Monday, July 28, 2014

The Best (and Worst) Movie Sequels I Have Ever Seen - Part 2

Love them or hate them, Hollywood insists that sequels are here to stay. So what better way to celebrate (and scorn) them by creating a list in their 'honor'. As a follow up to my previous post, I have listed five of the most memorable and deplorable film sequels ever created below:

5.) The Best: The Rescuers Down Under 


The Rescuers Down Under is one of those few movies where the sequel is arguably better than the original. While the original Rescuers film is generally recognized as one of the better films to come out of Disney's dead period (i.e. shortly after Walt Disney died), its 1990 sequel is largely overlooked due to being released between The Little Mermaid and The Beauty and the Beast, as well as premiering during the opening week of Home Alone. It's a shame because The Rescuers Down Under is a truly fun, action-packed movie. It is arguably the closest Disney has come to releasing something in the vein of Indiana Jones or Crocodile Dundee

The storyline centers around a young, Australian boy named Cody. Cody befriends a large, endangered eagle (Marahute), but is held captive by a poacher when he refuses to tell him the eagle's location. Fortunately, the titular Rescuers, a pair two mice (Bianca and Bernard) are alerted and decide to embark on a dangerous mission in order to save Cody. At the same time, Bernard attempts to ask for Bianca's hand in marriage but is constantly interrupted by Jake, a charismatic kangaroo rat, and must over come his own incompetence. It should also be noted that The Rescuers Down Under was the first Disney film to be made using the digital CAPS system and the fantastic flight sequences of Marahute were animated by renowned animator Glen Keane. (Keane stated that the films of Hayao Miyazaki were a major influence on the film's flight scenes, specifically Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.)

5.) The Worst: The Blues Brothers 2000


Making a sequel between more than a decade is, more often than not, a recipe for disaster. Such is the case of Blues Brothers 2000 (which despite what it's name may suggest was released in 1998). 2000 takes place 18 years after the first film, when Elwood Blues is released from prison. He is told that his brother, Jake Blues has died and so has his surrogate father, Curtis. (This is the film's way to cover up for the deaths of the two actors that portrayed Jake and Curtis, John Belushi and Cab Calloway respectively.) Elwood also discoverers that he has second brother, Cabel Chamberlain. However, Cabel turns out be a member of the Illinois State Police. Thus Cabel is not that keen on Elwood's plan to reunite his band, after what happened the last time they played. 

2000 is basically a rehash of the first film, with almost same plot and same jokes. The only difference is that this film constantly falls to be funny and tends to drag a lot of the time. Both critics and audiences responded negatively to the film. It only earned back a pitiful $14K its $28 million budget. The only good thing about Blues Brothers 2000 is its soundtrack and it still is not as good as the original film's music. If any thing, buy the CD. Avoid the movie.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Where I've Been


Hello, fellow bloggers! If you have been following my blog recently, you have probably noticed that I haven't posted anything for over a month. I have been extremely busy with my summer job and preparing for my senior project. (Not to mention, my internet has been rather spotty lately…) I should resume a more regular posting schedule by the end of this month. Sorry to keep you hanging! If you need something to read in the meantime, feel free to check out the recommended websites in the side tab.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Totoro Spotted in Santa Cruz!


Apparently, Totoro is a part time Sushi chef. No word yet on how good his cooking is. (On the side note, I apologize about the lack of posts. A college student must study after all!)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Best (and Worst) Movie Sequels I Have Ever Seen - Part 1




AND CUT!

Movie sequels have become increasingly common over the past ten years or so. In fact, there are currently over 100 movie sequels in the works, ranging from the likes of Avatar and The Incredibles to The Goonies and Mrs. Doubtfire. However, cashing in on sequels is not simply a dubious trend or even a relatively new phenomenon. They first started to appear in larger numbers during the 1970s, with Hollywood's revival and the birth of the modern block buster. When done correctly, sequels help enrich the film series's previous installment and provide greater insight into the movie's fictional world. Of course, for every good sequel, unfortunately, there are always a good number of bad ones.


