Just forget the words and sing along

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Weekend Goal List...done!

Went into the city on my Saturday, and I'm glad to say, I got all my goals done.

The first, and most important goal, once again required that I head straight into downtown Edmonton. Once again, I was heading to the Winspear Centre...not to see a show, just to get some tickets to another show.

As you know, my hero, "Weird Al" Yankovic, played the Winspear. Well, last week, it was announced that another of my heroes is returning to the Winspear...Kevin Smith!

For those who've never seen one of Smith's live shows, I'll loan you the concert DVDs. I have both of them. (And a third one is due out in October.). What Smith does in his spoken word act is he tells stories about making his films, his life, and he answers questions from the audience about life, the universe, and everything. And it's funny as hell.

I went to see him last time he was in Edmonton, back in February of 2006. And here's the blow-by-blow description I wrote about that show.

He returns to Edmonton on Sunday, September 28. When I'm back at work on Tuesday, remind me to book Monday the 29th off. Smith's shows are notoriously long.

Another goal was to pick up the brand new, 2-disc-super-mega-ultimate edition of The Nightmare Before Christmas. I just finished watching it, and I am outraged! They changed it from its original theatrical version! But it's just a minor change, so I can live with it.

In case you don't remember the history, back when Nightmare first came out in 1993, Disney thought that it would be too scary for kids. So, Disney disowned it and released it under their Touchstone Pictures label.

However, as the film gained its cult following, and kids started loving it, Disney slowly took ownership again. And, on the new DVD, the Touchstone Pictures label as been replaced with "Walt Disney Pictures presents...."

I think that's a change I can live with.

But, my most difficult goal was one I pulled off with great ease.

You know me, I love my fast food. I'm always looking for new fast food tastes, and am always game to try the "burger of the month." I'll even sample the vegetarian fare once in a while, to see what my vegan friends have to put up with.

Now, sometimes, sampling the vegetarian fare can yield great results. A&W's veggie burger, the Swiss Veggie Deluxe, is really good, and I eat them on a regular basis. And sometimes, it's not so good. Back when McDonald's was experimenting with healthier fare, they introduced a veggie burger called the "McVeggie," and it was the most disgusting thing I'd ever eaten.

but now, another of my favourite fast food places has introduced a veggie burger, and I'd been dying to try it.

You may remember a few months ago, when Kentucky Fried Chicken here in Canada signed their big agreement with PETA to start making things better for chickens. Well, one of the terms that KFC agreed to was that they would add a vegetarian alternative to their menus. I was curious to see what KFC would come up with a vegetarian alternative. I was half-hoping for toficken (tofu/chicken) nuggets.

It was about a month ago that I noticed KFC had slipped onto their menu boards, with very little fanfare, their new "Vegetarian Sandwich." It looks just like one of their regular chicken burgers, topped with a dollop of mayo and shredded lettuce. Sadly, I can't find online what they use to make the faux chicken. Regardless, I knew I had to try one.

Because I was right in downtown Edmonton, buying my Kevin Smith tickets, I sat down to enjoy one in the food court of the Edmonton City Centre Mall.

And I'm here to say they're actually quite good. It tastes just like a regular KFC chicken sandwich. I might not have them all the time, but I will have one every once in a while, to keep demand up and make sure they stay on the menu.

So, this fast food junkie is offering his "thumbs up" to the KFC Vegetarian Sandwich!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Showcase of the Arts

Hey! I haven't pimped my latest YouTube video yet.

A week ago, Athabasca was host to its very first Showcase of the Arts, the successor to the Athabasca Fringe, an event designed to highlight Athabasca's small yet incredibly vibrant arts community.

And I was there, camera in tow, and made my fourth film, Showcase of the Arts.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Looking at MasterMind

You know me, I love my animated movies. And when it comes to animated movies, I'll cheer for pretty much anything that's NOT "talking animals making pop culture references," because, let's be honest, that's what's pretty much dominating the medium right now.

So one animated film in development that's caught my eye is MasterMind. Conceived and produced by Ben Stiller, MasterMind is about a super-villain who finally succeeds in his lifelong goal of destroying his arch-enemy. With no more superhero to fight, this throws our super-villain into something akin to a mid-life crisis.

It's been learned recently that Robert Downey Jr and Tina Fey are in talks to provided voices for the film.

MasterMind is currently scheduled for a November 2010 release.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Incredible Hulk on DVD!

The announcements of summer blockbusters on DVD just keeps coming! Today, it was announced that The Incredible Hulk will be hitting store shleves on October 21. For bonus materials, you get:

  • Running commentary with director Louis Leterrier and star Tim Roth
  • a slew of deleted scenes, including an alternate opening sequence
  • 5 featurettes
  • a digital copy of the film

Will make a nice companion to Iron Man, still coming on September 30!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Speaking of....

Well, Pixar continues work on Toy Story 3, a film I really don't want to be made, but still, I hope it'll be good. And, yesterday, it was announced that another classic toy will be popping up in the film: Barbie's longtime companion, Ken!

Ken will be voiced by 1989's Batman, Michael Keaton. This isn't the first time Keaton has done a voice in a Pixar film. He voiced the sleazy race car Chick Hicks in Cars.

If Ken is in the film, then that means Barbie is back as well. Barbie will once again be voiced by Jodi Benson, who originated the role in Toy Story 2 and is still best-known as the voice of Ariel, the Little Mermaid.

Toy Story 3 is still on track for a summer 2010 release.

And speaking of The Little Mermaid, today sees the release of the straight-to-DVD film The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning, aka The Little Mermaid 3. This is notable because it is Disney's last straight-to-video sequel.

Yup, that's right, Disney's finally pulling the plug on their straight-to-video sequel unit. Ever since they first started popping up in 1996, me and my friends haven't liked the straight-to-video sequels. I believe it was discussing these sequels with my friends where I first heard the term "raping my childhood." Well, it turned out that distaste was shared by a very powerful friend: John Lasetter.

Lasetter, of course, the head of Pixar Animation and, thanks to the Disney/Pixar merger, now the head of Disney Animation. Lasetter is also not a fan of the straight-to-video sequels, only he's not as coarse as to say that they "rape his childhood." I believe Lasetter's words are that their "reduced quality" had the unexpected effect of "devaluing the originals," or some such corporate-speak.

Even though his new position did not put him in charge of the straight-to-video until, Lasetter still stuck his head in their door anyway, and was appalled by what he saw. So, he started throwing his weight around to get things shut down. Little Mermaid 3 was too far along in development, though, to just get shut down. So, after a year of delays and re-working to get it to something that Lasetter found acceptable, it comes out today.

And that's it! A questionable era in Disney animation comes to an end. On the one hand, I want to herald Lasetter as a hero. On the other, I'm sure he looked at box office returns of the Shrek films, the Ice Age films, and his in-development Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, and realized that more money can be made by putting a "reduced quality, original-devaluing" sequel in theatres.

Speaking of sequels to Disney films, in a recent interview, Henry Selick, the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, revealed that, back 2001, Disney was considering doing a sequel to The Nightmare Before Christmas. Selick and Nightmare's creator Tim Burton stepped in and shut that down, because apparently Disney was thinking about doing it with computer animation instead of its famous stop-motion animation.

Speaking of The Nightmare Before Christmas, it's out on DVD today...again! IN a brand new, super mega-ultimate 3-disc special edition! Besides all the bonus material from the last special edition, for new stuff you get:

- a new running commentary with director Henry Selick, writer/creator Tim Burton, and composer/Jack's singing voice Danny Elfman.
- a featurette on how they get the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland all-decked out in Nightmare Before Christmas stuff for the holidays
- the original poem, read by Christopher Lee and animated
- a featurette on Disney and Tim Burton's next stop motion animated film, a feature-length version of Burton's short film Frankenweenie.

I tend to shun the double-dips, but this is one I'm going for.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My New Movie!

Well, the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing are officially over. And once again, the world goes back to not caring about sprinting, swimming, gymnastics, and human rights violations in China.

Actually, as I reflect on the coverage I saw on TV over the past few days, do you know what I didn't see? High jumping and pole vaulting. Every time there's some kind of documentary on the Olympics of 50 years ago, you always see grainy, black and white film footage of high jumping and pole vaulting. I want to see some pole vaulting and high jumping in glorious, digital, high-def!

