Thursday, January 31, 2013

Metropolis (1927) Trailers

Some select trailers for Metropolis just to show off how amazing it was for its time (and still is). The first three were made to promote the newly restored Kino version released in 2010. If you decide to watch Metropolis, watch this version!* It contains many newly discovered scenes and features a documentary about the history of its restoration. It also features the film's original soundtrack. The 4th trailer is from a controversial restoration made in the 1980s... using color dyes and pop music?! What were they thinking? Also the announcer said the film was made in 1926, wrong!

*The Kino Version is now on Hulu! Click here to watch it!

Metropolis (1927) Review

Director: Fritz Lang

Company: UFA

Year: 1927 (the most recently restored version from Kino International was released in 2010)

Country: Germany

One of the most influential films of all time with a message that is still relevant today.

Metropolis is one of the most recognizable movies in movie history. It was a product of the German Expressionist Era and one of the most elaborately detailed and expensive films of its time. Even if someone has not seen the film, it is likely that they will recognize its imagery and virtually impossible  for them to not to have seen another movie influenced by it (i.e. Star Wars or any other Sci-Fi film ever made). Metropolis is set in a futuristic dystopian society. The ruling elite live above ground in a vast city akin to paradise at the expense of the working underclass who live below them. Freder, son of the city's leader Joh Federsen, falls head over heels for woman named Maria. He attempts to follow Maria, but ends up getting lost in the worker complexes below. Freder is horrified by what he sees and later finds Maria. He agrees to help her work towards peace between the two classes by acting as mediator between them. However, Joh and the scientist, Rotwang, discover the plan. Rotwang kidnaps Maria and makes a robotic doppelgänger in her guise in order to manipulate the masses, and turns it against Joh.

How do you solve a problem like Maria? Apparently, Rotwang knows.

Metropolis, is at heart, an allegory about how society must learn to function in order to survive. It is a warning about the dangers of classism, worker exploitation, mob mentality, and corruption. Yet the film  also offers hope for a better future, stating that,"the mediator between the hands and the head must be the heart." Thus, in order for people to live together peacefully, they must be willing to put aside their differences and come to a compromise.

 Metropolis also uses lots of religious imagery to get across its message. In one scene, Freder sees a machine that some of the workers are operating explode, killing several people. Freder panics then hallucinates that the machine transforms into the terrible demon, Moloch. Moloch was a pagan deity that was provided human sacrifices. In another part of the film, Maria is preaching to the workers about her vision of peace. She mentions the Tower of Babel, which fell due to people working on it becoming to prideful and failing to understand each other. The tall building which Joh rules from is referenced as 'The New Tower of Babel' throughout the film, making the parallels clear. At one point, Freder trades places with one of the workers in order to experience what has been going on unseen his entire life. He works a grueling ten hour shift, managing the hands of a clock. As Freder strains to keep the hands in place, it resembles a crucification. This shows how the workers must sacrifice time each day, to the seemingly unappreciative elite.

Freder's terrifying vision of the M Machine transforming into Moloch.

"Father! Father! Will ten hours never end?"

Each character in Metropolis have widely varying motives and well developed personalties. Joh Federsen seems like a heartless man who rules with an iron fist, at first. However, we later learn that Joh cares deeply for his son. He is so stern partly because his wife died in childbirth and he fears losing Freder. Rotwang set the archetype of the 'mad scientist' character and represents the consequences of playing God. Freder acts as the audience's guide into the world of Metropolis. He starts of very naive, and somewhat spoiled, but quickly learns about the inequality around him after he meets Maria. He then acts as the 'link' to build understanding between the social classes. 

It is very interesting to compare Maria to her robotic counterpart. Maria is is kind towards all people, despite their social status, and cares a lot for the needy and their childern. The 'False' Maria exactly the opposite. She has been programed to deceive all men and urges the working class to act out violently, to rise up in rebellion against the upperclass (not caring that the worker's city is being flooded at the exact same moment!) The robot's behavior is reflected by actress Bridgett Helm's heavy makeup and jerky / eccentric movements. When Helm portrays Maria, she dresses more nicely and is far more composed. The scene where False Maria is depicted as the Whore of Babylon, represents the sins and lust of man. It also suggests that if the actions of Rotwang's invention were to go out of hand, there could be apocalyptic consequences. 

