Old Review: Tekkonkinkreet

Welcome to Treasure Town, a large city that’s situated a futuristic steam-punk world and is run down and potentially dangerous for citizens from crime and vandalism. The city is watched over by two orphaned children, known only as Black and White. Black is a smart but rough kid, embodying the faults within the city, while White is an out of touch kid, innocent but not bright in the head, both work and live together like brothers, and both have a hidden demons within them. Every day, they fight thugs, religious nut-jobs and even a Yakuza group to defend the city from destruction and violence. These battles are beginning to get harder, as a corporation known as “Kiddy Kastle” want to strip down Treasure Town in its entirety, rebuilding it as an amusement park. Both Black and White will need to fight hard to protect their city from the corporations that want to take it over, and from themselves.

Tekkonkinkreet began as a manga in the early 1990s, published as Tekkonkinkreet: Black & White in western territories between 1998 and 2000. In 1995, American born Visual and CG effects producer, Michael Arias had a passion for the manga after a friend of his introduced him to the manga. He made along with animator Koji Morimoto a four minute long Pilot film, which grew in production to become a full feature animated film, but it was dropped after both lack of funds and Morimoto leaving due to lack of interest with the project. After producing the financially successful animated anthology film “The Animatrix” in 2003, he got the help of screenwriter Anthony Weintraub to write a screenplay for Tekkonkinkreet.  Working with Studio 4°C, the film was released on December 22nd 2006. So yeah, this was actually the first anime film directed by a non-Japanese person, which was cool to find out.

The animation is stunning, and possible has the best opening I’ve seen in any anime film to date. The shaky pan around the city as the camera follows a crow flying round the city is really cool to see. There is a great mix of 3D and 2D effects, and the shaky camera effects really gives the feel of a live action, and is real creative. Some scenes are really memorable and the action scenes are really cool. The art style is really colourful, really giving a feel of both a modern Japanese setting and a gritty rough future.

While I do at least admit they’re unique, I don’t like the character designs at all. They look very amateurish, every character is shaped bizarrely, and it’s more distracting than watchable.

The soundtrack is very good, the scores have a large range from electronic, piano, orchestral, and I think there is some Austrailian style scores as well. Each really fit with the settings, and the music in the opening sequence I mentioned earlier is really cool. However, I think the soundtrack dies down in quality mid-way the film, before it goes deep into Psychological horror territory and ends with a brilliant closing theme.

The voice acting in the Japanese dub is good but overall is generic, nothing really impressive. Yu Aoi gives a really childish impression, very sweet and innocent, so she gives a suitable performance as White. Kazunari Ninomiya does give a mature and serious tone for Black, acting like an older brother to White, but when he doesn’t act threatening or emotional, he gets really dull. Other voice actors are pretty bland; the villains especially don’t give any sort of intimidation or fear from them. The English dub is slightly the same, Scott Menville as Black and Kamali Minter as White give a western feel to the film, but like the Japanese version, and other cast members do an equally good job. It’s a shame the dub is no better, when you expect an American to be the original director, and the screenplay written in English to begin with. So really, the dub you choose is up to preference, so you won’t be missing out no matter what choice you make.

I never expected to find a film harder to talk about than Princess Mononoke, but I have no idea what to put from this film. I don’t understand what the overall story is, or what message it tries to place. The relationship, and the personalities of both Black and White are quite touching, but more than halfway through the film, the plot goes haywire. The villain, or villains, really confuses me in this film. What is the purpose for these people being evil? What I can get in the second half of this film is that Black seems to be fighting against darkness in a losing battle, and ends up making him go insane, but the way it’s portrayed is really confusing, it’s fine that they show a lot without needing to explain it, but I bet you would need to watch the film more than once to get everything. There’s a side plot involving one of the Yakuza members, named Kimurai, who experiences the hardships of gang life, which is a lot easier to understand, and the way Kimurai is portrayed really makes him really likable.

Overall, Tekkonkinkreet is a bizarre yet creative film. While the story may take time to understand, especially in the latter parts of the film, the impressive animation and the fitting soundtrack makes this a great viewing experience like no other.

Tekkonkinkreet is available from Sony Pictures Entertainment. The original manga by Taiyō Matsumoto is available from both Nova Productions and Viz Media.

Old Review: Tokyo Godfathers

Tokyo GodfathersIt is Christmas time in Tokyo, where the unfortunate truth is that the homeless still have to manage their lives. The story focuses on three of these homeless people: Gin, a 40 year old alcoholic with a rough attitude, Hana, a homosexual who used to be a drag queen for a small bar, and Miyuki, a teenage runaway girl who fears of getting arrested. Despite their troubles and their conflicting attitudes towards each other, they are good friends who stick together and help one another to manage living on the streets. On Christmas Day, while looking through a garbage heap, they find an abandoned newborn baby, with no name and its box containing a note wanting the finder to take good care of the child and a locker key. Despite Hana arguing to take care of the now named baby Kiyoko themselves, they all agree to use their first clue to find Kiyoko’s missing parents, and along the way confront their hidden pasts to discover how they ended up on the streets, why they are who they are, and if they find a way to leave their problems for good.

