24 December 2011

Happy Holidays and Movie Review: Nausicaa in the Valley of the Wind

Happy holidays everyone! I hope that everyone has a safe and enjoyable season through Christmas, the New Year, and all of the other holidays that you, your friends, and your family enjoy celebrating.

I'm glad to be able to post again for a second time in a month, and both the holiday well-wishes as well as the subject of the post (movie review!) are good excuses. You can likely tell that I'm not the tweeting type, and I need to have at least something substantive to put on the blog. I opened this blog up so many years ago for two main reasons... one was to make sure that people knew that both Megane and myself were still active and posting. The non-cynical reason was so that I could post quick-hit reviews of MSTings, movies, and other stuff that came our way (like Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic).

Unfortunately, the world of online MSTing has all but dried up, so that leaves movie / television show / anime reviews. Again, many thanks to NetFlix for tonight's selection, the 1984 Studio Ghibli production of Nausicca in the Valley of the Wind

As quickly as the movie starts, the art is already off of the charts. The initial scene (a deserted city) is empty of people, but it is still filled... with artifacts of plants, fungi, and animals (specifically insects). Spore sacs blast pink clouds and the art gains more color, though it is still a bizarre mix of Dr. Seuss with realism, almost as if the artists were trying to figure out all of what they could get away with and still be believed.

And this is a world that will allow you to immerse yourself into it. On the outside looking in, I can see where some people may immediately fold their arms and refuse to believe in a world were the "toxic jungle" is coming to wipe out all humanity, especially if they are of the opinion that ecology (and specifically pollution) is not a major concern. The world is just different enough (and there's so little ability for the story to try to latch on to "Earth history" so to speak) that this may as well be one of the planets surrounding Alpha Centauri.

It is a longer movie, and there's quite a few messages that Studio Ghibli packed into it. The aforementioned ecology message (which seemed very similar to the one in Mononoke Hime), the pacifism of the main character who is very adamant about the lack of necessity of killing, and her very singular focus on not only trying to understand the world around her, but actually LIVING in the world around her. Nausicaa is the type of person that will adapt to any situation and immediately be not only trying to figure out how she can make herself work with it, but she would be thinking of all of the characters around her first.

I say that, and maybe this may be the start of a few posts in this subject, but the above description may sound like a Mary Sue. I truly believe that this is not the case. She does have clouded decisions, the pacifism at one point turns into a rather bad decision down the road as the rest of the world intrudes on Nausicaa's titular valley, and seems so very reckless in many cases. The selflessness would almost become overbearing, and there's probably a terrific article lurking somewhere about how Miyazaki was able to show a protagonist that had so few "flaws" but still felt... human.

While the soundtrack did dip into the 80's in a few regrettable spots, overall it was a terrific movie and very understandable why both Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli were able to build such a subsequent catalog of movies. This movie is definitely between a 3 and a 4, and I would certainly enjoy seeing it again when given the chance. There are certainly places that can be pointed out as weaknesses, but the movie is overall terrific and you'll almost find yourself not necessarily as a viewer but as an experiencer.

We'll see you again in 2012, hopefully with our completed project soon!

05 December 2011

Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

In our latest installment of "Review the Movie Within Forty-Eight Months", we tackle The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. For those who don't already know, the movie is a whopping 166 minutes long, and it will take up an entire evening.

This, as a matter of fact, will be the first comment. The movie could have used an editor. BADLY. Yes, I do understand the hypocrisy in this statement, but I am also not a professional who charges $7.50 per viewing either. I appreciate the "show, don't tell" school of filmmaking, but I did not appreciate the time it took to set up the story in each excruciating detail, and it seemed that many scenes were rather superfluous. During one scene, the filmmakers chose to show ten minutes' worth of footage describing an accident. It took ten minutes because they not only wanted to set up all of the various little causes of the accident in detail, but they literally filmed each of these various causes and possible consequences. On top of this, the filmmakers used narration through the scene so that they could lead the audience all the way to the inescapable conclusion, though to be fair to these filmmakers they used the same narration all the way through the film.