Maria vs False Maria

False Maria as The Whore of Babylon.

The cinematography of this movie is stunning, especially when you consider when it was made. The expertly made miniatures and large-scale sets prove that a film does not need to rely heavily on CGI in order to be breathtakingly beautiful. Each scene conveys a mood, in typical Expressionist style. It is very easy to be impressed by the glorious city of Metropolis, but also to pity the underclass who toil below in dismal conditions. The original score of the film, by Gottfired Huppertz, truly adds to the atmosphere of Metropolis and is, perhaps, one of the most haunting scores ever created for a motion picture. (And a good score is absolutely essential to keep an audience's attention for a silent film!)

The world of the elite.

The 'underworld' of the workers.

This movie is a definite must-see for anyone who is interested in film. Metropolis is a work of art. Not only is it beautiful to look at, but it also has a heart. Don't ignore it just because it is a silent film. If any film from our era is as good as Metropolis in 85 years, then we will be fortunate indeed. 

Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Influence of German Expressionsim on American Cinema

Sunrise (1927), an example of an American film by a German director.

There is no doubt that the one of the greatest art forms to come out of the 20th century is movie making. Virtually, anybody alive today has a favorite movie or at least seen numerous films throughout their lifetime. But very few know about how, in the early, silent years of cinema, Hollywood was changed forever by the influence of German filmmakers.

Throughout the mid 1910s to 1920s, the American film industry focused mainly on only two main genres, action/adventure films (which were mainly based off historical events or novels) and comedies. Popular Hollywood films  at the time were: D.W. Griffith’s controversial, but highly influential Birth of A Nation (1915); the foreign fantasy, The Sheik (1921);  The Mark of  Zorro (1920) and The Thief of Baghdad (1924). But comedians (like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd) and comedic cartoons (such as Felix the Cat and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit) arguably met the widest success. 

Charlie Chaplin, one of the most famous American silent Stars.

Felix the Cat was to cartoons what Chaplin was to American cinema. 

However, filmmaking in Europe focused less on action-adventure and comedic routines than Hollywood did, and more on experimentation, visuals, emotion, and the flaws of human nature. This is particularly true in the case of German Expressionism- a term used to describe the unique take of  German filmmakers during the era. The movement was characterized by its usage of elaborate sets and exaggerated acting to emphasize mood, abstract scenery, high contrast lighting, and had a tendency to tackle darker subject matter. The plots and stories of the Expressionist films often dealt with madness, insanity, betrayal, and other “intellectual” topics. Some of the most famous expressionist films are: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), The Golem (1920), Nosferatu (1922), Faust (1924) Metropolis (1927), Pandora’s Box (1929), and M (1931).

A typical German Expressionist Film: moody, experimental, elaborately made, and dark.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a bizarre frame story in which a man retells his experience with a creepy carnival overruled by the hypnotist, Caligari, and the sleepwalker Caligari controls in order to carry out murders. It was one of the first movies to feature a twist ending (the narrator is revealed to be mentally insane). This film was hugely influential on many directors, like all expressionist films, but most notably Tim Burton. This can be seen in Burton’s fondness of using outlandish and geometrical sets, the resemblance of Edward Scissorhands to Cesare (the sleepwalker), and the dreamlike atmosphere in his films. 

It's easy to see the influence of this film on Tim Burton's style.

The Golem, Nosferatu, and Faust are arguably the expressionist films most responsible for creating the horror genre. All of three dealt with the supernatural, malicious beings or monsters, and featured dark and/or tragic storylines. The Golem was about rabbi creating a clay warrior to protect the Jews from being prosecuted, but his creation goes out of control. (This is pretty eerie considering that the Holocaust occurred twenty years later.) Nosferatu was one of the  earliest vampire films, heavily borrowed from Dracula, and linked the legend to the spread of the black plague. Faust, which was also adapted from a classic novel, was about an alchemist conflicted by his own selfish ambitions motivated by the Devil and his desire to do good. The effects of these films were felt immediately as Hollywood began releasing films like The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Frankenstein over the next several years.