This was Satoshi Kon’s third film after Millenium Actress, which he directed and co-wrote with Wolf’s Rain creator Keiko Nobumoto. At the time it was his most expensive production, with a 300 million yen budget. Apparently it was inspired by a late 40s western film called “3 Godfathers” but for some reason I can’t find any other information about the history of this film. It first premiered at New York’s “Big Apple Anime Festival” and then theatrically premiered in Japan on the 8th November 2003.

The animation for this is strange; it doesn’t look strange but it doesn’t make sense. At some points, particularly early on the animation looks really lazy, with almost no movements or effort for a realistic effect, and at a few points it’s really good, including some really fun action scenes being really fast paced and eye catching. The film also tries to add the comedic style of conventional anime TV series by making the characters have some really goofy facial expressions, mainly Hana which is fitting because her character and personality have a lot of comedic ideas for him. The art style is very fitting with the characters we have, Tokyo is dark and grim even in daylight, a fitting representation for city life and living homeless, and the winter effects are minimal, to give a realistic setting of a winter season. The opening sequence is unimpressive; I see the clever effect of using signs and billboards for the credit text, but it comes completely out of nowhere, and it doesn’t show any sign of interest.

The music is unusual, even for a Satoshi Kon film, unfortunately Susumu Hirasawa, who did Millenium Actress and Paprika, wasn’t involved in this film. To be honest, Keiichi Suzuki does a good job creating a high quality score, but I’m not sure if it is really fitting. The opening theme is upbeat, happy and fits the comedic aspect of the film, but right before was a calm melodramatic piece, so when it cuts to this it’s really out of place. The other music is ok, but like I said, it doesn’t really fit. The accordion pieces do sound sweet in some scenes, and one of the flashback scenes have unsettling, so I think it’s either a minor nit-pick or poor sound mixing.

The voice acting in the Japanese version is very good; Yoshiaki Umegaki gives a masculine voice in a feminine tone for Hana, Aya Okamoto acts like a defiant teenager, but with a subtle soft side. Tōru Emori does have the rough, wasted guy attitude, but for the most part is pretty weak. They didn’t use an actual baby for the voice of Kiyoko, but Japanese seiyū Satomi Kōrogi does at least sound like a convincing baby, and this is coming from the voice of the Pokemon Togepi. For one moment in the film there are Spanish dialogue sequences, which I do admit is well implemented in the Japanese dub. Sadly there isn’t an English dub, so if you want to watch this, then get use to reading subtitles.

I have no idea what kind of film this is; it does have a good amount of funny moments, well-timed and in some cases very subtle in design, yet for a storyline about three homeless people wanting to take an abandoned baby to its parents, the film doesn’t treat itself as a comedy.

There are a lot of serious and dramatic dialogues which are used to explain the three main character’s back-stories, Miyuki’s is much less than the others, but the way they show her back-story actually makes the most sense out of all three. She ran away because she is scared of being arrested by her father, who’s a police detective, even when they are worried about her and want to come back. Gin kind of makes sense, since it’s understandable why he couldn’t face being a terrible father, although I don’t get why he had to make an elaborate story to hide it. What the trailer says about Hana is a lie; her past is in no way amazing. He lost his boyfriend, and soon after attacked a rude and heavily drunk customer for insulting him, but why that meant she ran away and became homeless I have no idea.

What bothered me the most about this film is that there are some points which aren’t explained, one example being the whole sequence with Miyuki being taken hostage by a Spanish crime member, who shot this guy while attempting to assassinate this executive at a party, which you’ll need to see the film if you want to understand what went on to lead to that point. While it is clever how they set the dialogue so that Miyuki doesn’t understand what he or his wife are saying because of the language barrier, it’s clear that it was there to set up Miyuki for her back story, and nothing from the scene is ever mentioned again. The film has a really good twist near the end of the film and the finale ties up some loose ends very well, but the very ending is anti-climactic and finish with a weird and out-of-place credits animation.

Would I recommend these film fans of Satoshi Kon? Yes, why wouldn’t I, it’s close to his style of story and animation. Would I recommend this to anyone else? Probably not, at least not until you see his other works.

Tokyo Godfathers is available from Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Old Review: Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

Ponyo on the Cliff by the SeaPonyo is a magical goldfish that lives at the very bottom of the ocean with all her sisters and her father, Fujimoto. Use to be one himself, Fujimoto hates humans because of how much they pollute the ocean, and kill the life of the fish and sea mammals that live in it for food. Because of this, he plans to eventually reset the world’s balance back to the Devonian era by using an Elixir well, and keeps his children secure so they never meet any life that lives on land. That doesn’t stop Ponyo, as one day she sneaks out and becomes trapped in a jar and washes on the shore on a seaside town and is rescued by a young boy called Sōsuke, who takes care of her and gives her the name Ponyo. Her father finds out where she is, believed to have been kidnapped by the humans, and uses the spirits to retrieve her, but she wants to go back to Sōsuke and be a human herself. So when Fujimoto leave her, her sisters help her escape, accidentally overflows the Elixir well, causing her to both gain the appearance of a human and use the magical powers of the ocean, but also cause mass floods and hurricanes, flooding almost the entire planet and causing the Earth’s gravitational pull to go out of balance. The Goddess of the Ocean, and Ponyo’s mother, is able to restore the Earth back to normal if the relationship between Ponyo and Sōsuke is strong enough for Ponyo to live as a human being, so it is up to them both to pass this test and restore the Earth to what it was.