The narration sets up the next point nicely. This movie felt like a derivative Forrest Gump in that you have the narration going on, a protagonist moving through the years and who makes sure to touch on all of the high points of the era (in this case, from World War I through about the late 60s), Southern accents that turn almost unintelligible, and the sense of groundlessness that both protagonists really seemed to share. If I wanted to see Forrest Gump again, I'd go get that. I would daresay that this movie wasn't as popular as Forrest Gump if only because there were more Baby Boomers alive in the early 90s than Greatest Generation members alive in the late 00s, but you didn't hear such cynicism from me. The same scriptwriter wrote both movies, which can certainly account for many of the similarities.

The last complaint is that the movie couldn't even keep its central message down very well. The main conceit in the movie is to have a character that is aging backwards. While Brad Pitt's face was certainly made up to appear as if he was going into different ages, I felt that the entity "Brad Pitt" was in the movie rather than seeing "Benjamin Button". In the first few scenes it was fine, but he started looking like John Denver (or maybe Philo from UHF) somewhere in the mid-1930s. After that, Brad Pitt's character seemed to jump in apparent age from about 55 or so directly to 30. When the 60s come and the plotmeat needs to be splurted into casings, it's Brad Pitt surrounded by a set from the 60s. If not for reading some of the story from Wikipedia, I would have thought that the whole movie was purely a Brad Pitt ego project rather than the filmmakers signing him to be part of their movie.

I will also admit some idiocy on my part too. The filmmakers were doing everything they could to make thunderstorms into a sort of leitmotif, but I could not divine any sort of consistent message from this leitmotif. Bad things happened during thunderstorms, good things happened during thunderstorms, I couldn't really grasp what they were trying to say. I suppose I could attempt to watch it again to really try to nail the message down, but then I'd be sitting for another 166 minutes and I'm not eager to start that again.

While researching, I read in more than a couple of places that it is a fantasy. It is not, it is pure and unadulterated love story and sentiment. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett did what they could to generate sparks but the jarring narration and the length were just too much to overcome.

Final rating (with the scale below) --- less than a 1, I wouldn't rewatch this movie.

An extra special Bronx cheer goes out to the one-bridge-too-far, when a filmmaker wants to make a heartwarming story of togetherness and tie it to a heartrending story of love and loss, yet names the main character "Button" and have his family run a button factory which goes by the name "Button's Buttons". Really, movie? If you're going to turn the original short story into something COMPLETELY different, make sure your details at least try to match the new somber mood.

* You love Brad Pitt
* You love hearing Brad Pitt's voice narrating stuff
* You want to relive your youth in 1920's and Depression-era United States (or remember being roughly 20 years old in the 60s)
* You're interested in seeing what Oscar voters see

* You can't make out simultaneous Southern Accent and Old Person Mumble and it bugs you pretty badly (Cate Blanchett, I'm looking at YOU.)
* You'd rather get schmaltzy about age by spending seven extra minutes watching Toy Story AND Toy Story 2 back-to-back.
* You have any other plans this evening.
* You want to understand why Oscar voters vote the way they do.
* You want to make a Rifftrax (seriously, too long and bloated, unless you're an awesome writer)

Don't miss these POINTS OF INTEREST:
* Cap'n Mike the artist
* The lightning dude
* Trying to figure out why the hell an American tugboat is being based out of Murmansk in the runup to World War II.

16 November 2011

Protect IP Act / Stop Online Piracy Act and its ramifications:

Hello again everyone,

It's been almost forever since I've posted, though there's definitely something stuck in my craw tonight. While I've been following net neutrality at a distance lately, there's something far more insidious... and that's the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, and Microsoft banding together to make laws for the United States.

You see, there's a problem they're having. They can't get anyone to buy their overpriced crap. Unfortunately, the Internet is a good place to share the fact that what they've got is crap, and while there are people who do share their crap online (gasp, even in the U.S.!) they still wouldn't be caught dead wanting to buy it.

Instead of facing facts and realizing that these people wouldn't buy their crap at any price other than free, they THINK that these people are just a market to be tapped and that once piracy is "stamped out", they will have increased sales.