Nosferatu is a vampire.  

This thing is not.

Metropolis is the story of a dystopian future were the elite live in luxury at the expense of  the underclass workers who live below surface. When a woman named Maria tries to bring peace between the exploited workers and the elite, a robot duplicate is given her image so it can manipulate the masses and crush any chance of rebellion. It was the most expensive silent film costing over 7 million Reichmarks which would be about $200 million today. Metropolis’s influence was huge. It is widely considered to be the first major (and most significant) science fiction film and featured ground-breaking special affects. Even today it has continued to be used as inspiration where you would least expect. For example, strangely enough, Lady Gaga. The name Lady Gaga actually comes from a music video by Queen entitled “Radio Gaga” which uses footage from Metropolis. Lady Gaga’s outlandish costumes also seem to be sometimes inspired by the Maria robot or the film’s bizarre dance scene. 

Marvel at how the miniatures were made.

Words can not describe how groundbreaking Metropolis was. 

Among the last German expressionist films made were Pandora’s Box and M. Both were less abstract in nature, set in contemporary times with a crime backdrop, and focused more on flawed, tormented characters with questionable motives. Pandora’s Box was about a woman whose selfish, seductive behavior ignites jealously in men causing her to be accused of manslaughter when one of her lovers murders another man. M featured a detective trying to track down a troubled child murderer. 

Pandoras' Box and M are perhaps the most Film Noir-like of German films.

By the end of the 1920s, the German film industry became increasingly regulated as the Nazi Regime rose to power. Many artists and filmmakers fled to Hollywood so they could continue to keep making films (and many of them also happened to be Jewish). They brought with them their unique visions and created a new major movement in Hollywood, Film Noir. Film Noir was also made in response to The Hays Box Office Code, which regulated the film industry causing many 'safe' films to made throughout the 1940s and 50s (i.e. musical romantic comedies). Film Noir movies were crime dramas shot in black and white, featured characters with questionable motives, femme fatales, and dramatic lighting. (Sound familiar?) This in turn eventually changed the whole Hollywood film industry by causing The Hayes Box Office Code to loosen its restrictions and eventually be replaced by the film rating system. Because German Expressionism influenced Film Noir it also influenced countless directors  (ranging from Orson Welles, to Alfred Hitchcock, to Ridley Scott) which made way for the variety of films we experience in modern cinema today.

Typical Film Noir movies. Notice how similar they looks to German Expressionist Films!

Alferd Hitchcock studied film in Germany for a while.

Thus, German Expressionist Films are hugely important to many aspects of film today. The genres Horror and Film Noir owe their origin to it. Expressionism, through influencing Film Noir, eventually resulted in the fall of the Hays Box Office Code. Countless directors also owe some of their success to techniques they picked up from German filmmakers. So next time you watch a movie, check to see if you can spot any traits associated with German Expressionism. You might be surprised.

  Citizen Cane, Sunset Blvd, The Godfather, Blade Runner, and even The Dark Knight are just a few examples of films influenced by the long legacy of German Expressionism.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Thief and the Cobbler Trailers

As with just about every film reviewed on this site (except the really bad ones), here are some trailers to promote the movie. First up is the trailer for the Recobbled Cut which really gives a sense of The Thief and the Cobbler's visual splendor. The second trailer was a made for a promotional champaign for Warner Brothers that never fell through. At one point The Thief was meant to be screened in Germany, but it never happened, yet a German trailer was made. The last trailer is....ugh! It shows what happened when the film fell into Calvert's hands (which means bad animation, unnecessary dialogue, and terrible songs).

The Thief and the Cobbler: The Recobbled Cut (Review)

Director: Richard Williams

Company: Richard Williams Productions

Year: never released as intended / unfinished, fan restoration first released in 2006

Country: United Kingdom

Two silent protagonists interact with one another amongst trippy backdrops.