Truth be told, I really feel sorry for the people of Beijing. As we all heard, factories were closed and cars kept off streets in order to try to clean up Beijing's notoriously bad air quality. Watching the closing ceremonies, they're boasting that Beijing had it's best air quality in years. And tomorrow, the cars come back, the factories start up again, and it all goes back to the way it was. Well, maybe not. Hopefully it'll stay this way for another month for the Paralympic Games.

But for those of you who might be going through Olympic coverage withdraw, I invite you to check out my latest YouTube video!

This past weekend, Athabasca was host to two of it's classic August events. First up was the free concert Ty Hart and Friends, which raises money for local charities, and the Hawg Flatts Toy Run and Show and Shine, in which the local motorcycle enthusiast club shows off their chrome and gets donations for Santa's Anonymous.

I call this one Saturday in the Park.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Kill Bill, Batman, and Superman

Managed to catch a bit of Kill Bill on TV last night. The first time I'd seen it since it first hit theatres, what, 5 years ago now?

It was edited for TV so much that it was almost laughable. The infamous "Pussy Wagon" is now the "Party Wagon," thanks to computers. I really did burst laughing when the vulgar salutation, "My name is Buck. I like to f--k," was very poorly dubbed to now be, "My name is Buck. I'm here to party."

I still don't own Kill Bill on DVD. For the longest time, we've been promised this super, mega, ultimate, loaded-to-the-nuts-with-special-features, special edition boxed set of both films, but it hasn't happened. I share the same worry as my best friend, another Kill Bill fanatic. You just know that as soon as we break down and fish the current DVDs out of a discount bin, that's when the long-awaited special edition is finally going to come out.

Anyway, on to another beloved franchise now, DC Comics. Warner Brothers -- who owns DC Comics, and thus, all the movie rights -- is still scrambling how best to adapt DC Comics characters to the big screen. There are two things that they're studying right now: their rival Marvel Comics, who had a great summer with the massively successful Iron Man and the mildly successful The Incredible Hulk. Secondly, their very own massive, massive success with The Dark Knight.

They released some of their preliminary strategy earlier this week.

The good news: they're abandoning their plans for a Justice League movie. Instead, they're going to give us a third Batman, a Superman reboot, and three more DC comics character films over the next three years.

The bad news: they've decided to make them all dark and brooding, like Batman. Says Jeff Robinov, the CEO of Warner Brothers, "It's time to unlock the evil side of superheroes."

No. No. No. Batman is dark and brooding. That's his thing. Superman's a boy scout. The Flash is a wiseass. Wonder Woman is a woman out of her time. Only Batman is dark and brooding.

I do like the idea of re-booting Superman, though. Superman could use it. Don't get me wrong, I'm one of the few who like Bryan Singer's Superman Returns, but it didn't quite go that extra mile. However, I think it had to be made.

I mean, let's face it. The original Superman came out in 1978. It was there at the birth of what we now know as the "summer blockbuster." Hell, it was one of the films that birthed it. For the longest time, it's been held up as the gold standard for comic book adaptations. We couldn't move forward without paying homage to it somehow.

So, we got Superman Returns. Now that all the "paying homage" is out of our systems, let's move on to something that incorporates the changes that have been made in the comics over the past 30 years.

No more Lex Luthor as a slightly sleazy, comical con man. Let's bet Lex Luthor as the cold-hearted billionaire industrialists. I love the "crystal castle" version of the Fortress of Solitude, but now, can we please have the one filled with giant statues of Jor-El and Lara holding a giant globe of Krypton and mementos from Superman's past adventures?

However, I do not to see Superman Begins. We don't need to see Superman's origin tale all long and drawn-out. We've been watching that on TV for the past few years. It's called Smallville.

I'm sorry, but I still want to see The Death of Superman adapted for the big screen. I remember watching The Incredible Hulk, watching the climactic battle between the Hulk and Abomination, and thinking, "this is what I want in a Superman movie! Just replace Hulk with Superman and Abomination with Doomsday."

C'mon DC. You don't have to make them all dark and brooding just because the only one that you've made in the past few years that was a massive, massive hit was the dark and brooding one. Besides, Catwoman tried to be dark and brooding, too. How well did that work out for you?

Friday, August 22, 2008

WALL-E on DVD! And Star Wars...again.

As I said, it's that time of year when all the big summer blockbusters are going to start coming out on DVD. Well, Pixar's latest opus, WALL-E, is going to be coming out on November 18!

There's going to be no less than four (4!) editions of the DVD: a single disc edition, a 3-disc special edition, a 2-disc Blu-Ray edition, and a 3-disc Blu-Ray edition!

On the single disc version, you get the animated short Presto, the new animated short BURN-E, running commentary with director Andrew Stanton, deleted scenes, a featurette on the sound design, and the featurette Sneak Peak: WALL-E's Tour of the Universe.

If you spring for the 3-disc special edition, you get all that, AND more deleted scenes, more featurettes, the critically acclaimed documentary The Pixar Story, the Lots of Bots storybook, tech specs on all the robots in the film, and the digital copy.

And, I'm guessing George Lucas must be hard up for money. On November 4, the Star Wars movies are being released on DVD AGAIN. There is NO NEW BONUS MATERIAL on these discs, so if you already own them, don't bother.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: The Wrap-Up

Well, we've come to the end of my August odyssey of watching every Hayao Miyazaki film. Before we go, I just wanted to take a minute to kind of wrap things up and see what we learned from this.

First up, what we learned is that Miyazaki's films rock. They do. They're good. Watch them.

The Cool Stuff

Strong female protaganists - The lead character in just about every Miyazaki film is a young woman...the coming-of-age of young girl is plot that he has explored many times. And it's not just with the heroine. He stuff his films with strong female sidekicks as well, from Ursula, the barefoot bohemian artist who becomes mentor to Kiki, to Lin, the take-no-crap-from-no-one bathhouse attendant in Spirited Away. I have a feminist friend who won't watch a movie unless it contains at least two female characters who have a meaningful, plot-advancing conversation with each other...Miyazaki's films pass that test easily.

The music of Joe Hisashi - The collaberations between composers and directors can become quite legendary -- Spielberg and Williams, Burton and Elfman -- we can add Miyazaki and Hisashi to that list. The more I watch these films, the more I want the soundtracks for each and every one.

Flight - The highlight of just about every Miyazaki film is a flying sequence...giant flying machines frequently figure into the plots. Sadly, not very many of the DVDs have kick-ass surround sound mixes. Fix that for the eventual Blu-Ray releases, Disney!

Whisper of the Heart poster
More to Come
One possible omission that I feel I have to mention is the 1995 film Whisper of the Heart. It's not on here because, quite frankly, I don't know if it's considered to be a Miyazaki film. It was written by Miyazaki and storyboard by him, but it was directed by Yoshifumi Kondo. Now I know there are examples where when a film is written by one guy and directed by another, it comes to be considered the writer's film, and not the director's. Best examples include Poltergeist, directed by Tobe Hooper, but considered a Steven Spielberg film cuz Spielberg wrote it. And let's not forget the Indiana Jones films...considered to be George Lucas films, even though Spielberg directed them.

So until I do more research and determine whether Whisper of the Heart is given similar consideration, it's off the list. Or, until, I find it at a good price in a discount bin and pick it up for the hell of it.

And, as I said last time, Miyazaki's latest film, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, only just came out in Japan. It'll probably hit theatres here in North America next year.

What Are We Going to do Tomorrow Night, Brain?
Many years ago, a friend of mine chided me because most of my creative endeavors were of a silly nature, and that I wasn't trying anything serious or introspective. She made her point by quoting Neil Gaiman. I believe the quote was something along the lines that while cake might look good and taste good, it's not really that healthy for you and doesn't fill you up. Her argument was essentially that I shouldn't waste my time making cake.

Well, we just finished all our vegetables, Ma, and it's time for some cake. And pudding. And Jell-O.

