Archive for review

Review: Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)

Posted in anime, future + scifi, japan, reviews/opinions, television with tags , , on March 15, 2013 by reccaphoenix

Long absence, I know.  But I just wanted to share my thoughts on a remarkable little anime series from the ’70s.

When I was 13, and a big nerdy Gundam Wing fangirl, Cartoon Network started showing Mobile Suit Gundam after the conclusion of Wing.  I stopped watching the show after a few episodes because I didn’t like any of the characters and I thought it was lame and cliche.  But boy, did I misjudge it.

I just finished watching the entire series (in Japanese, if you must know) and I really enjoyed it.  If you compare it with everything that came before (cartoony giant robots), it was really groundbreaking.

A quick summary for the uninitiated (no spoilers): This is the first show in the long-running Gundam series, which involves vaguely samurai-like humanoid giant robots in some variety of warfare.  In MS Gundam, Amuro Ray and a group of military and civilians survive an attack on their space colony and are drawn into conflict with the evil Principality of Zeon.  World War II…IN SPACE, sort of.

My favorite point came towards the end of the series, where there are some truly avant-garde psychedelic (and most likely 2001: A Space Odyssey-inspired) moments as the series spirals quickly towards its epic conclusion.

Speaking of influences from other films, I definitely can feel some Star Trek influence in MS Gundam.  The multicultural cast (their names are a combination of German, Japanese, Spanish, English, and other influences), strong military women, and “space navy” theme are clearly present.  On that note, I think that MS Gundam most likely started the Gundam series’ tradition of strong female characters.  Sayla, Hamon, and Lalah are some tough and awesome ladies and were enjoyable to follow through the series.

I enjoy anime from the 1970s – the hand-drawn dusty cel look is charming to me, I guess.  The retro look and feel of MS Gundam is great, as is the disco-style funky battle music and J-folk ending theme.  While the opening theme song recalls other giant robot series in that it is mainly about the Gundam itself, it’s catchy, upbeat, and infectiously fun.

Let’s talk about the characters, which are really the best thing in the show, in my opinion.  These are some of the best-loved characters in Japan and I hope my descriptions and opinions here do them justice.

Let’s start with the White Base crew.  I grew to love this bunch of tough folks with funny names, along with the obligatory pack-o’-orphans (Kikka, Katz, and Letz) that add comic relief here and there.  MS Gundam gets in a lot of character development, which is one thing that Gundam Wing didn’t do so well (there were really too many characters).  Amuro has his issues and moments, but that’s probably realistically to be expected of a teenage boy.  My boyfriend and I both posited that we would probably be the Kai Shiden of the group if thrown into the same situation (laziness, snark, etc.).

…now for the bad guys.  While pretty much all the Zeons have something….kinda…wrong…with them in terms of appearance (they all have purple hair, weird body shapes, look sickly, etc), that just adds to their evil appearance.  Char Aznable, who Japanese people love “three times more” (qualifier used to describe Char’s mechas) than pretty much anything else, is a cool dude.  And the foundation for every masked baddie in anime (and every masked bad guy in Gundam, pretty much) since the ’70s.  Char was the only thing that kept me watching MS Gundam as a 13-year-old.

Did I mention that there is a lot of face slapping and punching?

Image

(c) Bandai/Sunrise/Sotsu Agency. Not my image.

 

….yeah.  Good to know that Kai gets slapped around almost as much as Amuro.  Slegger Law’s only purpose as a character is basically (1) to slap a bitch and (2) to hit on the ladies of White Base.

Okay, now for the bad points.  This show was made partially to sell toys.  So the Gundam does a lot of really goofy transforming stuff that is often used as episode filler.  Also, some of the designs weren’t quite up to the “realistic robot” standards that Tomino envisioned when he conceived of Gundam, and come off as…well, silly.  But I can’t really complain about this, since the Gundam and friends still look ten times more realistic than most of their contemporary giant robot brethren, who look like the mecha from Power Rangers or plastic toys.

Well, that’s it for my disorganized quick review blurb.  I hope you will check this series out, it’s a real gem.