As mentioned earlier on this blog, The Thief  was supposed to be Richard William's ultimate labor of love, but never was released as it was intended to be. The Recobbled Cut gives us an interesting insight on what could have been. The plot follows two mute characters, a polite yet timid cobbler named Tack, and the world's most determined thief. They live in the Golden City which is reined over by the very inept and lazy King Nod. The city is protected by three golden balls atop the tallest minaret. If the balls are removed, the city is prophesied to fall into ruin unless it is saved by the "simplest soul with the smallest and simplest of things." 

One day, the Thief bumps into Tack causing him to accidentally spill all of his tacks onto the street. King Nod's Grand Vizier, the egocentric Zigzag, steps on the tacks and has the cobbler arrested. Luckily, the King's daughter, Princess Yumyum, takes a liking to Tack and convinces her father that she needs her shoes repaired. Meanwhile, the Thief attempts to steal the golden balls, but loses them in the process. Zigzag seizes the opportunity to steal the balls. After Nod refuses to allow him to wed Yumyum, Zigzag delivers them to the tribe of violent One Eyes. Thus Tack, the princess, and her nanny set off to try and seek help from a mad witch who lives in the desert. Trailing behind them is the Thief, never missing an opportunity to find treasure.

The films strongest point is, unsurprisingly, its art direction and distinctive character animation. It is easy to identify each character's personality just by the way they move and dress. For instance, Zigzag pridefully strides around as he walks and generally acts in an exaggerated manner. (Which is only fitting, since he was voiced by Vincent Price!) Tack, on the other hand, is very calm and collected. The fact that he never speaks and is primarily black and white in color, alludes to the actors of the Silent Era. The whole style of the film is very unique. It can be described as Disney crossed with The Yellow Submarine. Many of the backgrounds are drawn to resemble Persian miniatures and sometimes even resemble the works of Mc Esher. Since many, many years were spent on this film, it contains some of the most intricate and beautiful animation ever created. It's importance for preserving the skills of animators from the Golden Age can not be stated enough.

The most amazing chase scene in cinematic history.

The Thief and the Cobbler: The Recobbled Cut is not without its flaws. Being an unfinished film, it does tend to abruptly change scenes occasionally and certain scenes tend to drag on a bit too long, particularly the drawn out climax were the Thief tries to escape a burning war machine. (Some say William's spent too long on certain segments just to show off the animation, as opposed to focusing more on the story.) Still, the characters are very likable and there are many fun and funny scenes involving Zigzag's pompous airs and the Thief's ridiculous antics. It's really hard to be too harsh on this film, since it was never completed.

One can only imagine how years were spent working on this scene alone.

Vincent Price is Zigzag. I'm sold. 

 The Recobbled Cut is not a film that I would recommend to those expecting a stereotypical Disney / family oriented film. (There are a few slightly adult scenes, but this mainly because of the its somewhat unorthodox style and uneven pacing.) This film is one of the most unusual and strangely intriguing movies out there. Although definitely not perfect, this is a movie that any lover of animation or art should see. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Long & Complicated Production of The Thief & The Cobbler

This unique film's fate is perhaps one of the most tragic in movie history.

The Thief and the Cobbler was supposed to be the masterpiece of renowned animator, Richard Williams. Today, it is best remembered for its infamous production history. In 1964, after having success at making several short films, Williams set out to create an animated adaptation based off of the tales of Nasreddin. However, the translator of the original Nasreddin stories, Idries Shah, demanded that Williams give him 50% of the film's profits. Thus in 1972, Williams was forced to make major changes to the plot and replaced the titular character with two new ones, a willy thief and a humble cobbler named Tack. In order to fund his project Williams continued to create commercials and short films. In 1977, he hired several famous animators from the Golden Age to work on The Thief, including Art Babbitt, Ken Harris, Grim Natwick, and Ollie Johnston. As years passed, Williams's project became more and more ambitious (and expensive). He wanted to make The Thief his magnum opus.

