Sunday, December 28, 2014

New Year's Resolutions

First of all, I would like to apologize for being absent from my blog for over a month. As usual, I have been exceptionally busy completing my senior year at college and finishing various projects. I promise to post at least 2-3 times a month from now on and hopefully I will be able to post more frequently (around 5-6 posts per month) by the end of next year...

Resolutions List

1.) Complete College and My Senior Project
2.) Post with Gusto!
3.) Start a Tumblr Page to Post Personal Artwork & Other Miscellaneous Stuff
4.) Find a Full Time Job that I Enjoy
5.) Become as Awesome as Bill Watterson Someday

Well, that's enough about me for now. What are your resolutions?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Big Hero 6 (Review)

Director(s): Don Hall & Chris Williams

Company: Disney

Year: 2014

Country: USA

We introduce to you, the most huggable robot ever!

Normally, this blog does not cover Disney films due to its primary focus being on obscure and foreign titles, but I decided to make an exception for Big Hero 6. It's not because the film is outside of Disney's comfort zone or that it offers anything out of the ordinary. It's simply a really fun and entertaining superhero flick with a lot of heart. Big Hero 6 is based upon the Marvel series of the same name, but it has far more in common with a typical Disney production than it does with the comics it is based upon.

In some ways, however, this seems to have worked in the film's favor. The comic's narrative has been streamlined to allow it to work within a 105 minute run time and much more emphasis is put on the relationship between the protagonist, Hiro Hamada, and his late bother's robot, Baymax. (There has been some debate over the film's whitewashing of two of its cast members, although Big Hero 6 remains a multi-ethnic team. It is also important to note that the comic is not without fault: having plenty of cultural stereotypes and sexualized depictions of its female characters. Both of which the film thankfully avoids.)

The Disney film is vastly different from the comic version (and that's not necessarily a bad thing). 

The movie's plot is nothing new, but it is enjoyable. Big Hero 6 is set in the fictional city of San Fransokyo, a fusion of modern-day Tokyo and San Francisco. 14 year old wiz-kid, Hiro Hamada, and his older brother, Tadashi, live at a coffee shop with their eccentric Aunt Cass. Tadashi urges Hiro to attend college. However, Hiro is more interested in participating in illegal bot fights than going to a 'nerd school' that will teach him things that he apparently already knows. All of this changes once Tadashi shows Hiro his university's lab. At the lab Hiro meets his brother's friends: GoGo Tomago, a no-nonsense, adrenaline-driven, developer of electromagnetics; Fred, the school mascot and resident comic-book expert/hippie otaku; Honey Lemon, a quirky chemistry expert; and Wasabi a heavily-built, slightly neurotic lasers expert.

Hiro is also impressed by the esteemed Professor Callaghan, and Tadahsi's invention, the robotic nurse, Baymax. Hiro manages to get accepted into the college after winning a robotics competition with his microbots, but his victory is tragically interrupted when a fire occurs at the university hall. Tadashi rushes in to save Callaghan, and is killed when the building explodes. Hiro withdraws from college and his friends, until one day he accidentally reactivates Baymax. Hiro and Baymax eventually discover that a mysterious masked man has stolen Hiro's microbots …which were supposed to have perished in the fire. Hiro is joined by his concerned friends. He then proceeds to upgrade Baymax and provides his newly formed team super-suits. But will apprehending the man in the mask really make Hiro feel better? Just who is the masked man anyway? And what would have Tadashi wanted?

Our protagonist 'nerds' before and after suiting up.

As mentioned before, the film's focus wisely sticks to the relationship between Hiro and Baymax. At the start of the film, Baymax is very naive about the world around him and tends to take things quite literally (which is frequently a source of the film's humor outside of Fred's geeky antics). For instance when Baymax accidentally scares Hiro, Hiro yells "You nearly gave me a heart attack!" Baymax then prepares his built-in defibrillators. Over the course of the movie, Baymax matures and begins to question Hiro about his quest for vengeance. The two form a relationship similar to the one Hiro had with his brother and Baymax frequently acts as Hiro's moral compass.

The supporting team characters do feel a bit shorthanded at times. It is refreshing to see that neither GoGo or Honey are pushed as Hiro's romantic interests, however. Fred actually seems to get the most screen time outside of Hiro and Baymax. This is probably to keep Big Hero 6's tone upbeat and detract from some of the heavier topics the story deals with. (Death and dealing with feelings of revenge are surprisingly common topic in family films. However, they are often presented in a way that kids can more easily swallow or are de-emphasized to avoid upsetting certain parents.) Fred even gets a bumper at the end of the film which heavily implies the possibility of a sequel.