On the upside, they can be unintentionally hilarious because of this.

Below, I have composed a list of my ten personal favorite (and unfavorite) film sequels. Please note that remakes/spinoffs will not be counted (and trust me, there are plenty of other people that can inform you about the horrors of The Stars Wars Christmas Special), and neither will movies based on book series. So without further ado, here are they are:

10.) The Best: Adams Family Values


While Adams Family Values is certainly not a perfect movie, it still manages to be quite entertaining at times. As opposed to the first film featuring the Addams Family, this installment focuses more on the macabre humor associated with the comics than the madcap comedy of the 1960s television series. This largely works in the film's favor and is refreshing to see in era when family movies started to become increasingly over sanitized for younger audiences. (The movie takes several jabs at over protective parenting, such as the way we retell the story of Thanksgiving to children.) The best segments of the movie focus on Wednesday and Pugsley who are sent away to summer camp after the family's newly hired nanny, Debbie, tricks Gomez and Morticia into doing so. They quickly become social outcasts at the overly cheery camp and develop a friendship with another boy their age. The film should have kept most of its focus here, but unfortunately it doesn't. The main plot concerns Debbie (who is actually a serial killer) trying to woe Uncle Fester and steal his money. It is somewhat funny at first, but becomes tiresome after a while. Still, Adams Family Values is all in all a fun film that sports a lot unconventional humor and memorable visuals to boot. 

10.) The Worst: A Christmas Story 2



Simply put, this movie, like so many other sequels, was unnecessary. Very unnecessary. It was released just last year directly to DVD and has thankfully attracted little attention. A Christmas Story 2 has just about every cliche in the book and is devoid of most of the charms of the original. The movie is set six years after the original, with Ralphie now being a teenager who only wants a used 1939 Mercury convertible for Christmas. However, when he tries to get the car off the lot he accidentally damages it, and must repair it before the police find out. The movie simply goes through the motions repeating the same jokes and gags from the first movie, but only as less funny. The film also informs as that Ralphie must learn 'the true meaning of Christmas,' but didn't he already discover it during the first film? A Christmas Story 2 was among the last of Warner Bros. direct-to-video releases due to the studio citing the decline of the market in favor of online streaming. Good riddance, it was even more disappointing to me than the Home Alone sequels. This sequel is so obviously phoned in it's just sad really.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Animated Adaptations of One Thousand and One Nights


All of us are familiar with Disney's Aladdin, but there are a surprising number of other cartoons based on similar premises. 

Background on the Tales

One Thousand and One Arabian Nights is one of the world's most famous collections of fairytales and folktales. It is also one of the oldest literary works. Although the story was originally published in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age, many of the stories are far older and originate from not only Arabian countries but also Egyptian, Indian and Mesopotamian cultures. The stories first became popular in the Western world after their publication into French in the early 1700s by Antoine Galland. English translations soon followed, becoming increasingly common during the 1800s. Translations have continued to be made and revised up into recent years, as scholars endlessly debate about the accuracy of their sources and interpretations. (Earlier translations made during the Victorian era tended to cut out certain stories or aspects due to their depiction of violence and sex. Not all of these stories were originally intended for children. Pretty much the same thing could be said about Grimm's Fairytales.)


An illustration for Aladdin by Errol le Cain

For those unfamiliar with One Thousand and One Nights's basic premise, it is a frame story. Everyday the king Shahryar takes a new bride only to behead her by the next day, and then takes another. (Shahryar holds a grudge after finding out his first wife was unfaithful to him.) Eventually the vizier can no longer find any more virgin brides for the king. The vizier's daughter, Scheherazade, offers herself to be the next bride, and the vizier reluctantly agrees. Later that night after the marriage, Scheherazade begins to tell Shahryar a fantastical story. The story does not end and segues into another tale. The king becomes curious about how the tale concludes, so he postpones his bride's execution. This continues to be repeat until one thousand and one nights have passed and Scheherazade has run out of stories to tell. However, Shahryar has fallen in love with Scheherazade over the course of almost three years. So Scheherazade's life is spared and she becomes queen.