The Thief eventually caught the attention of Robert Zemeckis and Steven Speilberg. Williams was hired to be the animation director for Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and finally had the much needed financial backing to complete his film. But, Williams failed to complete The Thief and the Cobbler by its 1991 deadline. Even though only 15 minutes of screen time were needed to be finished, Williams lost control of the project and Miramax handed it over to Fred Calvert.

An unfinished scene using a storyboard of Tack and Princess Yumyum.

Calvert butchered the film. He completed the remaining animation as cheaply as possible, cut several scenes, and removed scenes that were more adult in nature (not realizing the film was supposed to be for the art house crowd). By far the worse offense committed was adding unnecessary dialogue for the Thief and Tack, who were supposed to be silent, and adding very poorly written musical numbers not in the original script. To make matters worse, several of the animators working for Williams had gone on to work for Disney, resulting in many similarities to Aladdin. When the edited version of the film was released in 1993, it failed miserably at the box office and was torn apart by the critics.

The feather doesn't have a reflection! It must be a vampire! (The Fred Calvert version of this film is awful.)

Disney, you're not fooling anyone. (Image courtesy of Jbsdesigns.)

However, the workprint of the original film survived. Appreciation of the film grew among film and animation enthusiasts. At the 2000 Annecy Festival, Williams showed the faded print to Roy E. Disney (Walt Disney's nephew). Roy collected several pencil tests and artwork from the film, but the project never came into fruition. In 2006, filmmaker and dedicated fan, Garrett Gilchrist, created a non-profit restoration named The Thief and the Cobbler: The Recobbled Cut. This edit gained support from many animators who worked on the film and several of them gave Gilchrist rare material to work with. Since then, The Recobbled Cut has gone under several revisions, using cleaner footage or newly discovered animation. Currently a 'Mark 3' version, released in 2008, is available on Youtube. The 'Mark 4' version is planned to be completed in 2013. In 2012, a non-profit documentary about Williams's life long project (Persistence of Vision) was released by Kevin Schreck.

Trailer for The Persistence of Vision.

Friday, January 18, 2013

5 Excellent Animated Music Videos

Synching animation or live footage to music has long been part of the filmmaking process. In fact, there are several well known early examples during the Golden Age of animation, like Fleischer's Betty Boop cartoons and Disney's Fantasia. However, it wasn't until the rise of MTV in the 1980s that the term music video came into use (The term used before was 'illustrated song'.) Since Youtube launched in 2005, it has become easier and easier for people to create and share their own material. (This can be a bit of a double-edged sword, though. Just about anybody can post whatever they please, which has led to a never ending plague of AMV and Vocaloid videos.) Some of the best and overlooked animated music videos are listed below by year.

On Your Mark (1995):

For those familiar with Hayao Miyazaki, it may seem surprising that he would animate a music video for a J-pop group. But he did just so at the request of the popular rock duo Chage & Aska. Whether your a fan of the music or not, the animation and nonlinear plot is hard not to be drawn in to. Miyazaki's drawings tell an intriguing story about two cops who discover a unconscious winged girl. They are pursued by military as they try to figure out what to do with her. This film largely references many of Miyazaki's works (especially his Nausicaa manga) and there are many implied different endings of the film. Do the cops and the girl live? Does the angel girl represent some sign of hope in a post-nuclear world? How can humanity survive in the future?

The Ghost of Stephan Foster (1999):

The Squirrel-Nut Zippers were a popular ska (gypsy jazz / swing fusion) group during the 1990s. Given the roots of their musical style, it only makes since that their music video is a tribute to the strange black-and-white cartoons of the Fleisher Brothers. There are a lot of great visual gags and some very creative old school animation. Overall, it's a blast. Likely one of the most memorable (and catchy) music videos out there. Who doesn't like watching cartoons about creepy haunted houses?