In 2005, Hayao Miyazaki spent a holiday at the seaside town of Tomonoaura, the imagery of the town and what was in the town gave Miyazaki the inspiration for the story and setting for the film, he also took inspiration from The Little Mermaid, by Hans Christian-Andersen, and is also be inspired by Richard Wagner’s opera Die Walküre. Production for the film began on October 2006, and in a bold move for Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki decided that the majority of the film will be hand drawn, feeling that it is the best way to express the motion of the sea and waves, the only use of computers were for colouring. Over 170,000 frames were drawn, which for the amount of frames – time ratio, is a record for a feature length Miyazaki film. It was finally released on July 19th 2008 in Japan, and later won the award of Animation of the Year in the Japanese Academy Awards. It was later released on August 9th 2009 in America where it opened in 927 theatres, reaching 9th on the US Box Office Charts and 5th in the US Overall Box Office Charts for Anime. The film finally reached the UK on February 12th 2010, and it was the first time I saw this film in theatres before buying the DVD.

Like other Hayao Miyazaki films, the animation is wonderful. Characters move smoothly and realistically, the amount of little detail like the way the character’s clothes move against both calm and heavy winds feel very real. Some of the scenes such as Ponyo running on the top of the ocean look really impressive, it’s kind of hard to believe these scenes were completely hand drawn. The art style is very colourful, and really gives the feel of both the mystical blue ocean and the vibrant summer feel of the seaside town.

While the character designs of the human characters are standard for a Studio Ghibli, very human like, the non-human characters are the more interesting in design, on first impressions Fujimoto looked very bizarre and when I first saw him I had no clue what gender he was, since he look like he was a drag queen or something, the goddess of the ocean, known as Granmamare, looks very beautiful, with the glowing nature giving her the enchanted feel of a peaceful entity. Ponyo has three designs, her fish design is slightly confusing, since she’s meant to be a fish, but she has a human face and it takes a while before a human character notices her face, but it is simple and the face does show her as being more than a simple fish and allows her to be expressive. Her human design is kind of normal, but not too normal to make her look too different from her fish counterpart, I did find it funny that she looks like she wears a huge diaper however. She also has this weird design which is meant to be her in-between phase, the best explanation to describe it was it was Kermit the Frog wearing a dress and twigs for limbs and it just looks weird. One fact about the character design is that Sōsuke is based on Miyazaki’s son, Goro Miyazaki, while it’s interesting seeing as how both have had a difficult relationship since Goro was the Director of Tales from Earthsea, but in reality I don’t care.

The music is very catchy and memorable, another good score from Joe Hisaishi. The music really fits the mood of the settings and the main theme “Gake no Ue no Ponyo” is so catchy it’s easy to hum it. Then there is the English…why do I have to talk about this? Well, for people who don’t know, in the English version, not only did Disney record a translated version, but they also made a remix, done in the style common with Disney’s modern “hip” style, both with vocals done by the main two cast members, Noah Cyrus and Frankie Jonas, and both versions were shown in the film’s ending credits. I have heard both the English and the Original Japanese versions and yes, I hate the named “Disneyfied” Ponyo remix, but upon release everyone kept ranting about it and some went to say it ruined the film overall. For the only time I’m gonna be on Disney’s defence, let me say that these ranters are really going too far with this criticism. There are perfectly good reasons why this was done and while it should be allowed in:

  1. Disney marketed this film for kids in general, not anime goers. I do believe that anime goers would want to see this film, but I highly doubt there were many people that stayed until the very end of the credits, when the remix was playing. Whenever I see a film, everyone leaves at the start of the credits.
  2. There was a literal translation of the theme at the start of the credits, and it is nicely done, yet no one gives any opinion or mentions the existence of it.
  3. I watched from beginning to end the full Japanese version, and at the second half of the credit sequence was two minutes of silence, if that was in the English version I would be surprised if the audience were bored out of their mind watching the credits.

The voice acting in the Japanese version is very nice, but it doesn’t really have a lasting impression for me. Yuria Nara and Hiroki Doi are great child actors, and really add to the young innocence of both Ponyo and Sōsuke. George Tokoro has a serious tone, showing him as a strict father figure. I honestly had no hope whatsoever for the English Cast, having Noah Cyrus as Ponyo and Frankie Jonas as Sōsuke, the younger siblings of the two things that I hate about Disney for the past three years was not something I wanted to see, and even though it had Oskar Schindler as Fujimoto as well both Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon, I wasn’t expecting anything good. When I saw the film, it honestly wasn’t bad. Frankie Jonas doesn’t put as much effort but he does make Sōsuke a likable, smart and caring child, Noah Cyrus is very energetic and happy, although she can be a little whiney in her tone. Liam Neeson as Fujimoto is just hilarious, he does use his normal speaking voice and does give a serious tone that has the similar effect Tokoro did, but during the more comical scenes, he makes them really funny. Yuki Amami and Cate Blanchett are both equally good at portraying Granmamare, sounding calm and soft, very royally as well.