(…and before you ask, yes, I am a colossal nerd and have already started watching the sequel, Zeta Gundam.  Will I review that?  Maybe.)

Review – Brighton Rock (2010)

Posted in cinema, mod, movie posters, reviews/opinions with tags , on February 7, 2012 by reccaphoenix

Recca’s note: Sorry for the paucity of reviews and posts lately.  I’ve been in law school, which basically means no time for anything, especially not watching films.  I’ve also just been lazy.  When I’m exhausted, I can only stomach light comedic television nowadays.  That being said, I just got Hulu Plus last year (Netflix drove me away) and they have a large selection of Criterion films.  So expect something periodically in the future.  I’ve been on a bit of documentary kick lately, though, and I highly recommend The Eyes of Tammy Faye.  Anyhow, I can’t say no to a mod movie review (the specialty of this blog), and when the mod remake of Brighton Rock presented itself on BBC iPlayer the other day, I had to watch it.  So on to the review!

Brighton Rock (2010, UK) dir. Rowan Joffe

I saw the original Brighton Rock (1947) a few years ago on film and fell in love with it.  When I heard that there was a remake in the works both based more on the novel AND set in mod-infested 1964 Brighton, I squealed fangirl squeals of delight.  I picked up the Brighton Rock novel by Graham Greene right away and while reading it, imagined how the remake would transfer the plot into the mod era.

So, naturally, I was quite excited to see this film.  Overall, it’s a solid watch, though it is not without its issues.  I am inevitably going to make a few comparisons with the original film which, though excellent, is also not without its issues, so please bear with me in that regard.  I would highly recommend viewing both (in any order) as well as reading the novel (if you’re into crime novels with a twist of Catholic subtext).

The plot concerns a young gang leader named Pinkie, who struggles against an established mob run by Corleone (played brilliantly in this adaptation by Andy Serkis of Gollum fame).  When Fred Hale gets caught between the two gangs, Pinkie has to murder him.  A young waitress named Rose becomes the only remote witness to Fred Hale’s “disappearance” and Pinkie starts up a relationship with her to keep her quiet.  Both of them are Catholics, which figures into the plot extensively.  In the meantime, busybody good-time girl Ida (who in this adaptation also runs the cafe where Rose works and is played by the great Helen Mirren) becomes interested in the mystery and will stop at nothing to make sure Pinkie is caught.

The most interesting part of the story, in my opinion, is the relationship between Pinkie and Rose.  This part of the story is what the 2010 adaptation excels at portraying.  Rose is a little bit overacted in the 1947 version and I tended to pity her less in that adaptation.  Rose is far more dimensional in the new film.

The new film sticks to the novel in some ways more than the 1947 film, but it’s a little superficial.  Characters are condensed (Ida and the cafe owner) and changed, along with the time period.  While this largely works, I found Ida to be the weakest character in the new film, while she was far more interesting in the 1947 version and in the novel.  Helen Mirren’s Ida is too serious and comes off as pretty boring overall.  The shorter length of the film may be to blame, but she barely gets involved and the tension surrounding her investigations has little time to develop.  Kudos to the new film for expounding on the Brighton Rock candy metaphor, a central feature of the novel’s plot.

The cinematography in the 1947 film is far more interesting and black-and-white lends itself to the gangster film noir atmosphere of the plot a bit better.  The 2010 film is well shot, but it can never beat the fantastic murder scenes in the original.  Interestingly enough, the ending of this film is shot-for-shot an homage to the 1947 version.  Color does help capture the mod world quite well, though, and I loved the use of colors in Rose’s clothing throughout the film.