The only problem? They're now using the U.S. Government to try to enforce ALL piracy (including overseas piracy) AND they're telling all of the Internet companies that M$, RIAA, and MPAA are not paying for this new and fascinating service. They're throwing it all on the communications companies (and to some extent, credit card providers by blocking sales) to police this. And the best part is that the U.S. Government is rolling so far backwards for this as to make any CLAIM enforceable rather than forcing these idiots to actually come before a court to defend themselves.

I call this bad news because ultimately what we do on this website is operate in the grey area of copyright, ostensibly to fight against crap. Of course, there are arguments that what my cowriter and I do is to make fun of stories written by people who are practicing, or who may have a good topic but not-so-great execution, and I agree. However, in order to make the jokes we do, we draw similarities to many aspects of life, including movies published by companies represented by the MPAA, or music published by companies represented by the RIAA, or... well, Microsoft. We do this to also poke fun at deserving representatives of bad music or movies (among other things). We are not making a thin dime off of any of this, but I really do not know what might happen if the webmaster currently running nabiki.com would ever receive one of these claim letters. Point being, I do fear for the future of both the online marketplace of ideas as well as the ability of this site (or many others) to continue, especially if copyrights become SO IMPORTANT that they can triumph over both free speech and the rights to a trial of your peers.

To be truthful, I do fear somewhat for the larger world of fanfiction too. I have no clue if sites like FFnet or Mediaminer would also be shut down, because there are a lot of copyrighted characters all over the place there, and those websites are run partially by advertisements (if I remember correctly). This is a serious issue, and there is a lot of money being poured in by our esteemed "corporate citizens" in order to ensure passage. (It's really amazing that our corporate citizens seem to have far more rights than, say, real citizens.)

Feel free to write your congressman and senator, the Protect IP Act is Senate Bill S968 and the Stop Online Piracy Act is HR3261. It's pretty sad in that this bill was voted down in 2010 as the "Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeiting Act", but BIG money talks and buys our lawmakers.

Whether or not they get it through this time, they'll keep trying. The very second they do, I will be happy to participate in ANY boycott that is organized, be it movie sharing/swapping with friends or the library, and my already barely existent buying of both music and Microsoft products will come to a very quick end.

Fight the power!

10 September 2011

Quick and Dirty Rifftrax Reviews updated!

Megane 6.7 has added another recent batch of reviews to the original "Quick and Dirty Rifftrax Review" post. It can be found at http://mstings.blogspot.com/2007/03/really-quick-n-dirty-rifftrax-reviews.html, or on the link at the right. Happy Rifftraxing!

Movie review -- Where the Wild Things Are and The Gruffalo

I know... it's been forever. And I post about movies that are months old to boot. I figure, some content is better than none, and I actually have a hook behind publishing for a change.

Recently, my family watched the two films in the title in a sort of all-day movie marathon. I am taken by both the similarities of both movies as well as the differences and the choices. I will lay them all out below:

1) Where the Wild Things Are -- 2009
Budget: $100 Million
Type: Live-action
Length: 100 minutes

I've read more than a few reviews of this movie. Many of the reviews said that this was a movie more for grownups, though we let our elementary-school children watch this movie. I can see why they say that. The book has terrific art yet a somewhat uncomfortable story of a boy who is very rambunctious and gets in trouble. In the book, it is his imagination that takes him to where the Wild Things are... in the movie, it's not quite that clear. The movie is a bit dark... when you animate Wild Things though, they have to have some sort of danger attached or they wouldn't be very wild. The Wild Things are very much reflections of Max's inner moods and demons. The movie itself gets very uncomfortable quite often.

The reviewers praised the movie, saying that it was a ride through childhood and reflects that childhood isn't the prosaic existence that many people may remember. I know my childhood was certainly rocky at times too, but the level of conflict and unevenness really is off-putting. My children did not like the movie, and I can agree with them. The biggest draw in the book is the art for me... and while the Jim Henson Creature Shop did the best they could, it just couldn't match the lushness of Sendak's art in the book.