There's another Japanese anime franchise where I own every film on DVD. Whereas Miyazaki's films are deep, introspective, and reflective, these ones are mass-produced at the rate of one a year as part of a mass merchandising empire. Each film, indeed, each episode of the TV series that spawned them, have pretty much the same plot. But I do love it anyways because of what (I feel) it represents.

In September, we're going to watch all 10 Pokemon movies.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Review is up!


I've been sitting on this since Sunday, but there were some issues with my web hosting service, and after 48 stress-filled hours getting it sorted out, I can finally post this!

My review of Star Wars: The Clone Wars!

It's been a hectic couple of days all to tell you that it sucks, but it was worth it!

Go read my review!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: Howl's Moving Castle

For those just joining us, I've been spending my free time this August watching every film from acclaimed Japanese film director Hayao Miyazaki. Sadly, today, we come to the end, as we watch his most recent film that's had a theatrical release in North America. It's his adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones' novel...

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

Celebrity Voice Cast
Disney once again got a whole slew of celebrity voices for the English dub. This time, you get to hear Jean Simmons, Emily Mortimer, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, and Billy Crystal.

What's really cool about Howl's Moving Castle is that this is the first Miyazaki film I got to see on the big screen. As I'd become quite adept at having no life at this point, I was following its development online pretty much from day one. And when I saw the movie listings for Edmonton and saw that it was playing, I pretty much dropped everything to go see it. Which wasn't hard, as this was my first year out of NAIT and looking for that first radio job. I got all goosebumpy when the theatre screen turned blue with that Totoro outline and "Studio Ghibli presents...." As I walked out of the theatre, I flipped my cellphone on, checked my voice mail, and got the 18th of many, many rejections. Ah, 2005...the Great Year of Unemployment.

In a vaguely European town, we enter the life of young Sophie. Sophie seems to lack self-confidence...she has resigned herself to a life of solitude working in the family hat shop. Then, one day, a chance encounter with the wizard Howl draws the ire of the Witch of the Wastes. The Witch curses Sophie, turning her into an old crone. Knowing there's only one person who can help her, Sophie leaves home and heads into the Wastes to find Howl. Soon, Sophie finds herself working for Howl as his cleaning lady, in his magnificent walking castle. Also in this castle are Markl, Howl's young apprentice, and Calcifer, a fire demon who powers the castle. But there's trouble ahead. A war is brewing, and all the wizards are being pressed into service, and our man Howl is a draft-dodger. Will Howl finally find something worth fighting for? Will Sophie find a way to break her curse? And what's the mysterious connection between Calcifer and Howl?

What I Liked
As I keep saying with these films, Joe Hisashi's music is amazing. The main themes for this film are ones I constantly find myself humming. There's some very interesting takes on the wizarding world that I've never seen before in this film, and it's always nice to see something new in familiar territory.

What I Didn't Like
It just didn't feel like Miyazaki went that extra mile...it feels almost phone in.

Final Verdict
This is almost like Miyazaki trying to a Disney film. I picked up on many allusions to Beauty and the Beast. That's not bad, it's just...well, it felt like Miyazaki wasn't feeling it, so I wasn't feeling it.

3 Nibs

History Lesson
Hey! What did I say in my original review when I saw this theatrically?

"I have finally seen a Miyazaki film on the big screen, and it is good. The moving castle is truly one of the most intriguing concepts ever to be seen on the screen. I do have to agree that it's a notch or two below Spirited Away. It's like Studio Ghibli's take on Disney fair...this is Miyazaki's Beauty and the Beast. 3 Nibs." Wow! I'm consistent!

Fun Trivia Fact
As I mentioned last time, John Lasseter is a huge Miyazaki buff, and once again, he was instrumental in getting this dubbed and in theatres. Lasseter had originally hoped to direct the English-language dub himself, but was too busy finishing up Cars. To direct the English language dub, Lasseter and Miyazaki personally chose Pete Docter, the director of Monsters, Inc.

Next Time
Well, we've come to the end for now. Miyazaki's latest film, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, only just came out in Japan, and it'll probably be another year before it comes out in North America. So, next time, we'll do a wrap up and bring this to a proper close. Until then, here's the Ponyo trailer.

Monday, August 18, 2008

It's Official: Morpheus Joins the Las Vegas Crime Lab

Well, after weeks of speculation, the producers of CSI have decided to take the red pill.

Today, it was announced that Laurence Fishburne will be joining the cast of CSI. Fishburne's character will be filling the very big shoes of Gil Grissom. William Peterson, who played Grissom, figured that after 9 years it was time to move on.

Fishburne's character - who hasn't been named yet - is a former pathologist turned college lecturer who's focused on why people commit acts of violence. In the big twist, it turns out his study on the "why" of violence boils down to the fact that he has the exact same psychological profile as a serial killer...but isn't one.

Grissom phased out and Fishburn's character introduced over a 10-episode arc next season.

Fishburne is, of course, a highly acclaimed actor...he was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Ike Turner in What's Love Got to Do With It? But, to the geeks like me, he'll always be Morpheus in The Matrix Trilogy.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My Life, 10 Years Ago, in a TV News Magazine

Flipping around the channels tonight, and I discover that YTV is currently doing this thing called YTV Retro, where they're re-running a lot of their most popular programming from 10 years ago.
I tuned in to an episode of The Anti-Gravity Room. I remember, back in college, I was always glued to this show. A co-production of YTV and the Sci-Fi Channel, the Anti-Gravity Room was this weekly news magazine show dedicated to comic books. To date the show, the episode I caught featured these top stories:
  • An interview with DC editor Mike Carlin about the new Superman. Yes, it was the dawn of the "Superman Blue" period.
  • A review of Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire for the N64.
  • The hot news that Batman: The Animated Series had begun producing new episodes
  • An interview with indie comic book artist Seth about his self-published series Palookaville.
  • A round table discussion with Wildstorm's stable of artists (including Jim Lee and J. Scott Campbell) about superhero fashion design.

With news like that, I would place this episode in, oh, early 1997.

Watching that episode was a real flashback for me. That was the news that I really cared about back then. Actually, it's the kind of news that I still care about. I think the Anti-Gravity Room faded from existence in 1998 or so...one of the last news stories on one of the last episodes I caught was that Bryan Singer had just signed on to do X-Men.

I wonder whatever happened to the hosts of The Anti-Gravity Room? Let's see here...creator, producer, and host Nick Scoullar moved to Belgium. He does an Internet-based talk show now called Instant Talk Show. No new episodes for a year...yikes.

But to us Canadians, the big kahuna, the main man on this show was Phil Guerrero. I'm sure we all remember him hosting the Zone in the 1990s...he was THE face of YTV in that decade. He became a major Canadian television personality. And now...he's gone. Faded from existence. According to the Internet Movie Database, the last credit to his name was in 2001, meaning that while he ruled the 90s, I guess there was no place for him in the 00's.

Hey! He's got his demo reel on YouTube!

I tell ya, this guy is due for a comeback. Come on, CTV! Corner Gas is going off in a year! Give him a sitcom pilot or something!

That's my image of the 1990s, man. Phil Guerrero, strutting down the street, rocking out to to some Nirvana on a Walkman, and sipping on a Crystal Pepsi.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: Spirited Away

For those just joining the party, I'm spending my downtime this August watching every film made by Hayao Miyazaki. Tonight, we finally arrived at the one that many consider the finest film in the Miyazaki filmography. Winner of the 2002 Best Animated Film Oscar, and a worldwide blockbuster, ladies and gentlemen, we finally arrived at....

Spirited Away (2001)

Celebrity Voice Cast
For the English dub, Disney snagged Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Michael Chicklis, Lauren Holly, Susan Egan, Suzanne Pleshette, David Ogden Stires, and, the sexiest voice in voice acting today, Tara Strong.

Wow. This movie was so huge. when it first hit theatres, the Internets were buzzing with reviews and just raving about it. I arrived in Japan for my year of teaching English one year after it came out, and everyone was still talking about it. Things kind of came to a head one night, as a friend and I were coming back from a small town in the Japanese countryside. It was late at night...the train we were on was rather deserted. The train came to a station, all the doors opened, no one came on, and no one got off. As the train pulled out of the station, I turned to my friend and said, "Dude, you think in situations like that, that maybe there's, like, spirits or something that are getting on and off the train and we can't see them?" He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, "Dude, see Spirited Away NOW." I finally saw it my Christmas in Japan, when I went to visit my friend up north in Hokkaido. Spirited Away had become his Bible to understanding Japanese culture, and he threw it in his DVD player hoping I would learn from it. (Yes, there's a much bigger story there, but it's for another day.) Needless to say, I was captivated.