I really appreciated that this film didn’t become complete mod-sploitation.  That being said, a few of the “mod moments” felt a little bit forced, such as when Rose goes shopping.  The scene where Pinkie dresses in the full mod kit – fishhooked parka sleeves included – is pure mod porn.  These scenes didn’t detract from the film as a whole, though (and I rather enjoyed most of them, being a mod myself).  These moments fit the plot – Pinkie seems to be a bit of a mod, and he steals a scooter and uses a mod disguise to escape into the crowd.  However, mods are notoriously picky and even I, not hardcore by any means, found a few issues.  Some of the men had more “freakbeat era” long haircuts which you probably wouldn’t see in 1964, and a few of the girls had more mid-60s Carnaby-type dresses as well.  This is ‘pop culture’ mod, but it doesn’t fit the time period.  I also spotted some older people as extras in the scooter parade scene, which is also completely inconsistent with the era (although I bet those old-timers were glad to be in the scene…it probably reminded them of their youth).  On a positive note, the Brighton mod riots add a fascinating new dimension to the film’s thematic focus on the conflict between young and old (Pinkie vs. Corleone, Rose vs. Ida, mod rebels vs. Brighton businesses).

I appreciate the risks taken in this adaptation, and unlike most adaptations of great films, I enjoyed it and could easily re-watch it.  Again, though, while Rose came across better in this film, I miss the Pinkie and Ida in the ’47 film, and the murder scenes that shone in the original can’t be matched.  I find myself in the odd position of recommending both films.  They are both fun to watch and look great.  I especially recommend the new film for fellow mods (let’s face it, this is the closest thing to another ‘Quadrophenia’ that we’re going to get in this decade).  I hope the film sparks another revival (we need one!)

(chants) We are the mods, we are the mods, we are, we are, we are the mods…..

Sorry, I got carried away there.  Check out both films….and/or read the novel!

–Recca 2/7/12

Rating (2010 film): 7/10

Trailer:  http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi4823321/

Review: What’s New Pussycat (1965)

Posted in animation, cinema, mod, reviews/opinions with tags , , , , , on August 15, 2010 by reccaphoenix

What’s New Pussycat (1965, UK) 35mm, color, dir. Clive Donner & Richard Talmadge, written by Woody Allen

I’d been dying to see this one for a while.  I love Woody Allen’s films, my two favorite Peters (O’Toole and Sellers) are in this film, it’s from the ’60s, Tom Jones sings the theme, Burt Bacharach did the music, and Richard Williams (great animator) did the opening titles.  If you, like me, fell in love with Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia and wanted to see him in a film with some women, then….this is one for you.  At least it would be, if not for some major issues.  The many things I mentioned above make the film appealing on a cosmetic level but are not combined in the best way they could be.

This film concerns a great number of characters and love polygons, which I will try to sum up the best I can…showing one of the film’s weaknesses – too much going on.  But then again, it’s a kind of Continue reading

Review – Modesty Blaise (1966)

Posted in cinema, mod, movie posters, reviews/opinions with tags , , , , on April 3, 2010 by reccaphoenix

(heavy emphasis on the MOD in Modesty)

First of all, how could I not see this film?  It features two of my favorite actors of the ’60s, Monica Vitti (of Antonioni fame) and Terence Stamp (the attractive young idol of Swinging London and a damn fine actor – see my review of The Limey for one of his more recent works) in the leading roles, has some MODTASTIC architecture, costumes, and sets, a hip score, and action-packed espionage…. so, given the opportunity to Continue reading

Why You Must Watch “Kino’s Journey” (even if you hate anime)

Posted in animation, anime, reviews/opinions, television with tags , , , , on August 30, 2009 by reccaphoenix

After a long state of disillusionment with most anime, I found a real gem in Kino’s Journey (キノの旅) And trust me, because being a film nerd, I’m very picky about my films and TV series.

Many people dislike anime because they find it “poorly/cheaply animated” and “too difficult for non-fans to understand,” or they don’t like the exaggerated facial expressions and stylistic devices found in many popular series.  Many also complain of overly lengthy stories with too much “filler” material, lack of depth, and how many series are similar to one another.  “Film people” especially tend to dismiss anything not directed by Hayao Miyazaki without a second thought.

Luckily,  Kino is here to provide a breath of fresh air for all the jaded film people (and non-film people) out there.  Here’s my breakdown.