Destino (2003):

In 1945, Walt Disney wanted to make a collaborative project with Salvador Dali. However, their vision never got to see the light of day. Only about 17 seconds of animation was completed before the idea was canceled due to WWII. But 58 years later, a group animators at Disney Studios unearthed some storyboards from the film and decided to complete it. The result is far more comparable to Dali than it is to Disney. (If the studio even dared to show it on Disney Channel today, all of the tweens' heads would explode.) Destino is very bizarre and beautiful and is appropriately accompanied with a 1940s Spanish style song written by Armando Dominguez. It is about Chronos (the god of time) and his ill-fated love of a mortal woman. A must watch if you enjoyed Fantasia.

The Boy with the Cuckoo Clock Heart (2007):

This music video is based off a French book of the same name. It is performed by musician Mathias Malzieu (who was the book's author) and his band Dionysos. The story is about a boy named Jack who is not supposed to fall in love. This is because Jack's damaged heart was replaced by a clock when he was young. Any strong emotions will cause his new heart to break. However, that's exactly what happens when he meets Miss Acacia. The short film's style is distinctively steampunk and heavily resembles the stop-motion movies of Tim Burton, despite the fact that it is computer generated. Apparently, an animated film based off the book is in the works and should be out in a few years. (I apologize in advance for the lack of subtitles for this video.)

Copying is Not Theft (2009):

Nina Paley is probably one of the most famous independent animators of our time. She received much acclaim for her film, Sita Sings the Blues, which she directed and animated entirely on her own. However, she ran into legal issues regarding the usage of Annette Hanshaw's jazz recordings. Annoyed with the inefficiency of copyright laws, Paley made Copying is not Theft to express her frustration. Even if you don't agree with Paley's views, this video is pretty entertaining and has a certain quirky charm to it. (Nina Paley also made another video called Credit is Due, reminding people to credit their sources.)

Lupin the Third: The Mystery of Mamo (Review)

Director: Soji Yoshikawa
Company: TMS Entertainment
Year: 1978
Country: Japan

Fujiko isn't impressed, Lupin, and neither are the critics.

The first Lupin the Third film was only released a year before The Castle of Cagliostro, but is vastly different. It may be more loyal to Monkey Punch's comics, but it is certainly not as well executed as Cagliostro. The movie opens with Inspector Zenigata investigating Lupin's execution, but it turns out the body is a clone. The real Lupin later tries to flirt with Fujiko, his on-and-off romantic interest. Fujiko is not fooled by his antics (its obvious he just wants to get it on with her). She feigns interest in order to steal the Philosopher's Stone off of him. Then she delivers it to her mysterious benefactor named Mamo, but the stone Lupin gave her turns out being fake. Lupin is eventually captured and brought to an island where Mamo is holding Fujiko captive.

This where the movie starts to get really weird. Mamo is the most bizarre and underwhelming villain one could possible think up. He is a blue-skinned dwarf who clones various specimens of extinct species and deceased famous historical figures. Mamo is obsessed with living forever and wants to create an ideal world were only he, and few other people he deems worthy, can live in. Fujiko tires to convince him that Lupin is worth saving, but Mamo is not convinced. (Mamo is obviously quite jealous of Fujiko's and Lupin's relationship.) Lupin and his friends manage to escape, but Fujiko is captured again. Lupin and his allies must rescue Fujiko and stop Mamo's devious scheme. 

This is our villain, a blue dwarf in a wig. Sorry no refunds.

This film has several issues. The villain, as mentioned before, is not very believable and either comes off as laughable or as an old pervert. Is Mamo really so deprived that he has monitor Fujiko on a video camera while she bathes? (Either that or else some of the animators are also perverts.) His motivation is to destroy the world in order to create a better one for himself to live in? How cliche. Then there's Fujiko. She is often a very interesting character in other incarnations of Lupin the Third. However, here she is captured a bit too often and comes off as weak and is even more manipulative than usual. And yes, she is supposed to be a femme fatale, but that doesn't justify constantly having her wear partially ripped outfits or the shower scene that lasts for nearly two minutes! Then there is the film's climax, where, in the twist everyone saw coming, Mamo is revealed to be a clone himself. The real Mamo is then revealed to be a giant brain in a jar (Wait, what?! Who wrote this? This is supposed to be an action comedy flick, not a cheesy Sci-Fi B movie!) The brain nearly escapes on a rocket ship (I'm not making making this stuff up), but Lupin attaches a bomb to the rocket which explodes.

