25 March 2006

The Grease Trap - Mononoke Hime

This was a pretty sad week for new shows. But this evening, a redemption for the ol' boob tube took place as Princess Mononoke aired on The Cartoon Network as part of a "Month of Miyazaki." This is one of my absolute favorite movies. It has gorgeous animations, a beautiful score, and it makes you think. It was also nice to see some blood and dismembered limbs on TV for a change. A review will be upcoming in my Disappearing Ink feature, but for now just let me say this was far and away the best thing on this week.

The second best program I watched was the unaired episode Trash from the way too short Firefly series. While I watched it on DVD, it's still technically a TV show. This episode features the return of Saffron and a neat little heist. If you have not seen Firefly, find a way! It may take a couple of episodes to win you over, but it will win you over. If you are interested I will lend you the DVD.

24 March 2006

Pajama Party - Ubermensh Returns

In less than 100 days, everyone's favorite Kryptonian is returning to the big screen. Old Kal-El is back! Superman Returns is a semi-sequel to 1980's Superman II film. There were of course already Superman III, and Superman IV (The Quest for Peace) films, but this one chooses to ignore those last two efforts.

On a side note, Superman III isn't actually that bad. It gets a bad wrap for heavily featuring Richard Pryor, and being "silly." The movie also shows a really ugly lady get turned into a cyborg. That part used to freak me out as a kid. It also features a cool scene of Supes vs Clark Kent (wait, aren't they the same... shh! Don't reveal his secret identity!). Lana Lang is a nice mix up from seeing Margot Kidder AKA the worst Lois Lane ever, though Lois does appear briefly. Anyways, to me, the worst part of Superman III is when the "walk" and "don't walk" traffic lights get into a fight. That's pretty hard to defend.

Back on topic, this movie occurs after the events of Superman II (remember the one with "Kneel before Zod!") even though the actors, especially Lois, look much younger. What remains to be seen is if Superman still has his extra powers as seen in Superman II (the ability to lift people with a finger ray, amnesia inducing kiss, teleportation, hologram projection, and my fav, the ability to throw a giant cellophane 'S' net from his chest). In spite of its faults, Superman II is a great movie, and my favorite of the series so far. Superman Returns occurs several years later, having Superman return to Earth to find that Lois and Earth have moved on without him. A teaser for the film is up, and a trailer should show up in around a month. While the teaser is pretty decent, my favorite part is the John Williams score. I hope the trailer just blows me away.

Returns is expected to be a big success. It had better be, with a budget hovering around $200 million. But Warner Brothers has a lot of faith in Bryan Singer after his success helming the X-Men franchise. Plans for a sequel are already underway. What will they call it? Superman Returns 2? Superman Forever? Superman VI (that would confuse a lot of people)? There are also plans for a Supergirl movie if Returns is a hit. I assume this would not be a follow up to 1984's Supergirl film. There are still plans as well for a Batman v Superman match up. Originally that movie was going to launch new franchises for Bats and Supes, but they went this route instead. I don't know Bats v Supes seems a little gimmicky to me along the lines of Freddy v Jason, or Alien v Predator.

I think Supes has a good chance of being #1 this year, though The Da Vinci Code (in spite of Tom Hanks' pseudo mullet) and Pirates of the Caribbean 2 may be tough competition. Anyhow, here's to hoping this movie is not only a success, but is as good as Batman Begins as well.

22 March 2006

Disappearing Ink #5 - Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Sci-Fi and animation has never been a very successful combination, and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was unable to turn that trend around. While this film lost over $100 million in the box office, it is deserving of a second chance. The plot is essentially video gamesque. Deadly phantoms roam the earth after arriving via giant meteor. Simply coming in contact with these spirits is deadly. But Dr. Aki Ross has found 5 of 8 life forms that she needs to neutralize the phantoms. During the course of the movie, she must find the remaining 3.

I don't want to spoil the movie, but there is quite a bit of action throughout, and plenty of death to go around. The death effects are particularly cool, and contact with a phantom causes a humans spirit to be sucked out of its body. The animation in amazing in this film, and stills are beautiful. I don't think any film since has captured the realism as FF; however, some of the movements of characters are a little unnatural. Anyways, this film is way better looking than Kaena: The Prophecy, though the style is very similar. Also, while there is a happy ending, its happy in the sense that not everyone dies as opposed to the War of the Worldsish ending where nobody you care about dies. The song during the closing credits is also worth checking out, and perfectly fits the films mood. Lastly, there are top rate voice actors in this film, from Donald Sutherland, to Ving "don't call me Michael Clark Duncan" Rhames, crazy eyed Steve Buscemi (without the crazy eyes of course because of the animation and all), Ming-Na AKA Mulan, and even Alec Baldwin.