This film is one of the most visually interesting movies Disney has put out in recent years. It definitely looks like a Disney film. However, it is also a love letter to super hero comics and Japanese culture. In many ways, it is similar to Wreck it Ralph. Just as Wreck it Ralph is a tribute to retro video games and arcades, Big Hero 6 is a homage to mecha and super sentai shows. The scenery of this film is quite gorgeous, with its mash up of San Franciscan details (such as trollies and the Painted Ladies) and a futuristic, fantasized Japan. The animation in the film features some of the slickest looking CGI animation to come out of Disney yet. The character designs, outside of Baymax, are familiar and derivative of earlier Disney films. (Let the comparisons of Honey Lemon to Rapunzel commence!) However, the costumes they wear have far more in common with anime from the 1970s-80s.

San Fransokyo. Just attempt to say it fast five times.

I'm pretty sure most of the animators on this film got at least some visual inspiration from the likes of this.

Overall, Big Hero 6 is a solid, if slightly generic, family film. It is a bit derivative of films like The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and How to Train Your Dragon. And its story is instantly familiar to anyone acquainted with superhero franchises. So is Big Hero 6 a complex, life-changing movie? No. Is it fun? Hell yeah. Even if certain aspects of the film seem a bit too familiar at times, Big Hero 6 is well-paced and so lovingly put together that its impossible not to smile while watching it. Still, one hardly needs to promote this movie. It's Disney after all. (The Youtube trailer already somehow has over 7 million views somehow!) Now if only more people would be willing watch the likes of Princess Kaguya and The Song of the Sea. Oh well, at least they aren't spending their money on the likes of  "Ice Age meets Alvin and the Chipmunks 5" this year.

It wouldn't be a tribute to super sentai shows without a cool Japanese poster.

Rating: 3.5

About the Short: Feast (director: Patrick Osborne) is a lot like Disney's 2012 short, Paperman. It blends the aesthetic look of hand-drawn animation with CGI. Feast is about the life of a Boston Terrier, Winston, who sees his life through the meals he shares with his master. Winston's way of life is later disrupted by his owner's love interest, a waitress with a knack for healthy cooking. It's a simple story, but like the feature it is attached to, Feast is well executed (and absolutely adorable).

Moral: Boston Terriers are the cutest things in existence. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Jungle Emperor Leo (1989) TV Series Review: Final Part

The Confusing Conclusion (Final Thoughts)

Is this show's idea of 'the circle of life' too hardcore?

There is a lot death and self-sacrifice in this version of Kimba. In a sense, it explores the concept of 'the circle of life' in more depth than most versions. But it eventually becomes bogged down by being overly serious and depressing. So who is to blame about the series's inconsistent quality? Osamu Tezuka possibly did contribute to a few of the problems (The original manga is somewhat sporadic and had a few bizarre plot twists), but he can't really be blamed considering that he died after the sixth episode aired. It is possible that he had some say on the direction of the later episodes, but chances are we will never know.

Rintaro was in charge of directing the remaining episodes. It's just strange that the quality of Jungle Emperor suddenly declines half way through, when Rintaro's earlier episodes seem consistent with Tezuka's vision. In fact, Rintaro had worked for years with Tezuka before directing the show and was personal friends with Tezuka. Perhaps Rintaro attempted to make the show distinctive or else 'update it' for modern audiences. (But, apparently he forgot that this the show is supposed to be Kimba the White Lion not Ginga Nagareboshi Gin!)

So is this a series that should be recommended to Kimba/Tezuka fans or even anime fans as a whole? Simply put, the show runs for too long and eventually loses steam. It tries to keep its audience emotionally engaged by raising the stakes of danger. But, over time, it just becomes taxing to watch so many animals get shot, poisoned or electrocuted. It's frustrating because Jungle Emperor 1989 has such a prestige behind it and the early episodes (especially the first six) are great. The series is not the most terrible remake ever created, but it does become terribly misguided over time. If you want to watch a modern recreation of Jungle Emperor Leo, I would recommend watching the theatrical 1997 film instead of watching this show all the way through.

"Remember Leo, a leader is neither a boss or a king."