Fujiko, get some clothes...

What?! I didn't pay to see a surrealist film!

There are a few good things about this movie, though. For one, the character designs and art direction are a lot of fun, being very retro and off-beat. This is due to the animators following the style of the original manga more closely than usual. There are also a lot of great conversations between Lupin and Fujiko as he unsuccessfully tries to woe her. A lot of dramatic tension occurs between Lupin and his partners, Jigen and Goemon, as they try to convince him to forgot Fujiko, and they even part ways at one point. (Again, this is hardly ever seen outside of the manga). Plus, all of the chase scenes and wacky humor are often amusing.

The art style can be hilariously demented. 

Keep him away from the surveillance cameras please. 

So how can I even begin to describe this movie? The characters are well developed, for the most part, and it can be entertaining sometimes. However, the second half of the film completely switches genres and the amount of fan service from Fujiko is ridiculous. On top of all this, it's like a bad acid trip towards the end. If you want to see Lupin the Third at his best, watch the Castle of Cagliostro, not this movie. (Unless you need to find a movie for a drinking game.) Ah well, it could have been worse, at least it wasn't that pink jacket Lupin film.

Gah! Go away Pink Jacket Lupin! Nobody likes you and your horrid animation!

Rating: 2/5*

*About the Dub: It's terrible and it definitely does not make this movie seem any better. Most of the voice actors are way too loud or obnoxious, killing any subtlety that was in the original Japanese. One of the worst offenders is Zenigata, who speaks in very bellicose manner and ends comes off even stupider than he is supposed to appear. Lupin's voice actor, Tony Oliver, is ok, but can come off a bit too shrill or cartoony at times (then again Lupin is very goofy in this film). The only other voice actor that does a decent job is....uh....Well, they all tend to grind on your ears at some point.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

How I Judge Films

To make reviews more helpful, I have added a film rating system guide on the reviews tab. Films (and other media) shall be judged as followed:

5/5: A masterpiece! Perfection of film / animation as an art form.
4.5: A truly wonderful movie. Be sure not to miss it.
4/5: A good, decent well rounded movie. May have a few flaws.
3.5: It's not perfect, but certainly not bad either. If you are curious, it's worth checking out.
3/5: Give it or take. A harmless movie, but perhaps a bit too flawed or forgettable.
2.5: An uneven film. Very flawed. May have a few redeeming scenes or leave one wishing for more.
2/5: A bad movie. Boring, borderline offensive, or just plain stupid.
1.5: A really bad movie. It is a chore to watch. In fact, you might leave half way through.
1/5: An unbearably awful train wreck of a film. Avoid at all costs!
0.5: I can only pray that I never shall review a film this horrible.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro Trailers

In order to promote this film, here are some trailers. The Japanese one (with subtitles!) focuses on the suspense of the movie and then switches over to action scenes while introducing the cast. Like many Japanese trailers made at the time, it has lots of words flashing over the screen to explain the movie. The USA trailer is ok, but a bit low budget (read: cheesy). Anime fans will also cringe when the announcer mispronounces the word manga as 'main-gah'. The last trailer is Italian. For some reason, Italians love Lupin the Third. Seriously, Italy was the only country to get a dubbed version of the original series when it first came out.

*UPDATE: The Castle of Cagliostro is now on Hulu! Click here to watch!

Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro (Review)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Company: TMS Entertainment
Year: 1979
Country: Japan

An excellent film debut for one of Japan's most acclaimed animators.