An illustration of Scheherazade and Shahryar by Edmund Dulac.

Most of the stories that Scheherazade tells are highly fantastical, involving various heroes journeying to far off lands in search of love or warriors fighting against fearsome monsters. Arguably, the most famous of these stories are Sinbad the Sailor, Aladdin and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Adaptations based upon these tales range from classical pieces to role playing games. (So many works have been influenced by these tales that they even have their own Wikipedia page!) Naturally, One Thousand and One Nights has been adapted numerous times into film as well, perhaps most famously by The Thief of Baghdad (both the 1924 and the 1940 versions) and the 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). The number of animated films adapted from One Thousand and One Nights is quite high as well. The stories provide a perfect vehicle for the medium given how imaginative and other worldly they are.


A brief synopsis and review for The Thief of Baghdad (1940).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Cowboy Bebop (TV Series Review)

Director: Shinichiro Watanabe

Company: Sunrise

Year: 1998-1999

Country: Japan


The anime for people who think they hate anime.

How does one even begin to describe Cowboy Bebop? It's one of the most critically acclaimed television series ever created. It's the Firefly of anime. It's one of the few shows that actually lives up to all of its hype. Cowboy Bebop was conceived during the late 1990s, a time during which the space operas and sci-fi dramas where exceptionally popular thanks to manga/anime series such as Crest of the Stars, Trigun, Outlaw Star, and, of course, Neon Genesis Evangelion. The production company Sunrise thus employed a team of talented team of industry veterans to create a show in similar vein to the above. The team consisted of: director Shinichiro Watanabe (Marcos Plus, Samurai Champloo, Space Dandy), screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto (Wolf's Rain, Tokyo Godfathers), character designer Toshihiro Kawamoto, mechanical designer Kimitoshi Yamane, and talented jazz composer Yoko Kanno. The primary goal of this team was to create a show that would defy genres and appeal to adult audiences.

Cowboy Bebop is set in the future year of 2071. The entire solar system is now traversable through hyperspace gates. Several decades earlier, in 2022, an experimental hyperspace gate exploded, damaging Earth, causing most of the survivors to abandon Earth and colonize other planets and astroids in the Solar System. Mars has become the primary hub of civilization. Due to the Solar System's enormous size, law and order has become hard to enforce. Crime abounds. Thus, a bounty hunter system is set up, creating a similar situation to the American Old West. (Bounty hunters are commonly called 'cowboys.')


Big Shot, a ridiculous TV bulletin show that informs prices on bounty heads.

The show centers around the various exploits and misadventures of a group of bounty hunters on board the spacecraft Bebop. Each of which have their own unique and contrasting personalities and (often tragic) backstories. Spike Spiegel is a former member of the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate. A skilled gunman and pilot with a biting sense of humor (Think of Lupin III, but as less of a woman chaser and less of a goof.), Spike is constantly haunted by his past, particularly by a beautiful woman named Julia and his rivalry with his former partner, Vicious. Jet Black is the team's engineer and cook. Although he doesn't like being called old, he commonly acts as supportive father figure to the rest of the crew. Jet is former cop with a strong sense of justice and is a jack of all trades. Faye Valentine is a femme fatale who uses her assets and skill with firearms to get what she wants. Faye is generally mistrusting towards others and frequently runs off to her own device. She is constantly on the run from the law due to the debts she inherited and is unable to pay off…which is certainly not helped by her gambling addiction. Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivruski (or Ed for short) is a thirteen year old hacking prodigy. She is a fairly strange, androgynous looking girl, who often speaks in rhyme, refers to herself in third person, and frequently drifts off from reality. Ed is the show's primary source of physical humor and comic relief. She is almost always seen with Ein, an intelligent Pembroke Welsh Corgi.


