Category: film and animation

A Decade’s Worth of Serial Experiments

I got my first job in late October 2004; it was only as a temporary hire for a one-week special event, but for me that first pay cheque was an absolute fortune. I don’t remember what all I got with it, but do remember the one thing that mattered – a copy of serial experiments lain, which I count as my first anime.

Perhaps it technically wasn’t my first; like most everyone my age I’d been a huge Pokémon fan. I’m afraid to even guess how many hours I spent with the games, and of course I got into the TV show as well. I wouldn’t count it as a “first” anime, though, because even though I was aware that it was Japanese, I didn’t attach any significance to that fact.

Similar for Spirited Away, which I saw in theatre. Thanks to the DVD special features I even learned who Miyazaki Hayao is, and though I had a mild interest in seeing more of his work, and perhaps anime in general, I didn’t pursue that until a couple years later, in Spring 2004, when I stumbled into the manga aisle of a bookstore. That interest in Japanese comics prompted a greater interest in its animated cousin. I’m not sure how I first heard about lain specifically; probably through the forums for the webcomic Megatokyo. I didn’t know much about it going in, either, except that it was vaguely cyberpunk-ish, but then as now I don’t require much more than a few interesting screencaps and a strong recommendation to pique my interest.…

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Uncle Walt-a-thon: The Jungle Book

<- Uncle Walt-a-thon: Sword in the Stone

It gives me a little sense of pride that mine must be one of the few blogs that can post a review of The Jungle Book right after a post on Doctor Zhivago, and it’s not even out-of-place.

Anyway, I already wrote up a closer for this series, but I did want to include The Jungle Book since it was the last film Disney worked on (though he passed away while it was still in production). Also, it was likely my favourite film as a child. I couldn’t even guess how many times I watched this movie before I turned ten, but it was enough that, even though I haven’t seen it in a solid decade-and-a-half, I could still remember every scene, almost every line, even. Only Robin Hood and Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day are even in the same ballpark for my favourite and most-watched childhood films.…

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Doctor Zhivago

You know a movie’s going to be good when it opens with an overture. I’ve actually not seen any other films that have one (though a few people on twitter have informed me that it used to be fairly common for old film epics), but I knew it was a promising start to this latest film about Soviet-induced misery, Doctor Zhivago.

Unlike the last two installments, which were either obscure (The Chekist) or at least not very well-known in the United States (Katyn), Zhivago is one of the better-known Hollywood epics, and “epic” is just the right word for it – with a wide-ranging plot and a run-time of three hours and twenty minutes, it’s a project just to watch. Fortunately, though, it doesn’t feel that long; the pacing if fairly quick, and it never dwells on a particular scene for very long. It’s also a visually interesting film, with a variety of settings and some unusual camerawork (e.g., following a character by looking in through outside windows). A bit distractingly, one can also play a game of “place the accent;” it has a mix of American and British actors, a couple French minor characters, and a couple guys who do a Russian accent, which is rather confusing.

Anyway, the plot is well-constructed, and though the characters are believable I didn’t find any that I particularly liked. Many minor characters come and go, and the two female leads aren’t particularly interesting, though Lara does have more personality than Tonya. Zhivago himself is a little too idealistic for me, and though this kind of character often does have an appeal, a couple incidents killed most of the sympathy I had for him. One was putting Lara and her daughter in danger because he didn’t want to accept help from the unsavoury Komarovsky, as well as carrying on an adulterous affair with Lara in the first place.…

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Katyn: Can’t Get Enough of that Mass-Murder Jazz

Since the last film I saw about Commie democide was such good times, how could I resist more? Unfortunately, it’s slim pickings in the murderous Marxism genre; I had to go to Russia for The Chekist, and this time I had to look to Poland, for 2007’s Katyn. (As an aside, shouldn’t there be more movies like this? We Americans fought a decades-long Cold War against Communist states, and while there are several films featuring them as villains, there’s not really a Western film that I’m aware of that’s like a Soviet Schindler’s List. Instead, there are only these relatively recent Polish and Russian films.)

As one can easily guess, Katyn covers the Katyn Forest massacre, albeit somewhat indirectly. In an interview included as a DVD special feature, director Andrzej Wajda discusses how he’d wanted to make this film for a long time because of his family’s connection to the massacre. His father was among the victims, but he ultimately decided to draw more from his mother’s experience at home. So, while we do see the massacre and some of the treatment of the prisoners, most of the film focuses on one officer’s family during and after the war.…

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A Short Review of The Chekist

The shortest way to describe The Chekist, which covers the 1920’s mass executions carried out by the Cheka, the early Soviet Union’s secret police, would be to call it a Holocaust movie, but instead of National Socialists we have International Socialists. That does give the film, directed by  Aleksandr Rogozhkin, some novelty value since, though I can think of several films off the top of my head that deal with Nazism, if not the Holocaust specifically, the only movie I can think of to cover Communist massacres is the Polish film Katyn. If nothing else, for those who have a visceral reaction to the word “Nazi” but not “Communist,” this film should help fix that.…

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First Impression of The Wind Rises

I went to see Miyazaki Hayao’s newest film, The Wind Rises, yesterday at the Dallas Angelika where I could see the subtitled version. The crowd was fairly small, about a dozen people, but I suppose that’s not too bad for a subtitled film that’s been out for a couple weeks already on a Wednesday evening. Part of me felt obliged to see it, because I’d failed for no good reason to see Howl’s Moving Castle or Ponyo, so I haven’t seen a Ghibli film in theatre since Spirited Away. Also, I’d like to support any 2D animated films that come out, but haven’t seen many chances to do so. Apparently, the Angelika is showing a Tiger and Bunny film; based on the synopsis it’s an original film and I haven’t seen the TV series, so I’ll have to skip that one, but I’ll have to check out the Anglika occasionally to see if they show anything else. They did have A Certain Magical Index showing in their café, but the sound was muted.