Why you should watch Kino’s Journey:

  • Episode count and structure: Kino’s Journey is only 13 episodes and the structure is episodic.  No complex character histories and stories to keep track of, no filler, no extended battle sequences.
  • It’s really deep: This series makes you think.  And not in an over-the-top preachy way, either.  It’s almost a type of existential wandering story.
  • Simple but awesome: No over-the-top battles and magical powers here, folks.  The premise is almost neorealist in its simplicity: the two main characters, Kino and Kino’s motorrad (motorcycle) Hermes, travel around the world, stopping in each place for only 3 days.  That’s it.  But don’t let that simplicity fool you because as I said before, this series is full of psychological depth.
  • Good animation and design for a TV series: Don’t expect the animation quality of something theatrical like Ponyo, but you’ll be surprised by the quality here.  It’s simple like most anime, but I feel that the simplicity works for the story, which is “simple” in itself.  The style is also really neat – Kino travels through a fictional, almost steampunk kind of world, so the designs of clothing, machinery, etc. are all very “retro.”  Check this out:
Kino and Hermes

Kino and Hermes

girlfromkino

nice background...

….see what I mean?

  • Really good sound design: animation sound can be tricky because everything has to be created.  And oftentimes anime sound is just “there.”  However, in Kino, especially in episode 12, I noticed some very creative and effective sonic transitions and distortion.  By the way, the music for this series is quite good.  It’s got a sort of ambient-world feel to it.
  • No weird Japanese-culture things: You don’t have to know anything about Japan or anime to watch this series.  Anyone can watch it.  Except young children, because it can be a bit scary at times.

Watch this show!  Try it out!  It’s only 3 discs (13 episodes) and will only take about 5 hours to watch all the way through.  Recca highly recommends it!

Review – MW (2009)

Posted in anime, cinema, manga, osamu tezuka, rants, reviews/opinions with tags , , , , , , , on June 25, 2009 by reccaphoenix

News has been circulating around the internet for a while about the live-action adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s mature manga masterpiece MW (pronounced “moo,” like a cow), created to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Tezuka.  I was able to see this film in an advance screening last night and have been itching to share my thoughts.

Being a huge fan of both Osamu Tezuka and MW, I was anxious to see how this film would turn out.  Not surprisingly, I found myself with a graveyard of bones to pick after seeing it.  It’s hard for me to separate this film from the manga it’s based on and review it fairly.  Rather than a straight-up review like those I usually write, I do want to bring my Tezuka knowledge to the discussion, but I’ll try not to digress into fangirlish ranting.

MW (Japan, 2009) dir. Hitoshi Iwamoto. Color, 35mm.

Putting the manga it was based on aside, MW is overall a standard action film, about on par with most of Hollywood’s recent offerings, but nothing special.  A little lacking in the CG department, but a worthy effort nonetheless.  Hiroshi Tamaki, the actor who plays the main villain Michio Yuki, did a great job with the material he was given.  He lost quite a lot of weight for the role to give Yuki a skeletal and hollow appearance, and the effect is quite powerful.  The characters in the film are not all that well-developed or interesting, and as little as that matters in an action film, the action alone here doesn’t make up for everything else that is lacking.  I believe I might have enjoyed this film more were it not “based on” MW and given the same title.  But alas, it is, and comparisons are almost unavoidable.

That being said, I’d like to give my opinion on many of the changes in the movie.  *Cue disorganized rant*

The film character of Yuki comes nowhere near the complexities of manga Yuki.  Yes, he is “pure evil,” but he does not have the dualities and childlike moments of Yuki in the manga.  Part of what made Yuki so interesting was his total lack of remorse juxtaposed with his playful side.  Film Yuki comes off as more of a typical “evil” villain – cunning and remorseless, but also without emotion.
The same can be said of Garai and the other characters adapted from the manga.  A female reporter character added for the film comes off as uninteresting and completely useless.  Many characters are missing, which is not a bad thing on its own, but the characters which ARE there lack good characterization.

Characters’ actions and other things don’t make much sense.  The reporter and Garai help Yuki find MW on the island for no apparent reason.  Why were they helping him?
Garai’s inner struggle is almost nonexistent as well.
The backstory is drastically simplified.  In the film, Garai and Yuki are boys who grew up together on the island and escaped together when the military was killing off the survivors of the MW incident.  This makes Garai’s later “repentance” less dramatic and once again, downplays the relationship between the two.
The film basically turns into a straight action film.  Superficial suspense and chases make up the first half-hour.  It was exciting, I have to admit.  But MW the manga was already full of suspense that would have come across just fine in the film – were all these big-budget action scenes really necessary?
The sexual content is also completely absent.  This is not a bad thing, either, but extends to a ridiculous extent in the fact that the relationship between Garai and Yuki is barely even a subtext.