Final Rating: 3/5

About the Dub:
Part of the reason why this show remains so obscure outside of Japan is due to its dubber's infamous hack job. Unlike the dub of the original show (which is a bit hokey but decent by '60s standards), the 1989 series's dub by Pioneer completely changes its narrative flow. Episodes two and three were completely omitted, and only episodes one through fifteen were released on tape. Pioneer apparently tired to edit 'The New Adventures of Kimba the White Lion' into something more upbeat, and just gave up after they realized the show would continue to get darker. In the process they rid the show of its charm, only to replace with it bad jokes or annoying dialogue. (In other words, the characters never shut up.) And the voice acting itself is just as awful, if not worse than the edits.

Thankfully, these terrible VHSs are long out print. Avoid them like the plague.

Jungle Emperor Leo (1989) TV Series Review: Part 3

 The Bad & the Confusing

The Pessimistic Second Half of the Series

Unfortunately for all of the praise I give this show, it is far from being perfect. From about episode 35 onwards, the series becomes obsessed with being as dark and edgy as possible which undermines much of its core meanings and values. Threats begin to show up more and more frequently and death becomes common place. This wouldn't be too big of an issue if Jungle Emperor 1989 balanced out some of its darker elements with more comic relief or signs of progression/hope, but the later episodes rarely do so. (This is something that almost all of Tezuka's manga always managed to do, despite that he had a fondness for semi-tragic and bittersweet endings.)

Jungle Emperor Leo is supposed to represent the complex relationship between humans and animals and how they must put aside their differences in order to understand each other. This is the 1989 version's main flaw. The early episodes do a decent job showing that 'not all humans are bad' and a certain number of them even featured the protagonists being saved by humans that they saw as potentially threatening. But then the humans start to become villainized a bit too much. For instance, in Episode 40, Leona's hunters return to the jungle to search for precious metals in Marody's mountain. This sets the series's final arc into motion, in which the animals proceed to battle the invaders, many of them fighting to the death...Episode 48 is not much better. Leo is tranquilized and is nearly captured by hunters, after wandering around for hours on end in a confused daze. (This could be used as a minor plot element, but stretching it out for a whole episode seems a bit excessive.)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Jungle Emperor Leo (1989) TV Series Review: Part 2

What's Good About It?

A poster depicting much of the series's cast.

The First Half of the Series

This series is very difficult to properly rate due to its varying degree of quality. Despite Jungle Emperor 1989's reputation, it is initially quite enjoyable. Indeed, the first six episodes are very accessible to Tezuka fans and classic anime fans (which makes sense as they were actually the last productions to be overseen by Osamu Tezuka before he passed away at age sixty on February 9, 1989). These early episodes are very concise, closely following the manga's narrative. The next 30 or so episodes are also quite good even if they are a bit less cheery. The series deals with many dense subtexts despite its deceptively cute looking exterior.

As Leo attempts to succeed his father, he is confronted with many challenges. Not all of the animals believe that he has the capacity to rule as his father did, and they often argue amongst themselves. Panja's (Leo's father's) jungle is a refuge for disenfranchised animals who have been been driven out of their homelands due to famine, feuds or human activities. The law of Panja's jungle decrees that no animal can kill or harm one another, so Leo must remain vigilant of law breakers. While humans are a concern, they only appear occasionally. The series's primary antagonist is Bubu (Claw), a scheming, dark-maned lion who holds a grudge against Panja after losing one of his eyes in battle.

Don't let his ridiculous sounding name fool you. In this version, Bubu means serious business. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Jungle Emperor Leo (1989) TV Series Review: Part 1

Director(s): Rintaro, Osamu Tezuka (original concept, oversaw direction of first six episodes)

Company: Tezuka Productions

Year: 1989-1990

Country: Japan

Although it may look cute, this is one of the most polarizing remakes in cartoon history.

The Controversy about the Series*

In the past couple of years, Hollywood has gotten a lot of flack for its recent fixation with creating 'grittier' and 'more realistic' revisions of popular franchises ranging from the likes of the misguided Man of Steel to this year's summer blockbuster, Godzilla. Of course this is nothing new, back in the 1960s-70s the James Bond and Planet of the Apes film franchises were exceptionally popular and continue to be made today, and other countries spout out remakes frequently as well. The problem with many these reboots/remakes is that tend to focus too much on superficial aesthetics and end up ignoring the core values of the original property that they were supposed to represent.