Who is the mysterious woman and what has she got to do with Spike's past?

The series is often billed as space adventure drama, but it is much more than that. While Cowboy Bebop is an anime program, its wide variety of influences and heavy references to Western culture make it very accessible to non-Japanese audiences. Cowboy Bebop certainly excelled at its goal of defying genres. It's a hodgepodge of Film Noir, Cyberpunk, intense drama and medium aware humor. Although set in space, many of the episodes take place in urban inner city areas. It avoids many of the cliches used in the sic-fi genre. There are no giant robots, space aliens, or laser guns. The environments in the film often look used or run down. The technology used in Cowboy Bebop is mixture of that advanced beyond our own and relics from the later half of the 20th century. The various colorful characters that appear throughout Cowboy Bebop's 26 episodes are ethically diverse. All of this gives the show a truly unique, somewhat strange, but truly inspired and relatable feel.


Welcome to the future, the used, gritty future.

Another  big draw of this anime is its diverse musical score composed by the eccentric and brilliant Yoko Kanno. Reflecting the diversity of its cast and Western influences on screen, Cowboy Bebop sports a soundtrack consisting primarily of jazz and blues (It's called Bebop after all!), along with rock, heavy metal, rap, and even gospel like music. (Much of the music on display also originates from the fringes of society, reflecting the series's realistic, gritty style.) 


Obligatory theme song post.

Shinichiro Watanabe certainly loves films and makes several parodies and homages throughout the series's run. Several of the less serious episodes focus on spoofing a specific genre or movie. For instance, the episode, "Toys in the Attic," involves Spike and his teammates being attacked by a unknown presence on their ship (which turns out to have originated from bad food kept in the fridge), which ends up incapacitating most of them before it is destroyed. The plot is quite similar to Ridley Scott's Alien and also references 2001: A Space Odyssey. Another episode, "Mushroom Samba," invokes the feel of 1970s Blaxploitation films. (It involves a starved Ed and Ein chasing down a hallucinogenic mushroom dealer. Yes, it's as crazy and hilarious as it sounds.)

Outside of all of these parodies and homages, much of the show's humor (and relatability) comes from its cast's conflicting interests and personalities and the situations they wind up in. Whereas Jet is ever calm and the most rational of the crew, his conservative views and dedication to truth and justice sometimes put him at odds with Spike and, especially, Faye. At first look, Spike and Faye seem to hate each other. (In one scene, an exasperated Spike asks Jet what the three things he particularly hates ['kids, dogs, and women with attitudes'] are doing on his ship.) Ironically though, both Spike and Faye have several similarities. They are both very stubborn and determined. They refuse to show each other's true feelings towards each other, unless in the most dire of situations. Little lifelike details appear in Cowboy Bebop that several other anime series either ignore or lack. Unlike many other 'animal mascots' / 'team pets' Ein is realistically drawn and behaves much like a real dog would. The crew constantly combats with hunger and starvation when they are out of work. Heck, we even get to see what the Bebop's bathroom stall looks like!


As a broke college student, I can relate.

While certainly funny in places, Cowboy Bebop is even more well known for its sophisticated storytelling and dark, intricate plots. Indeed, while Watanabe admits that about 20% of the show is dedicated to humor, he also states the other 80% is centered around serious drama. Several heavy handed or controversial subjects are dealt with throughout Cowboy Bebop's run including: drug dealing, homosexuality, organized crime, terrorism, and religious cults. While some episodes contain little to no violence, others are quite brutal and feuds are often realistically depicted on screen. At times the anime has an existentialist and philosophical tone. Between all of the action sequences, many of the characters have quiet moments of solitude, as they contemplate about their pasts and the current state of their lives.

