which kills the funding, which kills modern campaigns. They have to start too early, grease too much of the existing local political machines (most who control ballot access), and somehow overcome a hail of ostensibly "friendly" fire in order to allow anyone who is outside of an established politically-connected dynasty with a giant cache of campaign funds.

Ever wonder why there's so many Senators running this time? A loophole in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform" bill allows money to be transferred from Federal campaign committees. Not so for state officeholders or other notable citizens. So a sitting Senator can rack up millions of fundraising long before declaring. A retired General, not so much.

At any rate, it's not a particular surprise that he's backing Hillary. All Arkansas Democrats are, though I'm sure there are other reasons that haven't been disclosed. And it's just another tick in what I've been perceiving as a "Hillary inevitability".

I'm kind of ambivilent about her myself. I don't have any of the illogical issues with her that a lot of the passionate ranters tend to drum up all the damn time. In the "real world", away from the blogs and AM radio, she's genuinely liked by normal, everyday people who keep themselves reasonably informed (by ignoring blogs and AM radio, I figure). I'm uncomfortable with the thought of a "Bush - Clinton - Bush - Clinton" line of succession, because I think that indicates a seriously broken system.

And frankly, I've never been a fan of corporate, triangulating, polling-instead-of-leading Democrats. Like I've said before, I'm "independent". Though, like I've said before, I've glumly accepted that an insubstantial third-party effort is completely useless in the winner-take-all system we've had. Republicans are a complete disaster right now and need to be routed for a while, which is an easy choice because I think all of the candidates are useless or damaged or dangerous.

So, I guess I'm going to maintain my ambivilence through the primary. I'm not interested in donating, let alone volunteering, for anyone. I'll probably think more about participating more local races instead.

And if somehow, after the primaries are over and Gen. Clark gets chosen to run as the VP on the ticket... Well, maybe I'll start paying attention again. *grin*

Until then, meh.

Friday, September 14, 2007

As charming as it gets

Subject: Cinema
Studio Ghibli's "Whisper of the Heart" isn't particularly as well known as the flagship works from Miyazaki himself, but seeing as he wrote and storyboarded this one, I'm surprised I wasn't more familiar with it.

On paper, besides the Ghibli/Miyzaki imprinteur, it's got everything going against it in the annals of what I personally would be interested in. Schoolkids. Awkward first romance. "Let's just be friends." Learning a "valuable lesson". The uniforms, the concrete bulwarks, the trains, the cicaedas. The usual that seems to fill up so many drawn "cuts" (learning the terminology) of so many animators on so many shows out of Japan.

But this one has such a simple honesty and artistry, an attention to detail (one of my favorite things, of course), that it charmed the socks off of me. "The start of something stories are made of." I really do like a good, simple, honest story.

I'm quite a cynical curmudgeon usually, but these sorts of things bring out the big softie in me. Well done.

Favorite part, and the most simple: The cat, "Moon", when our lead's story was finished, had this subtle but very clear expression on his face -- a sort of "my work here is finished." Brilliant, and very satisfying. If you watch it, you'll see what I mean.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Best concise summary of Japanese vs. Western animation perspective

Subject: Noir
Over on AniPages, Ben has a forum (BBS, that is), where there's been a great discussion on Japanese Animation Theory. Peter Chung, of "Aeon Flux" and "Animatrix" fame, had wandered in and helped out a lot with some very detailed descriptions of the work process differences and what the various roles are, and other tidbits of perspective from his training and work in American, Korean, and Japanese variations of the industry.

Start at this post that I linked, first, and work your ways backwards and forwards to dig deeper. A key quote (that you really need to keep reading the thread to get context and perspective) that really illuminated things for me:

This is a broad generalization, of course, but Japanese animators animate drawings; American animators animate characters. It's one reason why the Japanese industry has not embraced CG the way the rest of the world has. (Let's be thankful for this.)

This explains why I've probably been stuck when it comes to most anime. I'm looking a bit too hard for the "spark of life" stuff and discounting a lot of content because of it.

Not that it's "wrong" for me to do that, as it's one of the things that I'm more interested in than not. But why my perspective is the way it is and why I keep seeing "moving manga" as a negative becomes more clear.