Young Chirhiro is sad and withdrawn. Her family is moving to a new town, and she's none too pleased about it. But then, they take a wrong turn in the road, and Chihiro's family stumble upon an abandoned amusement park. They find a still-working restaurant, and Chihiro's parents proceed to pig out...and promptly turn into pigs. It turns out this abandoned amusement park is actually a bathhouse for the gods, and Chihrio's parents were cursed for eating food meant for the gods. In order to save her parents, Chirhiro strikes a deal with Yubaba, the evil witch who runs the bathhouse. Chihiro gets a job in the bathhouse, and begins to work for Yubaba. However, this deal costs Chihiro her name, and she is re-christened as Sen. Sen, now, must struggle to remember her name while tapping into her inner strengths in order to save her parents and escape this bathhouse. Fortunatly, she makes lots of new friends to help her out.

What I Liked
Normally, with films like this, the mythology gets overly complicated and bogs things down. But with Spirited Away, things actually remain quite simple to follow. And with the character of Chihiro, we get a very believable and a very likeable heroine.

What I Didn't Like
Nothing, really. It's all good.

Final Verdict
A fantastic film. Just spellbinding.

4 Nibs

Fun Trivia Fact
You can thank head of Pixar animation John Lasetter for being able to see this. Seeing as to hwo Princess Mononoke didn't make a dent in the American box office, Disney was ready to abandon their plans to release Studio Ghibli films. But then Lasetter - an unabashed Miyazaki fan - went to Japan, saw Spirited Away, then marched into Disney HQ and pretty much demanded that they release it to theatres in North America. Lasetter was the executive producer of the English language dub.

Next Time
Aww! Just one more and we're done! For our final film, it's Miyazaki's 2004 epic...and the first (and to date, only) Miyazaki film I've had the priveledge to see in a threatre, on the big screen. We're wrapping things up with Howl's Moving Castle.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Harry Potter, Mike Myers, and Quentin Tarintino

First up, I've got bad news for my Pottermaniac friends.

The movie version of the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has been pushed back a few months. It's no longer coming out November 21. Now, it's coming out July 19, 2009.

Warner Brothers has given two reason for pushing the film back:

1) The last movie, Order of the Phoenix came out in the summer and was a monster hit, so family movies CAN be summer blockbusters!

2) Thanks to that writers' strike that happened earlier this year, Warner Brothers is kind of light on summer blockbusters for 2009. So, Harry got promoted!

They also assure us that this isn't affecting their Harry Potter schedule, and that the two-part adaptation of the final book, The Deathly Hallows, is still on track for a November 2010 and May 2011 release.

The upside is I now have time to read the books! My Pottermaniac friends keep telling me to read them, but, as Bender would say, reading is for suckers.

Well, Mike Myers just found a great way to redeem himself for his mega-bomb The Love Guru.

He just signed on to be in Quentin Tarintino's next film!

Tarintino is hard at work at making his long-talked-about World War II epic Inglorious Bastards.

No word yet on who or what Myers will be playing.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: Princess Mononoke

For those just tuning in, I'm relaxing this August by watching every film ever made by Hayao Miyazaki. Today it's the film that Miyazaki had intended to be his last, and went on to win the 1997 Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture.

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Celebrity Voice Cast
For their first theatrical Ghilbi dub, Disney got Billy Crudup, Claire Daines, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton, Gillian Anderson, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and the guy with the coolest voice in cartoons, Keith David.

This is the big one. As I've said before, Princess Mononoke came about right when I was getting involved with my college's anime club, and tracking movie gossip online. Needless to say, with those two communities combined, Princess Mononoke was the talk of the town. Reviews were trickling over the Internet from Japan...Disney brokered their release deal with Studio Ghibli and began plans for a North American release...originally to come out in North America in 1998, but Disney feared it was too similar to Mulan. Sadly, it didn't get the major release I had hoped for. One day, in late 1999, I finally read that it was having it's "final weekend" at the Princess -- Edmonton's most famous art house theatre. I did get to rent it around 6 months later, watch it on video, and was captivated. It was one of the first DVDs I bought in 2001. And I was heartbroken when most of my anime club alumni dismissed it as "just OK."

It's the dawn of Japan's industrial revolution. A small, isolated village is attacked one day by a writhing, slimy, hate-filled demon. The prince of the village, Ashitaka, manages to slay the demon, but is cursed by it in the battle. Ashitaka learns that the demon was once a kind and benevolent boar-god, and goes off on a quest to learn its origins. His journeys lead him to Irontown, which is ruled by the kind Lady Eboshi. Eboshi has created a better life for her people, by destroying the forests and mining the iron. This has raised the ire of the wolf-goddess and her human daughter San, the Princess Mononoke. Ashitaka has stumbled into the middle of an all-out war between Humans and Nature, and both sides have become so blinded by hate that a peaceful co-existence seems out of the question. Can Ashitaka and San find a peace before all are cursed?

What I Liked
Hands down, this has my favourite musical score of all of Miyazaki's films. I can't walk through the forests without humming the music. The film does have a rather complex mythology, but unlike some other fantasy films, it's still rather easy to follow. There are so many striking characters that draw you in.

What I Didn't Like
The scenes that explain that mythology do get a little long and preachy.

Final Verdict
One of the finest fantasy films ever made.

4 Nibs

Fun Trivia Fact
Disney hired renowned fantasy author Neil Gaiman to write the English translation. In interviews back in 1998, Gaiman said his job mainly consisted of "punching up the dialogue so it doesn't sound like a Saturday morning cartoon." However, though, Gaiman wasn't told that, when writing a translation, the words have to match the mouth movements on the animation. The director of the English translation then proceeded to adapt Gaiman's script to make it more...usable. When Gaiman found out, he was horrified, and then he and the director finally met and hammered out a translation that worked.

Next Time
So, as I said, Miyazaki had originally intended Princess Mononoke to be his final film. When it hit theatres, he announced his retirement. But then, an encounter with a friend's sullen young daughter got his creative juices flowing again, and he came out of retirement to make a film about that sullen little girl. The end result is hailed as the finest film Miyazaki ever made, and went on to win the 2002 Oscar for Best Animated Film. Yup, we've finally come to Spirited Away.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: Porco Rosso

For those just tuning in, I'm spending my off-hours this August by watching every film from world-famous animator Hayao Miyazaki and reviewing them here in the blog. Today, we're watching his 1992 opus, based on his own manga The Age of the Flying Boat, and originally conceived as an exclusive in-flight short film for Japan Airlines. Today, we're watching....

Porco Rosso (1992)

Celebrity Voice Cast
Disney rounded up Michael Keaton, Cary Elwes, Susan Egan, Brad Garrett, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, and the legendary Frank Welker for the star-filled dub.

This actually isn't the first time I've sat down and watched every Miyazaki film. When I was teaching English in Japan, there was this month where there was always a Miyazaki film on TV when I got home from work on Saturday nights. However, if I went out drinking with my co-workers after work, I'd usually get home just in time for the last half. And it was on TV one Saturday night when I caught the last half of Porco Rosso. I was immediatly captivated by the dogfights in the film, and how it all came down to a boxing match. A few weeks later, I was visiting that hallowed ground for Miyazaki's fans, the Studio Ghibli museum. Each ticket to the Studio Ghibli Museum has an actual strip of film from a Studio Ghibli movie. My ticket contains a clip from Porco Rosso, and it took me a good hour to figure out that it was from that movie I saw on TV a few weeks ago. This film was largely a mystery to me until I got the DVD.