After re-watching all of my Studio Ghibli films these past few months, I’ve noticed something about Miyazaki’s films. When he makes a film for a general audience, like Nausicaa, Mononoke and even Spirited Away, they are overall very good films, with a brilliant array of characters, straightforward yet diverse storylines, with great visuals and music, and they feel just as realistic as live-action films. However, when he makes a film specifically for children in mind like My Neighbour Totoro, they are good films, but they lack in their story and realism. In this case, Ponyo is definitely a good film, it has a good sense of humour and it has a great storyline, but like the first half hour of Totoro, there are moments which are practically just padding for the best scenes. There are also some moments which don’t really make that much sense, like when the Tsunami begins and the sailors don’t notice the humongous fishes that resemble the waves, although one notices Ponyo running on them, I guess you really need to put a lot of imagination and initiative in this film, and since it’s a kid film you should expect to buy a lot. The story does have a great influence on The Little Mermaid, but unlike the Disney film, this one focuses more on both the main characters and the idea of nature and the relationship between Ponyo and Sōsuke.

Overall, Ponyo is a sweat and lovely film, both brilliant in its music and imagery. While it’s not perfect as a film overall, it’s certainly a film kids will love, and even if you are not a kid, it’s definitely worth a watch.

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea is available from Walt Disney and Optimum Releasing. A 4 volume film comic is available from Viz Media but as I’ve always said about film comics, they are not worth your time and money.

Old Reviews: Tales from Earthsea

In Earthsea, the world is falling out of balance, as livestock and crops are dying; the sea current flows uncontrollably and even mystical creatures are fighting against each-other. While searching for the cause of this unbalance, Ged, a powerful wizard known by many as Sparrowhawk, finds a young man named Arren, a Prince who has ran away from his kingdom after killing his father. Arren accompanies Ged to the large city of Hortown, where he rescues a slave girl called Therru, only to be later captured and taken as a slave himself. After being rescued by Ged, and later working at a farm, meeting Therru, we later discover that the change in balance of the world is being caused by an evil Wizard known as Cob, who is trying to search for a secret entity for his own desires, and Arren is revealed to obtain this entity. It is up to Arren, Ged and Therru to stop Cob in his plan and restore the balance of the world of Earthsea.

While originally created for a short story four years earlier, Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series began in 1968, and to date has had seven books to its name. For many years, directors have tried to write film adaptations of the series, but she had constantly refused offers to allow an adaptation to be made. One of the directors that tried to adapt the series was Hayao Miyazaki. Being a fan of the seriess since reading the first novel in the late 1960s, he has made references to characters, scenes and settings to almost every film he either animated or directed, most notably Hols: Prince of the Sun, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke. He tried to pitch an adaptation to Ursula in around 1980, but she politely refused.

In around 2003, after watching a few of Miyazaki’s films and a conversation with the Japanese translator of the novel series, Shimizu Masako, Ursula requested Studio Ghibli to make an adaptation of her series, asking Hayao Miyazaki to direct it. While Studio Ghibli was enthusiastic about this, Hayao Miyazaki was working on Howl’s Moving Castle at the time, and it was believed he might be too old to do another action type film. Toshio Suzuki offered his son, Goro Miyazaki, to direct the film, after being impressed with the storyboards he drew. Hayao Miyazaki was negative about this, saying that he lacked experience and he should find his own way to fame in animation, instead of using his father as an interest boost, Hayao only allowed Goro to direct when he showed him some concept art for the film’s poster. When Ursula agreed to his son directing the film instead and production began in 2005, Hayao and Goro’s relationship tore apart, as they never talked to each other throughout the entire production. They didn’t even see each other until the preview screening of the film, only leaving a comment saying “It was an honest way of making, and good.”

The animation in Tales from Earthsea is very good, the same impressive detail that is found in several other Ghibli films. Character movement is very smooth and human like, action scenes are fast paced and easy to see. There are also some great special effects like fire effects and fast paced zooming, which work especially well in the action sequences. Beyond shadows and night scenes, lighting is a bit minimal, but it doesn’t distract the viewer from the film as it focuses on the character and dialogue. The art style is pretty standard for Studio Ghibli, the background and scenery artwork typically show a great range of greens and browns for nature, while HortTown is shown in a colourful set of reds, blues and yellows. Character design is really fitting for a fantasy style setting like this, it has some reminiscence of Nausicaa, but since that film was influenced by the original Tales of Earthsea, that wouldn’t surprise me. My only problem is with the character design is with the evil wizard Cob, for some reason the artist made it difficult to tell what gender he is at first glance, and yes he is a man, having a young man’s physique, long dark hair, yet he has a pale woman’s face and lipstick. I’m not sure why there is this design, unless it has something to do with the wizard wanting to be young, but it’s rare to have this kind of gender confusion.

The music is ok, it sets out the scenes and the quality is very good, but it isn’t very special or memorable. The only real exception to this is the main theme song “Therru no Uta”, written by Goro Miyazaki and originally sung by Therru’s seiyuu Aoi Teshima. It’s beautifully sung and the lyrics are nice and fitting for the film, and the English various is an almost exact translation. Sadly there isn’t the lovely background music that is in the official version but it might’ve ruined the scene.

The voice acting is listenable both English and Japanese, but it’s pretty weak overall. The English version has the awesome Timothy Dalton as Sparrowhawk and William Defoe as Cob, both doing a brilliant job. The Japanese dub has Junichi Okada, who does a great debut performance as Arren, and despite casting a woman as Cob, Yuko Tanaka is a great voice actress who makes Cob sound evil and sinister, sometimes I forgot that it was a woman doing the voice. The problem is that everyone else does sound great but their performances are weak. Arren in the English dub is pretty bland and Blaire Resraneo does have depth, but not much of it. Meanwhile in the Japanese dub, I can’t be too mean to Aoi Teshima since she is a good singer, but she isn’t the greatest at acting, and Bunta Sugawara was just disappointing.