Many have claimed this is the case with the 1989 version of Jungle Emperor Leo (aka The New Adventures of Kimba the White Lion). The series has been accused of lacking the charm of the original 1960s show, and being devoid of any value beyond its much improved animation. It is often written off as a footnote in animation history compared to the '80s remake of Osamu Tezuka's other famous series, Astro Boy; and information about the series in English is surprisingly scarce (more on part of the reason as to why later). Yet, the remake has also been defended by members of its small community of fans. They claim that the series is a misjudged re-imagining that explores many dense topics that were skimmed over in the '60s version. The 1989 version of Kimba must have also been met with some success in its home country because it did receive several tie-ins and merchandise during its run in Japan (including a canceled video game).  

This is the one thing fandoms can agree on apparently.

Like the original 1965 TV series, the basic plot follows the exploits of Leo (Kimba) a young, white lion cub raised by humans who eventually returns to his homeland in order to follow his father's footsteps as ruler of the jungle. (Leo is an orphan. His father was shot by a hunter before he was born and his mother perished in a shipwreck after being captured by humans.) Both series also choose to focus on Leo's youth (with the later focusing on a 'teenage' Leo) rather than portraying him growing into an adult lion, as he does in the manga. Unlike the first series, the 80's show draws more influence from some of the manga's darker themes which were absent in the '60s show in order to appease the network standards. (This is even more apparent in the English dub). For this reason, the mood of Jungle Emperor 1989 bears more resemblance to the series, Onward Leo! (Onward Leo! was produced by Tezuka without his American partner NBC. It is a sequel to Kimba the White Lion, focusing on the titular lion's adulthood.)

Shift in tone aside, the other most obvious difference between the two TV series has to due with budget. The 1965 version looks very dated by today's standards and its animation is very limited/static, which makes sense given that it was the first color anime to be ever produced for TV. Kimba the White Lion's art style is very 'cartoony' compared to its newer incarnation. The remake's animation, on the other hand while somewhat dated, holds up quite well as its art style is more 'realistic' and modern looking.

For comparison's sake, here is the first episode of the 1965 show (of the English dub; sorry purists!).

…and the 1989 version (in Japanese).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Tale of the Fox (Le Roman de Renard) Review

Director: Ladislas & Irene Starevich

Company: UFA

Year: 1937

Country: France, Germany

Obscure but historically important, this movie is like no other.

Although Disney's Snow White is often misidentified as the first full length animated film, there were actually eight other movies released before it. The Tale of the Fox was the sixth animated feature to be released. It was also the second to utilize stop-motion after the 1935 Soviet film, The New Gulliver. (Le Roman de Renard's animation was actually completed by 1930.) and the third to utilize sound. (However, the film did obtain a soundtrack until several years later due to funding issues.) The film was originally released in German (as funding was given by the National Socialist Regime) and later in French in 1941, which is the version currently available for home viewing. The movie is rather obscure outside of France today, likely because distribution was cut off due to WWII. This is truly a shame as director Ladislas Starevich was a true pioneer in his field, and Le Roman de Renard was his only full length feature.

Le Roman de Renard is based upon the medieval beast fable, Reynard the Fox. The story has been adapted into animated form several times. It was written as a political satire of aristocratic society which made the Reynard character popular among European peasants. Unlike many other 'modern' adaptations of the tale, Le Roman de Reynard remains very loyal to the original story and is aimed more at older audiences then at young children.

The original theatrical poster for the film.

The film begins with a narrator monkey operating a film camera. He tells the audience that he has a tale to share with them that is "the oldest and most beautiful story known to us animals." He opens a book introducing some of the film's main characters: the vain Monsieur Raven, Sir Cock and his wife Lady Hen, the fearful Hare, the king's guard dogs, Isengrim the Wolf, and finally Reynard himself. Reynard is very smart. Within the first five minutes of the film, he manages to steal a piece of cheese from Raven by flattering him. Isengrim is introduced as Reynard's rival. The wolf is larger and stronger than the fox, but not nearly as bright. One night, Isengrim plans to steal some fish off of Reynard for his family's dinner. Reynard then tricks the wolf into 'fishing' by claiming that by sticking his tail into a hole in the ice he can catch a large amount of fish to eat. In the end, Isengrim returns home with no dinner (and no tail) only to discover Reynard has stolen his food instead! (It should be noted that both of these episodes are also featured in Aesop's Fables.)