Our story takes place in the Adriatic Sea, in the years between the two world wars. Porco Rosso was a legendary flying ace for Italy in WW1, and now makes his living as a bounty hunter, hunting down the air pirates who prey on the cruise ships. However, there is something unique about Porco. Thanks to a vaguely-defined curse, he has the face of a pig. Anyway, tired with Porco constantly foiling their schemes, the air pirates hire an American fighter pilot named Curtis. When his plane is badly damaged in a dogfight with Curtis, Porco makes his way to Milan for repairs. There, his plane is fixed by a feisty young female engineer name Fio. With Fio tagging along, Porco makes his way back to the Adriatic Sea for one final showdown with Curtis. Will Porco be able to defeat Curtis? Will the curse be lifted? And will he win the heart of the lovely Gina, who runs the local bar?

What I Liked
Miyazaki is well-known for his love of airplanes, and giant flying machines and flying sequences frequently pop up in his films. As such, this film is filled with some spectacular dogfights. In fact, I'm very disappointed that Disney didn't spring for a 5.1 channel surround sound mix on the soundtrack. And, as always, Joe Hisashi provides some amazing music.

What I Didn't Like
Well, as I already said, the vaguely-defined curse. I know it's a hallmark of anime to be light on the exposition, but this is one case where it would have helped. And some of the main characters are introduced quite late in the film, thus giving us very little time to get to know them.

Final Verdict
A rousing adventure tale, if you turn off your brain and just roll with it.

3 Nibs

Fun Trivia Fact
When Porco Rosso was dubbed into French and released in France in the mid-1990s, Porco's voice was done by Jean Reno. Miyazaki praised Reno's performance, calling it the perfect voice for the character.

Next Time
Oh, are we in for a treat next time. Miyazaki originally said it would be his final film, and put his all into it. It was such a big hit, that the only movie powerful enough to knock it out of the top spot in Japan was Titanic. It even went on to win the 1997 Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture. Ladies and gentlemen, Princess Mononoke.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Indy and U2 on DVD!

As I said, this is the time of year when all the big summer blockbusters are going to be released on DVD, and today, we got details of the DVD release for the long-awaited return of Henry Jones Jr...Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

It'll be a 2-disc special edition. Disc 1 will have the film and two featurettes. Disc 2 will have a six-part documentary on the making of the film, 6 featurettes, 3 pre-viz sequences, and five galleries of behind the scenes photos.

And for those who have made the great upgrade, it'll also be out on Blu-Ray...the first film in the Lucasfilm library to get a Blu-Ray release.

The big day? October 14.

Oh, and, as expected, for those who have been holding off on buying all the Indiana Jones films, October 14 will also see the release of a big boxed set of all 4 films.

I've also got big news for fans of U2. U2's first concert film, Live at Red Rocks -- Under a Blood Red Sky, is finally coming to DVD. It was originally released straight-to-video in the mid-1980s. For bonus features, the film is being completely re-mastered and given a new 5.1 surround sound mix, 5 previously unreleased songs, and a director's running commentary. The coinciding live album, Under a Blood Red Sky, is also getting digitally remastered and re-released on CD. You'll be able to buy each one separately, or together in a DVD/CD boxed set.

September 30 is the day for that.

Stupidist Movie Ever

Going through the list of new DVDs out today, I have to highlight one because it sounds particularly bad. It's a straight-to-DVD action film entitled....

Ninja Cheerleaders

I thought that was bad enough, but then I saw the trailer. Apparently, in addition to being ninjas and cheerleaders, these young women are also strippers.

Here's the official synopsis from the official website:

"[The ninja cheerleaders] must do well on finals to gain admittance to an Ivy League University, cheer at the big game, and rescue their sensei (who has been kidnapped by the mob) all by midnight so they can compete in the all-city strip-off with the hopes of winning enough money for college tuition."

And George Takei plays the sensei!

I'm sorry, I just can't get over how bad this all looks. Bad, bad, bad.

Here's the official website. Experience the horror first hand!

Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse...I look at the Wikipedia entry for Ninja Cheerleaders, and what does the article say?

"Not to be confused with the 2002 film, Cheerleader Ninjas."

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: Kiki's Delivery Service

For those just coming to the party, I've got a bit of down time this August, and so I'm spending it by watching every film directed by world renowned animator Hayao Miyazaki. Next on the list is Miyazaki's adaptation of Eiko Kadono's classic Japanese children's novel....

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

Celebrity Voice Cast
For their English language dub (their first one!), Disney rounded up Kirsten Dunst, Janeane Garofalo, Matthew Lawrence, Debbie Reynolds and, in his final film role, Phil Hartman.

It was almost 10 years ago. I was just a young pup, still going to Augustana University College. Most of my friends -- and fellow geeks -- had banded together to found Augustana's anime club. (A quick look at Augustana's online club registry shows that, 10 years later, it's still going strong.) This was also around the same time that I had discovered the Internet, and started reading those movie gossip websites like Ain't It Cool News, and the granddaddy of them all, which sadly doesn't exist anymore, Corona's Coming Attractions. And at this time, those websites were buzzing with the news that Disney had just signed a deal with Studio Ghibli to bring Ghibli's films to North America. The first one to be released under this deal: Kiki's Delivery Service, which got a straight-to-VHS release in the fall of 1998. When the anime club held their first anime festival in the spring of 1999, a screening of Kiki's Delivery Service was one of the main events. And that's where I saw my first Hayao Miyazaki film from beginning to end.

When a young witch turns 13, the first step of her witch's training is to live on her own for one year, using her magic to earn a living. We first meet Kiki not long after her 13th birthday, full of excitement as she prepares to leave home. She eventually settles down in a beautiful, vaguely-European seaside town. Kiki loves to fly on her broomstick, so she decides upon flying as her witching specialty, and opens up a delivery service. Throughout her deliveries, she gets to know many people in the town, including the Bohemian artist Ursula, her kindly landlady and surrogate mother Osono, and the flight-obsessed Tombo. And, of course, accompanying her all the way is her black cat Jiji. But soon, the stresses of the real world start to crush young Kiki, and it becomes a struggle just to stay ahead. But with the help of her new friends, Kiki just might discover the magic within herself.

What I Liked
Everything. The music, the animation, the characters are just very compelling and draw you in. They seem so real...even though they're witches. I really do love this film.

What I Didn't Like
Nothing. One of the few films where I have no complaints.

Final Verdict
This is my favourite Miyazaki film, so I'm heavily biased. But I just absolutly love it.

4 Nibs

Fun Trivia Fact
The original Japanese title is Majo no Takkyūbin. The only problem with this is "Takkyūbin" is actually the copyrighted slogan of Yamato Transport...a Japanese courier service. Yamato was actually quite enthusiastic about the project and became a major sponsor of the film. Before the film came out, and to this very day, they use a black cat as their logo.

Translation Notes
I want to take an extra step to talk about the dubbing. As I said, this is my favourite one, so I've watched it the most. I tend to personally prefer the subtitled versions of anime myself, and since I'm watching the dubs for this project, this was actually the first time in a long time I saw the dub. It's interesting to see what's changed. True, Disney was barred from actually editing the film, but they could do minor touches in the audio. There's more expository dialogue, spoken by characters when their back's to the camera. As many others have pointed out, the biggest is change is Jiji, Kiki's black cat. In the original, Jiji has kind of a screechy voice and acts more like the voice of reason. In the dub, Jiji is voiced by Phil Hartman, and is more like the typical wisecracking talking animal sidekick that you see in animated films.

And again, going back to the music, I love the Japanese opening song, but prefer the English ending song. I wish I could mix and match.

Next Time
Next on the list is a little film that grew and grew...it was originally meant to be an exclusive in-flight film for Japan Airlines, but the project grew in scope and size until it became a blockbuster epic. It's a rousing tale of air pirates, curses, and man with the face of a pig. Next time, we're watching Porco Rosso.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: My Neighbor Totoro

For those just joining us, I'm spending my free time this August by sitting down and watching every Hayao Miyazaki film and reviewing them here on the blog. Today, we're watching his 1988 family film, a beloved fantasy epic, and that would be....

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Celebrity Voice Cast
For the Disney dub, Disney recruited Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, Pat Carroll, and the legendary voice actor Frank Welker.