Since I’ve never read any of the Earthsea novels, I’m not comparing the story to the original novels. From what I’ve heard, the film is loosely based on a combination of plot elements the first four novels, with the storyline based off the third one. Many people have criticised the film on its story, and while I do think it ties with My Neighbour the Yamadas as the weakest film, I think it’s unfair to criticise the film and call Goro Miyazaki the Worst Director for it. I’ve also read that a main criticism of this film is that there is too much action and not much drama, which I disagree because the amount of action isn’t as much as the story itself. The actual problem with this film is that it goes on about how important life is and that you need to accept death, and it gets bothersome. I also don’t understand what the problem was with Therru early in the film, she is rescued by Arren from some slave takers who were almost about to kill her, and she just does an evil glare and pushes him away and gets frustrated whenever they meet.  She states she doesn’t like anyone “who do not care about life”, and Arren did go into a violent state when fighting the guards, and almost pushed the slave taker into killing her when the guy threatened him, but silly as it sounds, a sign of gratitude would’ve been the least you could’ve given for someone who saved your life. Not to mention if it wasn’t for him you would’ve been taken as a slave.

Despite these problems, I don’t see why as a fan of Studio Ghibli films why you shouldn’t see this film. While it isn’t really faithful to the original story, I don’t think it should’ve been. At the end of it, it’s a really nice fantasy tale with an interesting set of characters that progress through the film, and the fact that Goro Miyazaki never directed a film before this one really amazes me since the quality is on par with Hayao Miyazaki. If you are into Studio Ghibli films, you should see this for its great animation and good story, maybe not the best choice though if you want to start watching Ghibli films though, at least not before watching Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind since what that film had is what makes this film good to begin with.

Tales from Earthsea is available from Walt Disney and Optimum Releasing. While it was shown in England and Australia around a year after the Japanese release, it wasn’t shown in America until August 2010 because of a live-action drama series done by SyFy. A Manga Adaptation produced by Tokuma Shoten has not been made available in English. The original Earthsea novels by Ursula K Le Guin, titled “A Wizard of Earthsea”, “The Tombs of Atuan”, “The Farthest Shore”, “Tehanu”, “Tales from Earthsea” and “The Other Wind”, which began in 1968 and the final book was first published in 2001, are available from many publishers including Parnassus Press, Atheneum Books, Harcourt Brace & Company and Puffin Books.

Old Review: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron BurgundyMeet Ron Burgundy, he is the Anchorman on KVWN-TV’s Channel 4 Evening News, the highest rated news program in San Diego. Along with his news team, consisting of field reporter Brian Fantana, Sportscaster Champion Kind and Meteorologist Brick Tamland, he works hard to make sure the city is informed of what is happening in San Diego as it is his responsibility to tell the citizens of the 1970s what is happening each day. One day however, all things in the news station changes when a new female broadcaster from North Carolina, Veronica Corningstone, is hired to work. After an awkward first impression, Ron builds a romantic relationship with Veronica, and she strives to be on anchor, determined to show that it doesn’t take a man to broadcast the news. Their relationship takes a U-turn when Ron ends up late to the station one day and Veronica takes a chance at being the anchor in his place, doing so well that she becomes co-anchor of the evening news, giving Ron the idea that she is stealing his thunder. This feud between them goes out of control when Veronica ends up making Ron lose his career. Since there are bitter rivals in the world of news broadcasting, even in San Diego, with a big story is not too far away that they all want to get to receive high ratings, and Ron Burgundy is the best man to broadcast it for KVWN-TV Channel 4, Ron, his friends and even Veronica need to do what they can to bring Burgundy back to the anchor.

Unlike past Will Ferrell films, this was the first film he did most of the writing for. According to Will himself, the character Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone were mainly inspired from an interview with female anchor Jessica Savitch, where she recalled one of her coworkers being a male chauvinist back when she worked as an anchor back in the 1970s, and from that he had the idea for the film he wanted to make. He surprisingly showed a lot of ideas for the film, even including a list of suggested actors for various roles in his first draft. Standup comic Adam McKay was interested in the film and helped with the writing, and offered to direct it. Even though they were extremely eager with the film and Ferrall already showed himself as a good comedic actor before, it took 20 pitches before Dreamworks agreed to put it in production in July 2003, thinking the idea wouldn’t be successful. The fact that the film broke profit in it’s opening weekend in July 2004 clearly proved them wrong, and it later went on to gross over $90 million.

The cinematography and the visuals actually shows a lot of effort, the opening sequence looks classic, the design of the characters look close to the 1970s and it’s very authentic. Another positive is that outside of video cuts, camera effects and the occasional green screen and titling effects, special effects are actually very minimal, I say that’s a positive because the closest things they get to special effects are very poor. Since I’m a reviewer of anime and animated films, I cannot help but mention the one fully animated sequence in this film, while it’s screams Big-Lipped Alligator moment since it technically comes out of nowhere, has nothing to do with the plot other than it happened after a romantic sequence, and it is never mentioned again, it actually looks quite good. The animation is smooth, the scene is very colourful and it’s nice to watch, my only problem is that Ron and Veronica feel poorly placed from a bad green screen and it is very short.