Anyway, I enjoyed The Wind Rises overall. At the very least, it excels in animation quality as one would expect from a Ghibli film, and that alone made it worth the price of admission for me. It also has several memorable individual scenes; I especially liked the conversations Jiro, the protagonist, had with aeronautical engineer Count Caproni in his dreams.…

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Me and that New Genesis Gospel

ryouga_(fm59)Seeing Evangelion 3.0 made me want to revisit the original Evangelion TV series. I haven’t watched it in full since I introduced it to my sister back in early 2010, so I was about due for a re-watch, and just finished it earlier today, so I figured I’d share a few thoughts on the show.

This viewing marks the first time I’ve seen it since becoming an Eva fan after seeing 2.0 in theatre a few years ago, and is the third time I’ve seen it all the way through. I first attempted to watch the series back in high school, in 2005 or so. I say “attempted” because Blockbuster only had the first two volumes and I couldn’t afford to buy the whole thing myself (such is the life of a high schooler), so for a while I knew the story more from Sadamoto Yoshiyuki’s comic version. Even now, it takes some effort for me to remember what happens in the comic versus the anime.…

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Evangelion 3.0 – Initial Impressions

I went to see Evangelion 3.0 at the Plano Angelika theatre yesterday, and though it was less fun than it could’ve been since the person I’d planned to see it with had to be out-of-state, I still enjoyed the experience and thought I’d share a few brief thoughts about it.

The highlights: driving down Dallas North Tollway with hardly any traffic was pretty fun; the one cosplayer did a fine job as Gendo; the Angelika is probably the nicest theatre I’ve been in.

You’ll notice that none of those highlights come from the actual movie. I guess I enjoyed it, but Evangelion 2.0 is a favourite film of mine so it had a lot of goodwill from me going in, and the mostly poor early reviews had my expectations a bit low. Most of my enjoyment just came from the still novel experience of seeing Eva, or really any anime, on the big screen, and the film did do a few things right. I liked the music, and the animation is still good, though they used too much CG. I hated the English dub, but that may be because I’m so used to the Japanese cast for Eva and because I’m hostile to English dubs in general. Ultimately, though, I’m afraid that Evangelion 3.0 just isn’t a very good movie.

One common reaction I’ve seen is that the plot’s too difficult to follow, and I suppose that’s true but that’s also par for the course for Evangelion. Another criticism is that action scenes aren’t as good as in the past, and that’s also true.

Evangelion‘s biggest strength in the past, the thing that made me care about the plot and action, was the characters, and Eva 3.0‘s biggest weakness is that the characters lack any depth. In most cases, there’s not much time for development – the newly introduced Wille crew isn’t much more than a collection of names and faces, for example – whereas Eva 2.0 had several scenes of relatively quiet moments that don’t advance the plot much but allow us to get to know these characters; Rei and Asuka learning to cook, for example, or Asuka and Misato’s conversation as Asuka prepares to test a new Evangelion unit. Here, most characters can be summed up in just a few words; Asuka is angry, Misato is bitter, Rei is emotionless, Gendo is cool and mysterious, Mari is Asuka but more annoying.

That’s bad enough, but the film also throws away some of 2.0‘s development. Rei is back to her old expressionless self, for example, and Shinji is back into full-on depression by the end. In both cases there is a good reason for this, but Shinji’s case is especially demoralising. I understand what director Anno Hideaki was trying to do with Shinji in the original series, but that’s part of why I appreciate the original more than I enjoy it. Seeing this character finally do something heroic at the end of 2.0, after a full two-season TV series and three feature-length movies, was one of the most moving scenes I’ve seen in a movie, and while I obviously didn’t expect Shinji to turn into John Rambo for Eva 3.0, I was hoping we could at least get to see a moderately self-confident incarnation of this character.

I suppose I have to give Anno credit for one thing: he’s not afraid not to give the fans what they want in his movies. I just wish he’d give us a break once in a while.…

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That other Lord of the Rings Movie

Some films are good and some films are bad, and some films are such a thorough mix of good and bad that one struggles to decide whether the work as a whole is good or not. The 1978 animated adaptation of Lord of the Rings, directed by Ralph Bakshi, is just such a movie. Parts of the film look excellent, and it takes a few chances that do pay off, but there are a few major faults that may ultimately sink it.

lotr_rider

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An Uncle Walt-a-thon Round-Up

I’ve already covered each major Walt Disney film individually as part of my Uncle Walt-a-thon project (except The Jungle Book, but he died during the production of that one and Netflix doesn’t have it, so I’m skipping it), but it occurs to me that I haven’t yet shared any thoughts of the project as a whole. So, here are some general impressions and a highlight reel.

Overall, there weren’t any surprises. Based on my childhood memories of these films, I expected a bunch of well-animated children’s films, and that’s what I got. The stories are fairly standard fare for family films, so what interested me most going in was to see how animation improved or changed over time.

Well, the animation quality did improve somewhat from one film to another, but Alice in Wonderland was the last one that was especially striking, visually, though there was a change in style with 101 Dalmatians. There are just a few highlights for fans of animation as such: Snow White, the “Pink Elephants on Parade” in Dumbo, much of Fantasia, Alice in Wonderland, and perhaps 101 Dalmatians. If I were teaching a class on animation, I suppose those five films would be the ones I’d include.

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