My absolute very first exposure to the works of Hayao Miyazaki is My Neighbor Totoro. For those not geek enough, the famous independent studio Troma Studios actually dubbed and released My Neighbor Totoro to theatres way back in 1993. And, I learned about it like how I learned about most foreign films back in that day. I watched Siskel and Ebert review it. Roger Ebert loved the film, even putting it on his 10 best list at the end of the year. Gene Siskel...not so much. All I remember is that they had one clip of the film that they always showed, and truth be told, that one clip always kind of creeped me out. And that's the scene of the little girl and Totoro at the bus stop.

And that was my very first exposure to Miyazaki's films. It wasn't until I finally got my hands on the DVD last year that I was able to see the film from beginning to end.

Japan in the 1950s. Young Satsuki and Mei just moved to an old house out in the countryside. Their dad is a college professor, working hard to put food on the table. Their mother is away in the hospital, battling an illness. As they settle into their new home and meet their neighbors, Satsuki and Mei start aquainting themselves with some of the spirits that inhabit the nearby forest. First there are the soot sprites...little balls of fluff with big eyes. Then they encounter the small, white, rabbit thing. And finally, the keeper of the forest, the big, fuzzy being known as Totoro. We then follow the adventures of Satsuki and Mei as they adjust to life in the country, their encounters with the forest spirits, and their anguish as they wait for their mother to come home.

What I Liked
Our little girls are very likable and very real. Totoro himself is a rather cute creature. It really is nice to see the rural side of Japan. I always seem to come in on the urban side. Great music, great animation, just great stuff.

What I Didn't Like
The film really doesn't have much of a plot...it's just a series of connect scenes in the country side. And, despite what legions of Japanese children and otaku tell you, I still find the catbus kind of creepy.

Final Verdict
Fun, heartwarming, but really, nothing new.

3 Nibs

Fun Trivia Fact
When first released in Japan, My Neighbor Totoro was shown as part of a double feature with another Studio Ghibli film, the very dark and somber Grave of the Fireflies, about two orphans trying to survive in war-torn Japan near the end of World War II. There are several theories as to why the two films were shown as a double feature...some say it's because Grave of the Fireflies is so dark, that My Neighbor Totoro was added to cheer people up. Others say it was because My Neighbor Totoro was expected to bomb, and Grave of the Fireflies was expected to be hit, so putting the two films together was a way to recoup any expected loss. Either way, I wouldn't mind watching the two films back-to-back someday.

Next Time
Running down Miyazaki's filmography, the next one is going to be the first Miyazaki film I saw in its entirety, and it's still my personal favourite. It's the coming-of-age story of a 12 year old witch. That's right...Kiki's Delivery Service.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

DVD Updates!

Wow, I almost forgot to share the news of two of the biggest DVD releases announced this week.

Firstly, as summer draws to a close, we can always look forward to the announcements of when all the summer blockbusters will start coming out on DVD. The first film to break $100 million at the box office this summer, Iron Man, will be hitting on September 30!

It'll be available in a single-disc movie-only version, a 2-disc "ultimate edition," and a 2-disc Blu-Ray version.

For the 2-disc special edition, you get a 6-part documentary about the original comic books, a 7-part documentary about the making of the film, a featurette about the special effects, Robert Downey Jr's screen test, a bunch of deleted scenes, a gallery of concept art, and the Onion's comedy bit, "Popular Iron Man Trailer to be Expanded into Feature Film."

The second big DVD announcement was the third Futurama straight-to-DVD movie, Bender's Game. For bonus features, you'll get a running commentary with the voice cast and crew, five featurettes about the making of the film, a deleted scene, and the trailer for the fourth and final Futurama straight-to-DVD movie, Into the Wild Green Yonder. That hits on November 4.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: Castle in the Sky

For those just joining us, I'm using my free time this August to sit down and watch every film from world renowned animator Hayao Miyazaki. The latest offering is the film that Toy Story director and current head of Walt Disney Animation John Lasseter has called his favourite film. Yup, today we're doing....

Castle in the Sky (1986)

Celebrity Voice Cast
For the Disney dub, Disney recruit Anna Paquin, James van der Beek, Cloris Leachman, Mandy Patinkin, Andy Dick, and ol' Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill.

As this decade began, Castle in the Sky held a bit of a mythical status. See, in the late 1990s, Disney signed their deal with Studio Ghibli to start releasing Studio Ghibli's films in North America. Castle in the Sky was dubbed and all set to be released on video for the holiday season of 1999. However, in 1999, was the theatrical release of Miyazaki's film Princess Mononoke. While it was the number one film of all time in Japan, it barely made a million dollars in North America. Because of this, Disney lost faith in Miyazaki's films, and they kept pushing back and pushing back the release of Castle in the Sky. People started wondering if it would ever be released. But then, in 2002 came the North American release of Miyazaki's masterpiece Spirited Away. Springboarding off of that, Disney finally released Castle in the Sky.

Castle in the Sky takes place in a world very much like the 1910s...only with gigantic flying machines. Pazu is a young man toiling in the mines, and dreaming of building his own flying machine. And then one day, a young girl named Sheeta falls out of the sky. It seems that Sheeta's crystal pendant holds the secret to finding Laputa...a mythical city that floats through the clouds. Sheeta is being pursued by two rival forces: the sky pirate Dola and her gang, who seek to loot Laputa, and the slimy government agent Muska, who wants to use Laputa's weaponry to conquer the world. So it's Pazu and Sheeta, on the run from these rival forces, and racing to be the first to find Laputa, the castle in the sky. Oh, and there are kick-ass giant robots.

What I Liked
Kick ass giant robots. Some fantastic flying sequences. A mythology that's rather easy to understand and get into. The vaguely European setting. Likable heroes, likable anti-heroes. And I'm sorry, but shooting off a little girl's pigtails is one of the coolest acts of menace I've ever seen on the screen.

What I Didn't Like
I know I shouldn't be picking on the dubbing job, but seriously, what is up with Anna Paquin as the voice of Sheeta? In some scenes, Paquin's got her native New Zealand accent, in others, she doesn't. She constantly wavers back and forth and it's annoying as hell.

Final Verdict
It's a rousing, if a tad formulaic, adventure film.

3.5 Nibs

Fun Trivia Fact
The original Japanese title is Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Miyazaki named Laputa after the flying city in Gulliver's Travels. What Miyazaki didn't know is that "Laputa" is Spanish for "Whore." As such, the international title is simply Castle in the Sky.

Next Time
Next on the Hayao Miyazaki filmography is a movie that film critic Roger Ebert put on his 10 best list for 1993...but it originally came out in Japan in 1988. Not only that, but it provided Studio Ghibli and a legion of otaku with a mascot. The next one on the list is My Neighbor Totoro.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Kevin Smith gets an R!

Just had to take a moment to update you on one of my favourite filmmakers.

As previously blogged, my favourite filmmaker, Kevin Smith, ran into a little problem with his latest film, Zack and Miri Make a Porno. The MPAA -- the folks who rate movies -- wanted to give it an NC-17. Smith re-edited it a couple of times to try to appease them, but to no avail. It seems the sticking point was a scene 14 frames long. And since film moves at 24 frame per second, this means it all boiled down to 0.58 seconds.

Anyway, back on Monday, Smith did his official appeal. He explained on his podcast that, how it works, is he screens the film for the appeals board, and then afterwards, pleads his case.

We went through the appeal and...Zack and Miri Make a Porno gets an R!

It's still slated to come out on Halloween.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

For those just joining us, I'm using my free time to sit down and watch all the films directed by world-renowned animator Hayao Miyazaki. Today, we're looking at his second film, a film based on a comic book that Miyazaki himself wrote and drew, and the film that went on to spawn Miyazaki's studio, Studio Ghibli. That's right, today it's....

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Celebrity Voice Cast
As I'm sure you've figured out, my collection is made of the Disney dubs. The celebrities Disney got to dub this one include Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurman, Edward James Olmos, Shia LeBouf, and the legendary voice actor Frank Welker.

When I was teaching English in Japan, there was this one fellow teacher. She was a specialist who taught the most advanced levels, and as such, only came in once a week. As the night she came in was a slow night for me, I delighted in having long conversations with her about Japanese culture, and her with me about Canadian culture. One night, the works of Miyazaki was the subject of conversation, and I mentioned that Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was finally getting a proper release in North America...albeit straight-to-DVD. She was a fairly mild-mannered sort, and when I told her this news, it was the only time I ever saw her get angry. I mean, really angry. We're talking right pissed off. She elaborated by saying that Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was her favourite movie, and that it was a crime that people wouldn't get a chance to see it on the big screen and feel its full impact. Needless to say, this is a film that people are very passionate about.