Lupin the Third is one of Japan's most recognizable anime characters, but perhaps none of his outings is as acclaimed as The Castle of Cagliostro. Lupin, a gentleman thief, and his friend, Daisuke Jigen, rob a casino only to discover the money they have is counterfeit. It turns out the fake cash are 'goat bills' which hail from the tiny European country of Cagliostro. Soon after they arrive, they rescue a young girl being pursued by a gang of thugs, commencing an exhilarating car chase (reputably hailed by Steven Speilberg as the greatest chase scene in any film ever.) Although the girl is captured, she leaves Lupin her ring. It is later discovered the she is actually Lady Clarisse, the princess of Cagliostro who is being forcibly married to the power hungry Count of Cagliostro. Lupin becomes determined to save her. Along the way Lupin reunites with his old teammates Goeman, a swordsman, and Fujiko Mime, Lupin's on-and-off lover. The INTERPOL and Tokyo police officer, Koichi Zenigata, also become involved as Lupin tries to uncover the dark secret that is hidden in the castle of Cagliostro.

At least counterfeit money makes good confetti. 

Although the plot may seem simple, it has many layers to it. Hayo Miyazaki and Isao Takahada both directed several of the episodes of the original Lupin the Third series from 1971. In the series, Lupin is far more immature and more of a playboy than he is in the movie. The Lupin in Cagliostro is more world weary and there are several slow moments in the film were he quietly contemplates over things. Clarisse offers him a chance to escape from his fast paced and dangerous lifestyle. But Lupin declines to go with her because thievery is the only lifestyle he knows. Aside from this serious note, however, Cagliostro is very much a Lupin the Third movie. It is very goofy and slapstick at times. There are many great sight gags and many fun scenes. It is easy to see why Steven Spielberg is a fan of this movie, at times it resembles Indian Jones crossed with James Bond.

Moments of quiet reflection...

....contrasted with daredevil defying stunts.

It is also interesting to compare Clarisse to Fujiko. Clarisse is very demure and polite. She is very kind and seemingly innocent about many things in the world. She is not as independent as Fujiko, but copes the best she can in her situation. Fujiko is the opposite of Clarisse. She is very assertive and loud spoken. She can be selfish. She often has Lupin wrapped around her little finger (although she does care for him). But like Lupin, Fujiko is portrayed differently here than she is in the series. She is still somewhat of a femme fatale, however she is more mature and even kind at times. (Fujiko also is portrayed with blonde hair here for some reason, and is far less voluptuous than she normally appears.)

Clarisse gently tending Lupin's wounds.

Fujiko about to break out of Clarisse's room.

The Castle of Cagliostro is a very entertaining film and quite possibly one of the best adventure films out there, animated or otherwise. There are many iconic scenes from this film (such as the clock tower fight which was referenced in Disney's The Great Mouse Detective and Batman: The Animated Series) and the film is not afraid to cover denser subjects as well (like Zenigata facing political repercussions when trying to let out the truth). The animation may be a bit dated in places and the soundtrack is distinctively '70s, but don't let that prevent you from seeing this funny and smart film.

Rating: 4.5/5*

 *About the Dub: Currently, the only dub available right now is by Manga Entertainment. It is pretty loyal to the original Japanese script, although it is a little heavy on the cussing (but not too bad, PG - PG-13 level). The voice acting itself is also fairly good, particularly David Hayter who portrays Lupin. Zenigata's voice actor is a bit weaker, but still manages to be amusing. Unfortunately, Clarisse got the short end of the stick. She isn't terrible, but sometimes comes off as very weak and whiny. This is very obvious when you compare her English voice actor, Bridget Hoffman, to her original one, Sumi Shimamto.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Animated Films that Never Were (Don Bluth Edition)

Making an animated film is a long and complicated process. Many films spend years, sometimes even decades in development. ( In an extreme case, Ricard William's The Thief and the Cobbler spent about 30 years in limbo before it was released in 1993.) Here are some films by renowned animator, Don Bluth, that sadly never got to see the light of day. Bluth often struggled with finical troubles, particularly after his studio tanked in the mid 1990s. Here's a small glimpse at what could have been.

The Little Blue Whale:


The Velveteen  Rabbit:

East of the Sun, West of the Moon: 
was meant to be released after the Secret of NIMH (1982), but but the union went on strike for 73 days.