Spike, in particular, takes everything with a grain of salt. As he pushes forward towards an uncertain future, he simply states, "Whatever happens, happens." Themes of betrayal and self redemption also come into play. The anime's ending is left open ended. We are left uncertain if Spike has survived or not or what happens to the rest of the Bebop's crew. However, Spike has managed to make amends with his past and settle his score with Vicious. His (debatable) death is his redemption. Vicious can be essentially seen as Spike's shadow. Whereas Spike is able to contain his anger and remain cool and level headed, Vicious is unable to control his tendencies. When threatened, he always acts out with violence. Vicious is unable to comprehend mercy.


Is it worth searching for meaning in the past, or should we simply move forward without looking back?


Faye, like most of the other characters in this show, faces crisis with her identity.

Really, I could go on talking even more about this show. However, several people already have and, like all good things, this review must eventually come to an end. For those who haven't seen Cowboy Bebop, GO WATCH IT NOW. Trust me, you have no idea what you're missing out on. Well, until then…


…See you Space Cowboy...

Rating: 5/5

About the Dub: Unlike many other anime of its day, Cowboy Bebop has a stellar dub (by company Animaze), rivaling that of the dubs Disney gives Studio Ghibli's films. Some even consider it to be superior to the original Japanese voiceover. (In the case of Wendee Lee as Faye Valentine, I would probably agree with them.) The script follows the original cut very loyally and each character feels very real and three dimensional. Steven Blume (who was rewarded a 2012 Genius World Record for his prolific voice acting career) does an excellent job as Spike, being both subtle and volatile when needed. All of the other voice actors do a fine job as well.


Seriously, this scene gives me chills every time I watch it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

11 Amazing Short Student Films from Gobelins Animation School

The French have always been heavily involved throughout the history of animation and hosts a variety of prestigious universities, the best known being Gobelins School of Image. Gobelins is a college located in the Latin Quartier dedicated to the visual arts. Since Gobelins began offering its animation program in 1975, several of its students have gone on to work for several companies not only within in France, but also at large studios including Disney, Dreamworks, Pixar, and Warner Brothers. The rising star in animated film companies, Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me, The Lorax), was founded by a Gobelins alumni Pierre Coffin. Each year, the Gobelins Youtube page posts their students' graduate films, most of which are nothing short of remarkable. Below I have listed eleven of my favorites in chronological order (with descriptions from the Gobelins website). Why eleven? …Making lists is hard.* 

1.) After the Rain - 2008



"A child fishing in a puddle using bananas as bait catches a bigger fish than he can handle and flees with the giant fish in pursuit."

2.) For Sock's Sake - 2008



"A sock escapes from the clothes line to go clubbing."

3.) Trois Petits Points - 2010



"A seamstress is waiting for her husband to come back from the war."

4.) Le Royaume - 2010




"Just arrived in a wood, a king wants a beaver to build him a castle."

5.) A Travers la Brume - 2011



"Two brothers are hunting a legendary creature. As they hunt, the fog separates them…"

6.)  Fur - 2011




"Banned from his town because of his animality, a wolf man decides to make this segregation come to an end."

7. ) Who's Afraid of Mr. Greedy - 2011




"A man comes to get back his identity, stolen by an ogre while he was a child."

8.) In Between - 2012




"A young woman is being followed by a crocodile who represents her shyness. As he makes her life a living hell, she tries by every means to get rid of him."

9.) Trouble on the Green - 2012




"In a little french town, a minigolf tournament is organized each year. But this year, the news have announced the end of the world."

10.) One Day - 2012




"One man always on the move will have an encounter that puts into question everything he knows."

11.) Eclipse  - 2012



"On a distant planet, two sientists analyzing the field for its magnetic properties are facing an extraordinary phenomena linked to the lunar eclipse."

* For those who enjoyed this list, I recommend checking out the 2013 graduate shorts,  Un Conte (not for the faint of heart) and Annie (which is reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim and Adventure Time). The Gobelins students also create television spots for the Annecy International Animation Film Festival. Notable spots include Monstera Deliciosa (2009) and Beyond the Sea (2012).