Reynard's pranks on Raven, Isengrim and several other animals eventually result in several complaints to the King Lion and his wife. Reynard's cousin, Badger, defends him in court, stating that the fox is not guilty. He weaves tales of Reynard's 'good deeds' and frames Isengrim and the other animals as being lazy, dishonest, cowardly or greedy (which aside from the 'good deeds' part is, ironically, true to some extent). The King is unable to prove Reynard's crimes, so he decrees that no animal can no longer eat one another so that 'love can reign the land.'

The movie is unusual because its protagonist is not the kind of ideal hero that we are commonly accustomed to seeing in animated films. As with many of the other characters in this film, Reynard is a self-centered survivalist. Not all of Reynard's actions are entirely harmless. The fox is far from being enthusiastic about the King's new law. (In fact, he refuses to go vegetarian despite the risk of being hung because he finds the taste of flowers disgusting.) Badger is unable to defend his cousin when Reynard kills and eats Lady Hen. The rooster calls for revenge and the king sends several of his members of court to capture Reynard and his family. In the end, however, the cunning fox manages to outwit everyone including the King himself. Because the King's army is unable to successfully siege Reynard's home, the fox is selected as the king's new minister. Such is politics.

While it's easy to admire Reynard's quick wits, he's also somewhat of a selfish jerk.

Narrative structure aside, The Tale of the Fox is probably most noted for being a technical marvel. Despite that the movie is almost eighty years old the stop-motion holds up remarkably well, even rivaling what is put out by today's studios. This is especially notable because Le Roman de Renard premiered only three years after King Kong, which special effects look very dated by comparison. The film features many cutting techniques and a use of motion blur largely unseen at the time. Below, is a clip from the film involving the Queen being wooed by Tybalt, the minstrel cat. (Their doomed relationship is an interesting subplot present throughout most of the movie.) It demonstrates this movie's mastery of its medium.

The iconic scene where the peasant cat woes the queen.

This movie is one of the most unique and unusual films I have ever seen. It is an absolute must watch for not only lovers of animation, but for any film enthusiast period. Reynard and the other animals in this movie are not always the most admirable characters, but they are relatable due to their remarkably human flaws and impulses. Although this film is old and is different from much of what is produced today, it is very memorable for exactly that reason. If you are feeling adventurous, Le Roman de Reynard is more than worth your time. (The entire film is currently available on Youtube with English subtitles and can be watched here.)

Ladilas and his wife, Irene, posing with large scale versions of the puppets used in this film.

Rating: 4.5

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Drop Dead Fred (Review)

Director: Ate de Jong

Company: Polygram Filmed Entertainment, Working Title Films, New Line Cinema

Year: 1991

Country: United States, United Kingdom

Today, I review another cult film…uh-oh.

If Drop Dead Fred succeeds at anything exceptionally well, it's being exceptionally annoying. Despite having garnered a small fan base over the years due to how bizarre and irreverent it is, this film is a chore to watch due to its unlikable characters and scattered plot. Drop Dead Fred was met with mixed to negative reviews upon its release. The movie earned back only $14 million at box office. Its current critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes is at an 'impressive' nine percent. And Gene Siskel stated that it was, "Easily one of the worst films I've ever seen," and was, "made in shockingly bad taste." So with that stated, let's take a dive into this slapstick nightmare.

The film begins with a young girl, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Cronin, being read a fairytale by her mother, Polly, while in bed. When Polly tells her daughter that the story ended happily ever after with the girl marrying the prince, Elizabeth enquires, "How do you know?" Polly says it was because the girl was well behaved, which causes Elizabeth to state, "What a pile of shit!" Charming. I'm sure this movie's opening lines went over well with all the parents and children in the crowd.

After some opening credits, the movie abruptly cuts to 21 years later.  Elizabeth (Phoebe Cates of Gremlins fame) has grown up to be an unhappy adult. She is unsatisfied with her current state in life and strained relationship with her domineering mother. Lizzie has also recently divorced her husband, Charles, who is in love with another woman named Annabella. Shortly after trying to talk with Charles, Lizzie's wallet and car are stolen. On top of it all, Lizzie arrives late for work and loses her job, which causes her to be chewed out by Polly again. Back at her childhood home, Lizzie becomes desperate. She decides to seek help from her childhood imaginary friend, Drop Dead Fred, as a last ditch effort.

Because everyone knows that struggling with depression and having a mental illness is hilarious. 