This is a movie that I was happy to watch, but only once. I will implement a new review system here to kind of show my level of interest in movies, a one-to-four scale with a bit of blur in the middle steps...

1.I wouldn't watch it even if it was halfway through on TV.
2.I would watch it if it was on, but not intentionally cue it up.
3.I would get the tape and watch it occasionally
4.I would get the tape and watch it often.

(Please note that if a movie has a Rifftrax associated with it, I will give two ratings, one for the movie itself and one for the movie+Rifftrax.)

With that said, this movie was a definite 1. It's the definition of a 1, in that I would at least suggest that others watch it exactly once just to see if it's their bag, but it certainly isn't mine.

So, with that said, on to the second movie!

2)The Gruffalo -- 2009
Budget: possibly $3 million?
Type: Animated
Length: 30 minutes

This was the second movie of the set, and it was also based on a children's book with an unreal character. I suppose you can call me partial to animation, but I honestly felt more involved in this production than in Where the Wild Things Are. The art was very engaging and interesting, and even as the little mouse spun his tales of the fantastic Gruffalo I was not put off as much as when Max was promoting dirt-clod fights by throwing the clods into Things' heads. The Gruffalo was ugly but humorous, and the voices were terrific. To be truthful, the voices were probably two-thirds of the budget, but I still enjoyed the animation.

Additionally, the length of time was just good enough to capture little attention spans. My children definitely enjoyed this movie over the previous one.

My rating would be a solid 2.5 to 3. I would absolutely sit down to watch it, and as it's half-an-hour, I would not mind watching it with my children again.

I wrote this post though to compare and contrast a bit though. One is a massive Hollywood production and a bit of a vanity project for director Spike Jonze (and even a bit for producer Tom Hanks). The other is a BBC One television production. One had a script vastly expanded from the source material, and one was fairly faithful. One was moved into live-action and had painstaking work done to make the creatures come alive... and the other had creatures come alive through the non-reality of animation.

Ultimately, I wish Hollywood would do more to focus on making stories more honest, straightforward, and enjoyable to the children that they are trying to tell stories to. It is very incongruous to make a movie out of a children's book and tell everyone that it's only for adults, and while I see many of the critic's comments about the struggle of childhood and the monsters in our own moods, it doesn't make it enjoyable. I used to harp on audience many times back in the days when MSTing authors would present MSTings for C&C, and I wish that Hollywood would take this into consideration more often too.

18 June 2011

NGE, Psych, and other stuff...

It's summertime now, and time to finally get out of the house! Kind of, at least... there's a few things that need clearing up before that happens, and that's the status of the last two shows mentioned below.

Firstly, the good: Psych, which I've caught up through Season Five and I'm ready for Season Six. I still highly enjoy the writing on this show, it's managed to stay consistently good longer than House and the snark isn't quite as mean-spirited. I think that they swung the pendulum too far with House, the humor was terrific through about seasons two and three, but then you could tell that it wasn't out of fun that this was happening but that he was lashing out. Psych doesn't have that problem, you can tell that the main character is always playing. Just like MSTing, it's an art that suffers when the characters aren't having fun doing it... the tone is really important in cases like this.

Speaking of tone, that brings us to the second half of Neon Genesis Evangelion. That was a dense show, and for me a difficult one to not only get into but to enjoy. I'm not a huge fan of the giant robo genre... I've watched Escaflowne as well as Martian Successor Nadeisco. With that said, I couldn't even finish the final ten episodes of the show. Of course, there was an alternate reason for that as well, alluded to previously... I'd read so much fanfic from it that I was bound to get most of the canon stuck in my head anyway. NGE has been a very fertile ground for MSTing in the past, including Mystery Octagon Theater as well as our own Dot Every T productions... there may be a chance that we return to it in the future given a good enough target, and if I need to research I'll just watch it online. Other than that, I'm satisfied where I left it, knowing that I just didn't have the time nor attention span to be able to finish it and enjoy the series.