Anyway, go read that whole thread, and then start dabbling in the other threads.... there's hours and hours of great theorizing and details and such. Fascinating stuff, and a great resource!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Fellini meets Chaplain meets Desert Storm

Subject: Cinema
Latest on my Netflix delivery was Roberto Benigni's "The Tiger and the Snow". I figured that the guy who could do a poingant comedy about being a prisoner in a concentration camp could probably have an interesting take on the shit that we're inflicting on Iraq right now.

And really, it was okay. Not quite as compelling as the previous movie, by any stretch. But he once again makes a serious backdrop the vehicle for the absurd counterpoint to his simple, focused storytelling. In this case, he is an Italian poet who is madly in love with a writer, to the point that he has the same surreal dream about marrying her. Every night. The movie opens with that dream, and it's got a very strong post-Fellini sensibility to it.

When he finds out that she's been mortally injured in Baghdad while interviewing a mutual friend (played by Jean Reno), he drops everything and rushes off to find her. With an obsessive (and generally comic) purpose, he takes on any task he has to in order to try and get her the medicine and care she needs to pull through. Baghdad, of course, is a mess and there's no medical supplies. There's bullets and explosions and looting and flies and a lot of strife all around. But he's persistant and plucky -- and lucky.

If you don't pay too close attention to the details, it works out alright. It's kind of stretching the boundaries in a few places, and kind of having a hard time balancing a bit of preachiness with actual plot points. And I'm totally sympathetic to the message. Ah well.

Of course, there's a big surprise twist at the end, and I kind of smacked myself for not seeing it coming. But the fact that I didn't made up for a lot of the weakness otherwise.

On the whole, there's nothing profound or outstanding about it for me. But I did enjoy the contrast of story simplicity to setting. There were nice and/or interesting moments throughout. And Benigni is interesting to watch as a character. So, worthwhile overall, I figure.

The surprising return of Taco Night

Subject: Noir
I fell a bit behind with "El Cazador" during my absence.

Of course, it didn't seem to matter too much on the fansub side of things, because the group doing it fell behind quite a bit as well, so the raw I saw before going offline (episode 21, with the condor and all the cutey-talk and Jodie both wearing a cloak and wielding a sniper rifle) was all that got subtitled.

Still, I couldn't resist watching the two latest untranslated raws. Episode 22 starts the Final Arc, after all, and I really want to see it.

And even without knowing what was being said (and I'm sure there's a lot of miscellaneous "plot" exposistion going on there), I was quite entertained by it all. There are some wonderful moments throughout (even the preview for ep 23 at the end of 22... fantastic!), and I can only hope that the fact that it's been "kicked up a notch" lasts through the end of the show. By the look of the preview for ep 24, it's going to be quite a ride! Holy Guacamole!

Of course, I wish this kind of intensity would have been found throughout the previous episodes, but I guess it wasn't meant to be. That said, I watched a couple of more random early episodes, and still found things to appreciate about them. So, I guess I'll get over it and enjoy what's left.

I just hope the fansub group can keep up with it... (j/k! *wink*)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Subject: Musings
Well, that's over.

My mom was out visiting for 8 days. We worked on a bunch of projects around the house, tried a couple of new restaurants, and that was about it. No anime, no artsy (or action, or... good) movies, nothin'.

While shopping for miscellaneous stuff at a local Target, though, out of habit, I passed the videogame section. For some reason a while back, I got it stuck in my head that I wanted to try out that newfangled Nintendo contraption, but there was never one to be found in stock whenever I looked. But sure enough, for the first time, there they were. Yoink! Mine.

I haven't loaded up on games for it yet, and only had time to briefly try a few things that I rented, but it seems like a fun little bit of kit. On my big screen HDTV it looks a bit more blurry than I'd prefer, even with the component 480p cables. Oh well. The controller is kind of nifty, but takes some getting used to.

Could be amusing. Now to get back to hitting baseballs out of the park... *grin*

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Still gone...

Probably won't be back 'til Tuesday...

(...great, now that song is stuck in my head...)