There are two stories as to how this film came to be. As I've mentioned, it's based on a manga (Japanese comic book) that Miyazaki himself wrote and drew. One story says that he was told a movie based on a manga would be more profitable, so he created the manga with the goal of eventually turning it into a movie. The other story says that he started it as a manga with no intention of turning into a film, but it so captivated audiences that he felt compelled to make it a movie. No matter how it came to be, it is here, and we are better for it.

It's the distant future...1000 years after the Earth was decimated by a great disaster known only as "the Seven Days of Fire." The Earth is now mostly covered by the Toxic Jungle, a forest filled with toxic plants and toxic air, and full of gigantic insects. The remnants of humanity are divided into kingdoms, and live in the last unpolluted pockets of Earth. Young Nausicaä is the princess of the Valley of the Wind, and is a very curious sort. She loves exploring the Toxic Jungle to learn its secrets, and has an almost supernatural ability to tame wild animals. Things are peaceful in her kingdom, until one day, an airship from the kingdom of Tolmekia crash lands in the valley, and it is carrying a dangerous cargo: a Giant Warrior, one of the weapons responsible for the Seven Days of Fire, and recently re-discovered. Kushana, the princess of Tolmekia, hopes to use it to destroy the Toxic Jungle, and so humanity and once again reclaim the Earth. Making matters worse, it was stolen from the kingdom of Pejite, and they want it back. Can Nausicaä uncover the secrets of the Toxic Jungle and prevent her Valley from being destroyed in a coming war between Tolmekia and Pejite?

What I Liked
This film has a deep and complicated mythology that really draws you in. The animation, as always, is stellar from Studio Ghibli. And I love that classic, 1980s, synthesizer heavy soundtrack.

What I Didn't Like
In the coming days, you'll find that this is a problem I have with a lot of Miyazaki films. And that it is, it has a really abrupt ending. And there's so many characters, you really don't get a chance to know them all.

Final Verdict
All things considered, a very fine film. I wonder what it would be like on the big screen...?

3.5 Nibs

Fun Trivia Fact
The first time this was dubbed and released in North America...it didn't go so well. It was dubbed in the mid-1980s and given the title Warriors of the Wind. More than half-an-hour was cut, and the plot was rendered incomprehensible. Because of this, Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have adopted a strict "no re-editing" policy when their films get sold for foreign distribution.

Next Time
Next on the Miyazaki filmography is his 1986 epic about giant robots, air pirates, and cities in the clouds. It's the film that Toy Story director John Lassetter has gone on record as saying is his favoutie. Next up, it's Castle in the Sky

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro

For those just joining us, I'm spending my August watching all of Hayao Miyazaki's films and review them here on the blog. First up, it's....

Lupin III: Castle of Cogliostro (1979)

Lupin III is one of the most popular anime franchises going. It follows the adventures of master thief Lupin III, the grandson of the legendary French thief Arsene Lupin, as he travels the world, breaking hearts, stealing the unstealable, and occasionally thwarting criminals plotting bigger and more threatening crimes. Joining him in his gang is the American gunslinger Daisuke Jigen, who never misses a shot, and the noble samurai Goemon Ishikawa XIII, who posses an almost-mystical sword able to cut through anything. They are sometimes helped and sometimes hindered by Fujiko Mine, a buxom femme fatale who is a master thief in her own right. And, they are constantly pursued by Inspector Zenigata, a world-weary Interpol agent who has made it his life's work to bring in Lupin. That, and it was one of the best theme songs in the history of television. I saw 1.5 episodes on TV in Japan, and the last half of a TV special, and instantly declared it one of the coolest things I'd ever seen. Since one of Hayao Miyazaki's first directorial gigs was directing episodes of the show, it only makes sense that he directed one of the spin-off films. Castle of Cogliostro wasn't the first Lupin III film, and it wasn't the last, but many agree, it is the best.

The film opens with Lupin III and Jigen making off with an enormous haul from a casino in Monaco, but during their getaway, Lupin makes a saddening discovery. The money is counterfeit. Not just any counterfeits, but the legendary "goat bills," counterfeit money of such flawless design that conquerors have used it to fund armies and terrorists have used it to cripple economies. This inspires Lupin and Jigen to head off to the country of Cogliostro for their next case...the long-rumored source of the goat bills. But, when they arrive in Cogliostro, they are soon swept up in a case of palace intrigue, and adopt a new mission: rescuing the Princess Clarice before she is forced to marry the evil reagent, the Count of Cogliostro. For you see, Clarice holds the secret to the long-forgotten treasure of Cogliostro, and the Count seeks to get his hands on it. Lupin has to call upon old allies and old enemies to rescue Clarice, foil the Count's plans, and ultimately, steal the treasure for himself.

What I Liked
Needless to say, this is a grand adventure film in the traditions of Indiana Jones, with hidden passageways, dangerous dungeons, and ancient artifacts. Lupin III is a wonderfully likable character, and the Count is a wonderfully slimy villain. And the Count sure has some creepy ninjas working for him!

What I Didn't Like
The animation isn't quite up to Miyazaki's later standards, but since it was based on a TV show and probably done on a TV budget, that's understandable. Most of the supporting cast is left on the sidelines, leaving Lupin III to pretty much be the star of the show. And the strong female protagonists that Miyazaki has come to be known for aren't quite there yet...Clarice shows glimmers of it, but is still pretty much a damsel in distress.

Final Verdict
A rollicking adventure film that'll keep you smiling, with glimmers of what Miyazaki will eventually become known for.

3 Nibs

Fun Trivia Fact
According to urban legend, Steven Spielberg saw this at a film festival in the early 1980s and promptly declared it "the greatest adventure film ever made."

Next Time
Following the Hayao Miyazaki filmography, next on our list will be his 1984 opus...based on the manga (Japanese comic book) that Miyazaki created, wrote and drew...and the profits from this film were so great that Miyazaki was able to form his own animation studio, Studio Ghibli.

Next time, it's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: It Begins

Since it's looking like my August is going to be nice and quiet with lots of time to pursue my outside interests, I figure it was time to start a project I'd been putting off for quite some time.

Like a lot of cartoon-loving geeks, I think that Hayao Miyazaki is one of the greatest animators working today. His films are true epics, taking place in worlds very much like our own, but filled with magic, wonder, and gigantic flying machines.

I was first exposed to his work around 10 years ago, when I was going to university and had become one of the first members of the brand new anime club. Right around this time was when Miyazaki's epic Princess Mononke had just come out, and thanks to the Internet, we were all reading reviews online and just riveted by how awesome it sounded. At the anime club's first ever anime-fest, I saw my first complete Miyazaki film, Kiki's Delivery Service, and it instantly became one of my favourites.

When I taught in Japan, I was there while the country was still in awe of his masterpiece, Spirited Away. I even spent an afternoon and went to the Ghibli Museum, a museum dedicated to the works of Studio Ghibli...the animation studio co-founded by Miyazaki, and which has made most of his films.

So, last year, I finally decided to dispose of some of my disposable income by collecting all of Miyazaki's films on DVD. I said that, once I had them all, I'd watch them all, and review them here on my blog.

Well, after a year of being outside and active, it's time for me to sit on my butt and watch some movies.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be watching every Hayao Miyazaki film, and reviewing them here on my blog. If you're new to Miyazaki's works, I hope that this'll encourage you to check out some films you'd other wise pass over. If you've seen most of his films, I hope that you'll appreciate what I have to say about them.

Who is Miyazaki?
I was going to write up a bit of a bio here, but I'm feeling a bit lazy, so instead, I'll just point you to the Wikipedia article about him, which has everything you need to know.

Dubbed or Subbed?
A very important question that I'm sure the anime geeks want answered is will I be watching these films dubbed in English (dubbed), or in the original Japanese with English subtitles (subbed)? Once upon a time, this was a question that fiercely divided the anime community. But now, with the advent of DVD, and that you can switch between the two with the push of a button, it's kind of become moot. But still, there are those who say that anime MUST be watched in the original Japanese, because that is the director's original intent.