The music is also quite fitting to a 1970s American setting; there is a mix of jazz and even a little western. There is a good amount of scenes that have no music so the dialogue sets the atmosphere. I can’t honestly say much about the music since there is nothing to complain about it, except that it isn’t really impressive or memorable.

One think I hate about this film, is that I hate Ron Burgundy and how Will Ferrell portrays Ron Burgundy. I get that he’s meant to be a popular Anchorman so he always thinks good about himself and thinks everyone around him adores him, and I know he film takes place in the 1970s so sexism would occur, but when you get to the straight facts, he is stupid, and an arrogant jerk. This is not the character that we are meant to laugh with and sympathies; this is the character who we laugh at because he’s the villain. If he was the villain I wouldn’t hate Ron, but he’s meant to be the dependable and comedic protagonist so I do. With that in mind, every other actor is actually likable or really great to watch in their performances. Christina Applegate does such a good job I’m surprised she wasn’t recognized that much as a film actress, she takes work seriously, she’s intelligent and she knows how to stop a guy from hitting her, at least in the first half in the film. But the best character in the entire film is Steve Carell as Brick Tamland. Every scene he appeared in made me laugh, and I wish there were more scenes with him, but he’s a minor character so I can’t expect much.

The film was able to get a lot of comedic actors on board such as Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, and Jack Black. While I mentioned Steve Carell being brilliant in this film, all the other actors are disappointing. Vince Vaughn is a poor excuse for a villain, Ben Stiller playing a Latino-American is just ridiculous, and Jack Black is only in one short scene that didn’t deserve him being in the credits.

The main problem with having a comedy focusing on a character, is that the character has to be likable in order to sympathise with him or her as well as finding him or her funny, because that character is the protagonist, meaning the good points either outweigh or evenly balance the bad points. This is a problem because I cannot find anything good about him at all, like I said before, he is an arrogant and stupid jerk, and he barely improves throughout the film.

It’s not a good sign when the film picks the worst protagonist from its list of characters, because when you face the facts, Veronica Corningstone is the better protagonist by a long shot. She is likable; someone that real life people can connect with, it’s funny to see her interact with people and she was actually based on someone people recognised at the time. Her story is much more interesting because she has a goal that is clearly given and progresses through the film, she wants to be a news anchor, but she knows how difficult that is in her time because she is working in a business with men who care little for women other than for how they look, instead of how they perform. When she gets a chance to be at the news desk, she shows what she has got, and when it’s shown she has done well, it creates a divide between the people who think she has proven diversity works, and people who don’t like her because they think the old way of news broadcasting is the better way, it’s the brilliant social commentary for the treatment of women in businesses over thirty years ago and in some debatable case, the treatment of woman now. But no, all she ends up is a poorly written love interest for a man who everybody is supposed to find the more important character, because he is a well respected individual  who in real life is lonely inside because he has never felt love from another person, and it’s stupid. You could argue that it’s a comedy, and so it shouldn’t be taken seriously for its story, but when one of my favourite comedies is about a man wanting out of a dull and boring desk job in a software company, I beg to differ.

The other storyline being the war between newscasters is what I believe to be a trend in modern comedies I call “The Blitzball Plot”, where a film is set in a world where a certain sport is apparently the only competitive sport is played in the world because it is purposely overblown, treated like the only kind of entertainment and a storyline is entirely centred around it, like Blitzball in Final Fantasy X. The War between Newscasters is that kind of plot and it’s very poorly done. It’s kind of funny seeing Will Farrell and Vince Vaughn name-bashing over TV ratings, and arguing over whether TV ratings show what the better News Broadcasting Network is, it doesn’t go anywhere beyond an over the top 20 man fight and a sub-plot over a pregnant panda, and I wish I made that last one up.

If I was giving my opinion on how funny this film is, then it is funny. It has funny and some memorable characters, some of the jokes are decent and well timed and if you want a laugh it is worth watching. But as a film, and even as a comedic film, it is poor. We are meant to find a man who is an egotistical idiot to be the main character and the main focus on the overall storyline, passing on the more interesting character that would’ve given the film a more interesting plot, while still being a good comedy.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is available from Dreamworks. Less than half a year after its premiere, a straight-to-DVD pseudo sequel titled “Wake Up, Ron Burgundy” which contains some scenes cut from the original film is also available from Dreamworks, and is available with some versions of the original film and Will Farrell boxsets. A journal type book, titled “The Many Months of Ron Burgundy” is also available with some versions of both “Anchorman “and “Wake Up, Ron Burgundy”.

Old Review: The Sky Crawlers

The Sky CrawlersThe film is set in an alternate universe, where the world is at peace. Despite this, the people of the world never feel comfortable in a world with no violence and aggression, so corporations use genetically modified humans known as the Kildren, to pilot fighter jets in aerial combat for entertainment. The Kildren are genetically modified to never age both mentally and biologically, so they can fly the skies forever, as long as they don’t get shot down. Yūichi Kannami is a brand new recruit to one of the corporations, replacing a pilot who everyone, including his young female commander Suito Kusanagi, seems reluctant to talk about, and the only clue is that his plane is almost perfectly undamaged. While getting used to his new surroundings and continuous dog-fighting in the skies, Yūichi notices he and everyone around him don’t make sense, and since no one wants to tell him anything, his curiosity becomes more heighten then the clouds as he, and other pilots he befriends, want answers.