Sorry for the ranting.  I could go on forever about what’s different in the manga, but when it comes down to it, the film dilutes the manga’s plot and characters to fit an action-movie mold and adds its own ineffectual material.
It’s not that I’m against deviation from source material.  In fact, it can often be a good thing (why make a film if it’s the exact same story?  Use the medium!).  Take, for example, the Metropolis anime – though it went against Tezuka’s wishes and fundamentally altered much of the manga, it did so well and in the spirit of a Tezuka work (the extra characters mainly came from other Tezuka works).  Most importantly, it held up brilliantly on its own.  Though I still prefer the manga, I like the film.  It’s an original work.  With MW, however, I felt that the film was using a Tezuka name to sell a generic, uninspired action movie; it succeeds as neither a good action film nor a Tezuka film.

In one sentence: I’m disappointed.
In another sentence: They could have done so much better, even with half the budget.

Rating: 4/10

Trailer: http://mw.gyao.jp/ (official site)

P.S.: A tie-in MW TV drama (oneshot) is going to air on TV in 4 days.  I’ll try my best to watch it and post my thoughts if I find anything worth mentioning.

P.P.S.: I was so utterly disappointed with the film I had no interest in watching the tie-in drama.

Ace Attorney 4 (Apollo Justice) musings

Posted in Ace Attorney/Phoenix Wright, comix, reviews/opinions, shameless parody, video games with tags , , on April 26, 2009 by reccaphoenix

**Note: you might want to read my reviews of the first three Ace Attorney games: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All, and Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations.**

And so, my friends, I came to the end of the Phoenix Wright era of the Ace Attorney series and began the first DS-exclusive, new-character-led fourth game, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney.  So here follow my semi-organized thoughts (positive and negative), musings, and random observations for your reading pleasure.

  • New main character!  I was a little upset to see Phoenix go, to tell you the truth.  And a little weirded-out to see him turn into a hobo piano-player and “daddy.”  Speaking of which, before I found out the “truth” about Trucy, I was like “daughter?  Maya’s? No, that can’t be!”  I think we would have gotten bored with too much Phoenix, and the writers might have eventually worn him out.  And besides, he’s still in the game.
  • Graphics! And GRAPHICS?! This being the first DS-exclusive, only-for-DS-from-its-outset title, the videos, animation, graphics / graphics’ quality (and music and sound quality) are great.  However, in some of the “flashback” cases, the graphics (and old sounds) are from the old games, and are noticeably lacking in quality.  I KNOW Capcom has better quality versions of these graphics because they use them for animated videos at the Tokyo Game Show.  Was it REALLY that hard to remaster the graphics?  I mean, you’re already being lazy by recycling, so can you at least make it blend in with the newer character graphics?  I know this is a minor issue, but it really got on my nerves for a bit.  It didn’t destroy my overall enjoyment of the game, but the disconnect was annoying.
  • Music – again, this series has GREAT music.  And there is even a music-centric case in this game, which deals with a backstage murder during a rock concert put on by your rival prosecutor’s all-lawyers-and-police band and a guest star.  It was quite fun, and I did enjoy the song, “Guitar’s Serenade.”
  • The Gavin Brothers – I remember a fangirlish friend of mine once telling me something like “Just wait ’til you get to the 4th game and get to see this gorgeous hunk of man-meat *drools, attaches picture of Klavier Gavin to email*”  Not that I feel the same way, but I do think the Gavin brothers are quite interesting characters.  Oh, more German child prodigies to add to the mix (say what you will about stereotypes of Germans but remember that in the original version they were AMERICAN!)  I had an ongoing joke with a friend about breaking Kristoph Gavin out of prison….until I got to the last case and *SPOILER ALERT* Continue reading