So why did this film do so poorly? Well, first of all the title Final Fantasy is a double edged sword. It is a well known and extremely popular brand. While the film certainly contains themes of the final fantasy saga (balance of man and nature, spirituality, and a character named Sid), there are no swords or magic, no chocobo or moogles, and the film is set on Earth rather than some newly imagined world. Fans of Final Fantasy seemed to struggle with accepting this film into their cannon. A better title would have been simply The Spirits Within. Also, as stated above, Sci-Fi animation seems to be a big turnoff to movie goers. People want real explosions, and mature sci-fi. Unfortunately, many people (read Americans) ignorantly think cartoons = kids and do not expect an animated film could satisfy adult expectations. Lastly, the plot is a little too video game like, and a bit predictable. Some of the characters, especially the antagonist General Hein, are not as developed as they could have been. It really is too bad this film bombed though because I would have loved to see the planned follow-up. But, $100 million is a big loss, and in this case the studio was bankrupted. :(

All in all, this is an enjoyable film. It is ambitious and beautiful despite not really meriting the title of Final Fantasy. Nevertheless I grade this film a respectable B.


Check out my past reviews:
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Grave of the Fireflies
The Iron Giant
Kaena: The Prophecy

20 March 2006

B. O. Smelloscope - The Witch Casts Expelliarmus on The Wizard

Last winter, there were 3 movies duking it out for the top box office spot: King Kong, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Looks like the longer the title the better. Kong dropped out of contention early with a disappointing run (though $217 million is hardly chump change). But Potter and Narnia have quietly been vying for first place since December. Potter opened 3-weeks ahead of Narnia with an enormous $102.6 million opening weekend. Narnia on the other hand took home a modest $65.6 million its opening weekend. The gap continued to widen. After 10 days out, The boy who lived had amassed $201 million to The Lion's share of $113 million, an 88 million bones difference! At this point, it seemed that The Pot would take the crown, and The Wardrobe would have to settle for an unexpected victory over that damned dirty ape.

But over the Christmas holiday, something amazing happened. While Potter's number of screens had dwindled after a month of release, Aslan was still showing on many screens, having been out a shorter time. TCoN:tLtWatW was gaining ground daily, as much as $7 or $8 million a day. By day 38 of Narnia's release it had mustered $261 million to Potter's $260 million. Of course, since Harry had been out three weeks longer, its total was still greater, but there was a glimmer of a possibility that as long as Narnia kept the pace that Potter had set from day 38 on, it could pull off the upset.

After the holiday surge, however, Narnia lost some steam. By day 40, Hogwarts had regained the lead. Over the next few weeks, Cair Paravel slowly chipped away at the gap on same day earnings, and the totals of both slowly crept upward. It wasn't until day 72 that Narnia finally passed Potter again with $286.2 million to the wizard's $286.1 million. And from that point on, Narnia continued to win every days compared take. At this point it was all but inevitable that the CS Lewis estate would out earn Jo Rowling, assuming that it stayed in theatres 3 weeks after Potter left (to make up for Potter's extra 3 week head start). While Goblet did get a boost from dollar theatre release, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy could expect that same boost in the future.

With the HP4 DVD release last week, movie going for the film would finally come to an end. This past weekend, not only was Narnia ahead for same day out comparisons, but finally Narnia's total box office eked past Potter's with $289.8 mil to 289.7 mil.

So what does all this mean? Nothing really. Potter still dominated in the worldwide box office taking first place with a total of $891 million to Narnia's third place $694 million take. But domestic total is usually what studios use for bragging rights. Potter's second to Star Wars finish is quite impressive and assures a big budget for next years planned sequel The Chronic-what of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Anyways, it was fun to follow this close race. I'm surprised Narnia did so well. I did enjoy the film. It was well done, and true to the book. Certainly it wasn't a disaster that it easily could have been if done poorly (I was quite skeptical of the talking beavers), but probably I prefer the Potter franchise overall. It will be interesting to see how the much less known Narnia sequels perform. Then again, its been so long since I have read those books, that I am anxious to see them onscreen. Check here for more details on this photo finish.

19 March 2006

News-o-Rama

Looks like there is going to be a new season of Futurama! According to Billy West, voice of Philip J Fry, 26 new episodes have been ordered. This is a much more deserving revival than that of Family Guy last year. Futurama is a truly great, smart show, perhaps too smart for TV. Then again, it was nice to the axe while still in its prime as opposed to The Simpsons which limped through several mediocre seasons before making a comeback this year with its best episode run since season 9. Which of Fox's cancelled shows will be renewed next? Firefly maybe? I wish.

Hopefully this trend doesn't make Fox gun-shy about canceling shows that actually suck (War at Home comes to mind). They certainly have a fair load of crap shows that the world could do without. Is that hot dog on a stick show still on? What about the Pamela Anderson Lee Anderson show? Would anyone miss those? I for one just can't wait to kiss Bender's shiny metal @$$ one more time.