In 2001, mystery novelist and engineer Hiroshi Mori wrote the novel “The Sky Crawlers” as the first book released, but the last book chronologically in a series of novels, since he believed the stories in the series doesn’t need a chronological order to be read. In sometime between 2006 and 2007, Production I.G. wanted to adapt the first book to an anime film, with a screenplay by Chihiro Itō and directed by Mamoru Oshii, of Ghost in the Shell fame. Mori was initially doubtful of the idea, since he believed out of all of his novels, The Sky Crawlers would be the difficult to adapt. It wasn’t until he knew of Oshii’s work that he gave his consent. The film was finished and later released in Japanese theaters on August 2nd 2008, and was later premiered in America at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival.

If you are a viewer who enjoys 3D animation over 2D, you will probably enjoy the visuals of this film more since they are excellent. All the flying and dog-fighting scenes are shot in 3D and most of the moving environments are also 3D, and they are smooth, detailed and surprisingly realistic. While the planes clearly look more like digital models than actual planes, the environments are so good I have a hard time telling any difference between the two, because I noticed that sometimes the background is of a real life landscape, and other times its computer generated. The 2D animation unfortunately suffers, with the occasional jerky animations and sometimes really inhuman character movements. There are also scenes where nothing happens, and it drags the film along unnecessarily, so it feels lazy at points, although lip syncing is really precise throughout, especially when listening to the Japanese dub. The character designs are also a bit off-putting; some characters have really flat haircuts, eyes that look more like glass and skin colour can get inconsistent. Speaking of skin colour, why are main characters’ skin colour mainly a very pale white? Is it because they are Kildren, and that it’s a noticeable feature for them?

The music is also very peace and calming, and I really like the main theme. However, the one thing that bothers me about the soundtrack is that during the action scenes, the music is almost none-existent, and I don’t get why. I do give credit to Kenji Kawai for a really nice soundtrack and a unique change of pace of not producing an overblown action heavy fast paced soundtrack for action scenes, but those scenes feel empty without them. It’s really my only criticism since the soundtrack is worth listening to on its own, even some of the arrangements are good, with memorable melodies and great use of instruments like a music box version of the main theme.

This is possibly the first anime film I’ve ever encountered where I had no interest in the voice acting for both the Japanese version and the English version. The problem isn’t that both are bad, since for quality they are quite good, all the actors give a good performance to drive the story. The problem is that both of them are just so bland, since none of the characters actually feel like human beings, but like people speaking in front of microphones. There are examples of good actors in Sky Crawlers however, such as the portrayal of Female Pilot Ace Midori Mitsuya, done by Chiaki Kuriyama and whoever it was in the English Dub, and it’s a shame there is little information about the English cast because I really want to know what voice actress that was.

What’s interesting about the story is that its main focus is more about life and war than just fighting planes. These pilots aren’t really fighting for a purpose outside entertainment because we human beings can never cope in a world, which is an interesting message to put across, and the idea of a world where the only sign of warfare is only used to emphasise the peace that the world it’s in, is very unique to me at least. Almost all the main characters are very interesting to see as their characters, back-stories and possible origins are really gripping, especially the two main characters, Yūichi and Suito, and another character which appears in the latter half of the film, Midori, who is actually my favourite character in Sky Crawlers purely for her personality and how she views the facts that are in front of her as a Kildren and a pilot.

The main problem with the story is that all I explained before only happens in the latter half of the two hour film, while the first half is with the exception of the flight scenes, is a one hour dullfest. Admittingly, saying the first hour is dull before the more interesting story and character development is a harsh understatement, but nothing really happens beyond character appearances and small explanations. Another problem with this film is how they explain things, or at even how they don’t. There is more than one occasion where Yūichi in particular asks something that can be an interesting element of development, but the responding character, often Suito, either stares in silence for half a minute or completely changes the subject and it is only briefly mentioned way later in the film. The film also brings out some plot points just out of nowhere, and I’m just going to spoil one small piece just to prove my point. Early in the film, Yūichi meets a young girl named Mizuki who states that she’s Suito’s sister. Moments later, Yūichi has a conversation with another pilot named Tokino who straightforwardly says that Mizuki is actually Suito’s daughter, and it feels like the film expects the audience to already guess it. My main point is that this explaining thing, especially in the first hour, is annoying. The characters either divert plot-points or bring them out of nowhere, and they can’t make up their minds. I also personally didn’t like the ending, because at the end of the film, I had no idea what was accomplished at all, or even the point of what I heard earlier, and when the credits are over there is an extra scene that’s pretty much pointless because it points out what we knew earlier.

Overall, this is a nice film with a great soundtrack and great 3D imagery. I did criticise the 2D animation for being jerky or still at times and the character design for being off-putting, it is still watchable and isn’t really a big distraction. While I may have a differing opinion to other reviewers on this film, I will say the second half of this film is the better part of the film overall, and with all the action in the first half it’s still worth seeing throughout.