The titular character reappears when Elizabeth foolishly decides to release him from the jack-in-the-box her mother sealed him away in many years ago. After opening this Pandora's box, Fred proceeds to wreck havoc and crack unfunny jokes. He is an obnoxious hybrid of Beatle Juice/Peewee Herman portrayed by the late British actor, Rik Mayall. However, Lizzie tolerates Fred's potty humor, immature antics, and lewd behavior because he gives her a release from her oppressive mother. Frankly, I'm not seeing how this movie is supposed be funny yet. It's just making me feel kind of sad.

Thanks movie, I don't think I'll be able to sleep for a week now.

Soon after, Fred decides to start accompanying Elizabeth so that they can pull pranks on unaware bystanders and people they dislike, just like old times. The only catch is nobody can see Drop Dead Fred except for Elizabeth. Polly becomes concerned with her daughter's increasingly strange behavior (which includes talking incoherently, sinking her friend's house boat, and pouring wine on herself) and takes her to see a psychiatrist. Lizzie is given a pill prescription to rid herself of thoughts about Fred. But, of course, this doesn't work. As Fred becomes increasingly more crazy and out of control, Lizzie finds him harder and harder to deal with. Too make matters worse, Fred's behavior has began to sabotage the relationship Lizzie is trying to rebuild with Charles.

While Drop Dead Fred desperately tries to be funny and unconventional, the 'humor' in this film either falls flat or, more often than not, either annoys or offends the audience. Without the right balance of lightheartedness and genuinity, a comedy movie about a depressed protagonist is simply not funny. It's mean spirited...That is unless you actually happen to find jokes such as picking boogers, throwing poop at people, and staring up women's skirts funny.

And to think this film is sometimes marketed as a 'family movie.'

The characters are also woefully lacking in development. Polly is either too over the top to be a believable personality or else she is underplayed. Her actions sometimes don't even seem that mean or spiteful. Sure, Polly acts over protectively, but the way Lizzie responds to her mother's concern often just makes her end up looking really immature. (And, yes, I am aware that is probably part of the movie's intent. However, the audience is supposed to sympathize the most with Lizzie.) Phoebe Cates does an ok job considering what she's been given to work with, but Elizabeth spends most of her time moping (which makes the audience feel uncomfortable) or else awkwardly interacting Fred (which also makes the audience squirm in discomfort). As for Drop Dead Fred himself, well…this article has already talked enough about what's wrong with him.

The relationship between Elizabeth and her mother feels flat despite its large role in the story.

Watching his movie was one of the most miserable experiences I've had in a while. Drop Dead Fred is an uneven sloppy mess of a film. The fact that the titular character is introduced as both the film's center of conflict and as Lizzie's savior is an ill advised plot twist. This may have worked in the hands of a more skilled director, but considering Ate de Jong's track record their was no chance of that. Drop Dead Fred is a film at war with itself. It can't decide wether it wants to appeal to children or adults. In the end, it hardly appeals to anyone.

Sometimes it just sucks to be you.

Rating: 1.5

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ten Strange & Scandalous Pre-Hays Code Cartoons

The Hays Code was initially created in 1930 and began being enforced four years later. The code was meant to help reduce the amount of violence, sex and other 'anti-social' behavior onscreen. It was adopted due to conservative concerns about film content and controversy surrounding several off-screen scandals involving Hollywood stars.

However, many artists and filmmakers felt heavily restricted by the Code's rules which stated that films could not show such actions as: illegal drug trafficking, onscreen nudity or sex, profanity, 'white slavery', and ridicule of the clergy. Additionally, any crime shown on the screen had to be punished and couples could not be depicted sleeping in the same bed together. (Due to competition from other studios and changing social norms, the Code was eventually replaced by the film rating system we have today in 1968. While certainly not perfect, the MPAA's use of ratings does not rely on censorship, and thus allows more artistic freedom.)

A photo taken by A.L. Schafer that symbolically protests the Hays Code. It depicts several elements banned by the Code.

As a result, filmmaking in Hollywood changed drastically. Theatrical cartoons were not exempt. Despite that old animated shorts are often considered to be 'wholesome' / 'safe for the entire family,' many Pre-Code cartoons contained quite a few bizarre and sometimes unsettling scenes. If you don't believe it, then prepare to be enlightened by the ten shorts below.

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 the 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


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 Star 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 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 a 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).