That being said, while doing this, I will be watching the films dubbed. Why? Because, while doing some research in preparation for this project, I read an interview with Miyazaki that says he actually prefers that people watch his films dubbed. His reasoning is that he'd much rather your eyes be on the animation...not on subtitles. So that's how I'm going to watch them.

That being said, come back this time tomorrow, and I'll have my review of his very first film. It hit theatres in Japan in 1979, and is based on one of the most beloved anime franchises of all time. And, according to urban legend, Steven Spielberg declared it "the greatest adventure film ever made."

First on the list: Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sunday Movie Musings

I love spending my Sunday afternoons firing up the DVD player and re-discovering one of my many films that I thought I loved enough to spend $24.99 to have it forever. This particular Sunday it was that classic from 1987, the live-action Masters of the Universe. And it stunned me how close it was to a recent live-action hit, Transformers.

When Transformers was early in its production, I read an interview with...oh, I forget. It was either executive producer Tom deSantos or writer John Rogers. Anyway, they said that their goal with Transformers was to re-create the fantasy films of the 1980s. And, wow! They pulled it off. The plots of Transformers and Masters of the Universe are strikingly similar.

Granted, the similarities are superficial: waring factions from a distant planet come to Earth, chasing some magical McGuffin they need to tip the balance of power. And, trapped in the middle, are a couple of typical kids from suburbia who hold the secret to the McGuffin's location.

But still, it was enough to make me step back and go, "Whoa."

A popular subject of discussion right now is The Dark Knight, and specifically, "Where do you go for a third film? Who will the villain be?"

It's surprising how, online right now, there's a strong desire to have the Man-Bat. But, director Christopher Nolan has said he'd like to keep his Batman movies a bit realistic. So, I think a scientist who becomes a half-man/half-bat creature when he drinks an experimental formula would be a little too...science-fictiony. Same goes for Mr. Freeze.

I know early in The Dark Knight's production, there was a rumor going around of having Philip Seymour Hoffman as The Penguin. Dark Knight co-writer David S. Goyer has nixed that idea, saying he'd like to focus on some of the lesser-known members of Batman's rogues gallery.

I was recently chatting with a friend of mine over where to go next, and he said that probably the best way to go next would be to have Batman fight himself...bring in a villain so powerful that he utterly destroys Batman, and Batman has to fight to get back up and bring him in. I looked at my friend and said, "Dude, you're describing Bane and his first appearance!" Bane would be pretty cool. It would be neat to see him done right on the big screen, seeing as to how he was one of the many characters screwed over in Batman & Robin.

As my friend and I continued, I also suggested that maybe the next one should be about proteges...bring in Robin, and for the villain, use the Joker's protege, Harley Quinn.

but you know, I kind of hope that they don't do a third one. As we all know, when it comes to trilogies, part 3 tends to suck. Let's go out on a high note!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Modern Technology and People Who Don't Know How to Use It

I know there are those who lament that I don't write stories about my life on this blog anymore, and for that, I make no apologies. I know my bosses read this blog and there's just far too many stories about people getting fired over stuff that was written on their blogs. So I just decided a long time ago that it's better safe than sorry.

But, last night, I ran into something that was at such a level of ridiculousness that I have to write about it.

Yesterday afternoon, I was catching up on my correspondence. I sat down and wrote letters to friends cuz I'm like that. Now, I also wanted to include a recent picture of myself. My printer's been acting silly lately, and I don't have any high quality glossy photo paper, so I loaded my pictures onto a flash drive, and decided to head on down to the store.

I'm sure we've all seen these by now. Lots of stores now have these digital photo kiosks. You can plug in your flash drive or your memory card and print off your pictures. I find them quite nice, because the quality usually is better than my printer, I save on ink, and it's usually only 25¢ per picture. Here in Athabasca, there's two: one at the Rexall Pharmacy, and one at that wretched hive of scum and villainy, Extra Foods. So I was off to Rexall!

When I arrived, I found a couple of little old ladies crowded around the photo kiosk, trying to figure it out. I hung around the store for a little bit, waiting for them to finish. A clerk came over a couple of times to see how they were doing. I looked at my watch. It was 4PM. Since I had some other things to do in downtown Athabasca, I decided to go do my other things and then come back. I returned to Rexall at 4:30 to find those little old ladies still fussing over their photos and trying to get them just right before they printed them off. Exasperated, I decided to come back after supper.

At 7:30PM, I decided to head back to Rexall and try again.

Those little old ladies were still there -- three hours later!

They had pulled up chairs to the photo kiosk!

"Oh, I still don't like it. Let's try it again."

"That's not the original picture. That's the one we printed an hour ago! Where's the original?"

"Maybe we should go back to what we doing before."

I rolled my eyes and walked out of the store. As I really wanted to get my letters in the mail the next day, I really wanted to get this done. So it looked like I was off to that wretched hive of scum and villainy, Extra Foods.

Long time readers know my hatred for Extra Foods knows no bounds. I think it mainly has to do with the fact that, the two years I worked for them, is the only time in my life that I truly felt like I was wasting my life. It's two years I'll never get back. And Extra Foods took it from me.

Add to the fact that the customer service at Extra Foods in Athabasca is just lousy. I tried using their photo kiosk in the past, but there's never anyone working at their photo counter anymore, so when the kiosk flashes "Your pictures are ready! Go get the clerk to enter their password," you wind up wandering around the store for half-an-hour looking for someone to help you.

Understandably, there's no line at the kiosk at Extra Foods. I plug in my flash drive, push all the buttons, and it comes up. "Your pictures are ready! Go get the clerk to enter the password." Time for a half-hour of wandering around the store! This time, though, I just went up to a cashier, and was all like, "Dude, is there someone working the photo lab?" and he paged someone over the intercom.

And I finally got my picture!

So, for the stores that have those digital photo kiosks, let me offer two suggestions to make things easier:

1) How about imposing a time limit, so you don't have little old ladies standing there for four hours fussing over their photos?

2) Make these photo kiosks with the debit machines built right in, kind of like pay-at-the-pump gas stations. That way, when our pictures are ready, we can just swipe our debit card and get them right away, instead of having to wander around looking for a non-existent clerk!

I tell ya, it's enough to make me buy a new printer.

Ye gods, I'm turning this into a rant about poor customer service!

I don't know what's worse: poor customer service, or angry customers who decide to do something about it.

I went to the movies last week to see The Dark Knight, right? Usually, I forgo the snacks at the movie theatre, because I tend to see matinees, and I go right after lunch, and I'm not hungry. But this time, I was feeling thirsty, and thought I'd get some pop to sip on during the film.

I was seeing it at the Scotiabank Theatre in West Edmonton Mall. And the line I stood in, well, this line was slow. Really slow. Molasses in January slow. The entire soccer team in the line next to me was served before the guy three people ahead of me got served. But I decided to be patient. I decided to stick it out.

And then, the guy in front of me...it was his turn. And he decided to do something about this poor customer service.

He started reaming out the poor kid. "You f***ing suck! This is the worst customer service ever! How DARE you make me and my wife wait for so long! We deserve something for free! We deserve a free hot dog!"

When the kid went to get the hot dog, the guy started simmering. He grabbed every movie theatre employee that walked by. "Hey! Are you the manager? I need to see the manager! This kid is the worst employee ever! I need to complain to the manager!"

The kid gives this guy his free hot dog. The angry guy leaves, and finally it's my turn. As I'm ordering my medium pop, this hot dog comes flying out of nowhere and nails the kid in the side of the head. I hear the angry guy scream. "This hot dog is cold, a***hole!"

I finish ordering my pop. The kid gives it to me. I pay with debit. The kid looks up at me and says, "It went through. You can go now."

I look back at the kid and say, "Can I get my receipt please?" The kid goes white. Apparently, he's never been asked this question before.

I can see my receipt dangling from the debit machine. All the kid has to do is tear it off and give it to me. What does the kid do?

He goes over to the garbage, fishes around in it, and give me some other person's receipt.

And that's why I don't buy snacks at the movies.