The Sky Crawlers is available from Sony Pictures Entertainment and Manga Entertainment. The original novel by Hiroshi Mori and five later novels in the series, titled “None But Air”, “Down to Heaven”, “Flutter of Life”, “Cradle the Sky” and “Sky Eclipse”, officially don’t have an English translation. A video game adaptation of the anime titled “Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces” for the Nintendo Wii is available from Namco and XSeed Games. A Manga series based on the game of the same name, with illustrations by Yuho Ueji, has not had an official English translation.

Old Review: Perfect Blue

Perfect BlueMimi Kirigoe is a famous Japanese pop idol sensation from a trio group called “CHAM!” where thousands of fans regularly come to see her concert. Wanting to become an actress, Mimi leaves the group to pursue her dream, starring in a direct-to-video drama film called “Double-Blind”. This sudden career path has divided her fans where some support her future endeavours, and some that hate her. The latter group, which includes a serious stalker known as “Me-Mania”, show how serious they are as their first attack is an internet blog that claims to be written by her, and goes into extreme detail on her personal life. These attacks get worse when a group of these haters are murdered, with clues leading Mimi herself to be a prime suspect and an imposter is running around in her mind, causing her to lose her mind. These events as well as attacks made by Me-Mania are turning Mimi mentally unstable, and she needs to find out who is causing the murders and the fake diary, and escape from her madness within.

Production began in 1995, the film was planned to be a live action film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, with Satoshi Kon and Sadayuki Murai given the task of writing the screenplay. However, due to an earthquake in Kobe in that year, their production studio collapsed and the film’s budget was reduced, meaning it was produced as an animated film instead. Since Satoshi Kon had experience as both an animator and a supervisor, he got the role to direct the film. Katsuhiro Otomo, well known for Akira, was credited as a “Special Supervisor” for the film, it was shown at the Fantasia Film Festival in July 1997, and was later shown in Japanese cinemas in 1998.

The animation is quite detailed and great, but I think for its time a bit dated. Animation is very human-like and can be very smooth and precise, but there are sections which lack effort and some of the details look really dull. Since the film was intended to be live-action, facial expressions and movements are quite similar to watching a live-action drama, but since there are points where characters don’t move at all, or appear more like paintings, it doesn’t feel like a live action scene.

Since it was meant to be a live action scene, the visual art style is also meant to appear realistic. There are several dark tones and deep shades, while some scenes look really dull, some of the scenes are visually impressive, and some scenes are just haunting as we see someone turn from a happy pop singer to a psychological train wreck. The character design is also realistic and looks really nice even for the mid-1990s, except for one of the villains, Me-Mania. I know he is meant to be a stalker, and is meant to look intimidating and creepy, but I don’t know why that also means he has to have a contrast in appearance from everyone else in character design.

The music is…lacking, since from watching the film there I could only notice a few pieces of music at all. The tracks I did notice were actually pretty effective in setting the scenes. The problem was is that some are really repetitive, and once you’ve heard it more than once, it loses its effect, and it isn’t scary anymore. There are also some songs which are really nice and well written, but they aren’t memorable to say the least. The rest of the film has no music, except for background music and sounds to add to the idea of city life or this one tense scene of a track from CHAM playing in the distance, allowing the film to focus on character development and sceneries.

The voice acting in the Japanese dub is really nice, and I definitely recommend it for a first watch even if you aren’t into subtitles. Junko Iwao has a really effective split-personality with Mima, where the real Mima acts more human, displaying powerful fear and upset in the dark and dramatic scenes especially, and even discomforting strings of dialogue where she questions what is real and what isn’t, while the virtual Mima in her head is all lovely and cheerful, which makes her lines all the more chilling when the music builds up and she appears. Other actors do a good job, but they aren’t really memorable with the exception of Rica Matsumoto as Rumi, whose Mima’s friend and agent, who used to be a celebrity herself. Rica shows a strong attitude to caring about who Mima is, and not who she should be or what she should do. The English dub is also just as well recorded, with Rudy Marlowe as Mima, but her performance as the real Mima isn’t as powerful as Junko. Most of the other voice actors do a nice job, but Robert Martin Klein’s portrayal as the stalker Me-Mania is more hilariously weird unlike Masaaki Ōkura’s so weird its creepy portrayal. So while both versions are good, I still recommend the Japanese dub.

If there is one thing this film succeeds the most at, is as being a psychological thriller. The viewer watches as Mima begins as a pop-idol wanting to start a new career, to a broken down mental case as she experiences the backlash of some of her fans, or at least her biggest fan. The transformation of Mima is really well put together and the thrilling imagery really makes puts the viewer to the edge of their seats. It also shows how the life of a celebrity can be both difficult as a performer and a human being really well, as the people around Mima pressurise her and make her do things to please themselves and other people. Another character which I’m surprised I haven’t mentioned as much in this review is Rumi, but I can’t give away spoilers, but I can tell you this, don’t judge her character from first impressions, she does get scary.

Overall, Perfect Blue is a very good film that shows great use of mental instability and haunting imagery to produce a thriller that can be both haunting and interesting to watch. As a Satoshi Kon film it’s definitely worth a watch as it was his directorial debut, although if you keep your expectations low, you might find more to this film than just a celebrity that loses her mind.

Perfect Blue is available from Manga Entertainment. The original novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, not been released in English. A Live-Action Adaptation subtitled Yume Nara Samete, and follows more closely to the original novel than the anime did, also hasn’t been officially released in English.