At this point, I need to cast about for both new shows to watch as well as new targets to MST. Megane 6.7 and I are still working on the rifftrax to The Last Dragon, we're hard at work editing our script and I'm still looking forward to finishing that. In the meantime, I'm looking for a good 'fic for a newer series, such as a Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya 'fic, or an Azumanga Daioh, or even a Code Geass 'fic. I think we've located one of the latter for a good target to check out, but that's all still up in the air.

Thanks all for sticking by us while we're going through our not-so-productive periods. We hope you enjoy the projects that we're currently working on, and we'll be getting them out when we can.

02 April 2011

The three-month update:

Not a whole lot to cover for three month's time, but there's a bit at least.

I need to plug Netflix one more time. There is a bit of a lag as far as getting anime series, because it seems that everyone wants disc one because they want to see what the series will be like before they get all the rest of the discs, but other than that it's a ton of fun to be able to get anime for free through the mail, and all you have to do is send it back.

I'm old-school 90s, where there were three options for my anime... one was to buy it tape-by-tape, which was $20-$25 and there was no guarantee you may like it. The other was to be able to find a place to rent it, which was a long shot at best (though my college town did have a place like that, thank heaven, even though I didn't rent too many because of the distance). Three was to borrow it from someone else, and since that entailed the other person to be able to lay out $20 or $25 per tape, you'd have to find some decently well-off friends. (Luckily, the college I went to also had an anime club with a small library, that was useful for borrowing too).

Compared to today, with streaming video, Netflix, and fansubs, it's a far different world now. Currently, our choice is the Netflix setup, because it's easier to find it and put it up on the big screen.

Anyway, the first series that I watched with my children is Princess Tutu. My daughter is into ballet, and we thought that it would be a good show for the family to watch. Thankfully, the grand majority of the show is age-appropriate for younger children.

The setting of the show is in (what looks like) any random old-fashioned European village. There are multiple characters who are not even human, and 90% of the cast dances ballet, even the anteater, hippo, and the teacher who is a cat. The series' protagonist is Duck, who looks like a complete human for the most part but if she quacks she turns into a duck.

I wasn't sure that I would enjoy this series, but there are a few points that I wanted to say that work very well in the show's favor, even if it is a show that young children are able to follow. First is that the show's tenor and tone change rather dramatically after episode 13, which *almost* looked like a conclusion. The second is that characters change alliance, which is always interesting in my book because of the interplay between characters who once were unhappy with each other but find themselves working towards a common goal. And the underlying basis of the story is extremely interesting too... you see, the story actually is a story within a story, and it gets very meta. It really allows room for thought and the second layer was more than enough to draw my attention as an adult (as the kids were able to focus on the first layer, which is still absorbing.) The ending seemed a bit rough on the surface, but fits very well with the second layer too. I would recommend this show to people who enjoy the interplay of meta (as I do), who enjoy classical music (as each episode is built around a different melody from history, such as Swan Lake or The Nutcracker), and especially if children are around as it would be a good anime for them to watch to enjoy the genre.

The other two shows I've been watching are "in progress" right now. First, I'm finally watching Neon Genesis Evangelion I had never watched it in the 90s, nor even in the 00s, bu I'm watching it now. It really is bizarre to watch this show because not only does it feel as if I'd watched every scene -- albeit out of order -- due to my enjoyment of anime music videos, but I've read more than my share of NGE fanfiction as well. Seeing the source material fills in more than a few blanks, though there weren't too many blanks.

I'm currently at episode 10 (or so), and there is definitely something striking about this series. The dub really sucks. Being a 90s anime, it's almost as if they created the dub prior to anyone caring about voice acting. My suggestion would be to see it subtitled, because then Shinji won't sound like a 20-year-old and Misato a teenage valley girl.

The third series is American. My wife and I have been watching Psych, thanks again to Netflix (streaming). The show answers a question I had, which would be what Dr. House would be like if he weren't so bent on self-destruction and tried to have fun. The settings even fall into that sort of stereotype, House on the East coast and Psych in sunny California. I enjoy these types of shows, they're the direct descendant of Sherlock Holmes stories yet still have a twist about them. I would recommend Psych to fans of the genre and even to non-fans to try out and see if they are enjoyable.

The work continues with Megane 6.7 and I, we're still doing a Rifftrax of The Last Dragon and hopefully we will be recording within the next couple weeks. Have a good Spring!

30 January 2011

Review - Firefly + Serenity

I've never really been a major party animal, but when my wife and I were invited to a new-year's party we decided to take the invitation -- there were other kids there, and that would allow my wife and I to have a bit of downtime and enjoy ourselves a bit more. It was not exactly a raucous party, the loudest we got was when we trotted out the karaoke machine and essentially had a sing-along. At the party though, our hosts also showed an older television series that neither I nor my wife had seen before: Firefly

Firefly was a show on Fox back in 2002, a "blink and you'll miss it" type that endured more than one preemption and an out-of-order broadcast, which included two episodes of the fourteen not being shown on original broadcast. We watched the pilot and second episode, and were about halfway through the third when midnight struck. After midnight, we needed to get the little ones home... at 12:30, they were pretty tired and we didn't want to deal with too-tired kids in the morning.

Anyway, we enjoyed Firefly quite a bit and when we realized that we were able to get it through Netflix Instant Queue, we eagerly watched through the end of the series. The series is an odd duck, it combines sci-fi and Old West-type settings. While there are spaceships, futuristic weapons, and tons of planets to look through, there are many elements of aging and oldness in the plot -- the spaceship itself, the captain who was an unsuccessful fighter in a war (yet allowed to remain free), all the characters that seemed to have a backstory including the teenaged girl, six-shooters, horses, and the towns themselves. The second story actually concerns a train robbery; there's a train, alright, but it's an anti-gravity setup rather than traditional rails. Other than the anti-grav, which enables it to float a couple feet off the ground, it's a traditional train the rest of the way.

There were more than a few things that detracted from the show, which included how cheaply it was made as well as what seemed like a few of the inconsistencies that it raised. However, I was extremely thrilled about the characters that the show drew and the wild, sprawling universe that it spawned. This was a place that I may not have wanted to live in, but I absolutely would have loved to explore. The characters felt real, and the writing was superb. At times it did feel that all characters were informed by the same writer, but then on the other hand I have seen more than a few situations where people do act similarly even while making pains to show how independent they are. I think the element that I enjoyed most about the series was that all emotions were in play; lots of humor, some sadness, quite a bit of drama, and none of it really felt contrived.

Serenity came out three years later into theaters. It was intended as a sort of epilogue to the series, as there are more than a few plot points that show that the crew will not be the same following the movie. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit because of the way that it was able to show the characters, for its higher budget as well as the pacing... two hours passed by, but it was a very quick two hours. My only complaint is that as the stakes were raised leading to the climax, it felt almost as if the screenwriters managed to back themselves into the same corner that the characters occupied, and that the finale was a bit implausible if stared at long enough. With that being said, this universe was a brilliant setting and the characters were well-developed, and if this idea happens to receive more attention in the future I will be glad to check it out.

Thankfully, as far as I know, both the series and movie are available through Netflix Instant Queue, I would recommend anyone who likes character-driven sci-fi or westerns to check both Firefly and Serenity out.

In other quick news, the AMFAS frontpage has been updated. The quote generator has all 88 old quotes but it also has new quotes from the MSTings that Megane 6.7 and I have completed through the last couple years, and I have also made the frontpage a bit more current with the times. Thanks for your support.

17 January 2011

New MSTing: "[None yet Suggestions welcome in Review!]"

Hey folks,

Megane 6.7 and I have finished our latest MSTing, to a Sailor Moon 'fic that went strangely untitled. There's a chess tournament, Canada, tons of senshi, and even more Sailor Mercury. It can be found at the top of our Recent Projects page on the main site, or at the direct links below:

Part 1: http://www.nabiki.com/mst/recent/none3k11.txt
Part 2: http://www.nabiki.com/mst/recent/none3k12.txt
Part 3: http://www.nabiki.com/mst/recent/none3k13.txt

Within the next couple days I'll have another blog post as well. Thanks for your patience and we hope you enjoy the MSTing!