14 April 2006

Pajama Party - Modern Marvel

It was announced this week that Peter Segal is going to direct a new Shazam! film. Now, this sounds like Shaq "Under Siege" in a sure fire bomb, but this is Peter not Steven, and Shazam!, not Kazaam. Not that this will be any better... We will just have to wait and see. Peter has directed comedies in the past including The Longest Yard and 50 First Dates, so it looks as if this one will go the "funny" route. I pray they don't go ultra campy. Funny superheroes haven't worked very well for a loooong time.

So who is Shazam! you ask? Actually, "Shazam!" is the word that Billy Batson says when he wants to transform from a 14 year old kid to a adult superhero in a red shirt adorned with a lightning bolt earning him the nickname "The Big Red Cheese." The real name of this grown-up chap is Captain Marvel. This guy is such a goodie-2-shoes, he makes Superman look like an anarchist. So, the funny thing is that Captain Marvel was created in 1939, shortly after Superman. Since then, DC Comics, owner of Superman, has also acquired the rights to Captain Marvel; however, in the meantime, Marvel Comics trademarked the name Captain Marvel so that DC comics cannot use the name for their own comic book. Hence, they settle for Shazam! To be fair, Shazam is the name of the wizard that originally bestowed powers upon Billy. So Shazam is a person, just not who most people probably think he is.

Captain Marvel has a whole supporting cast including Uncle Marvel and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, but most notable are Mary Marvel (Billy's twin sister) and Captain Marvel Jr. Whether or not they will make it into the film remains to be seen. In fact not much else is known about this film just yet. But on a closing note, SHAZAM is also an acronym for the powers Captain Marvel obtains, and it is broken down as follows:

S for the wisdom of Solomon
H for the strength of Hercules
A for the stamina of Atlas
Z for the power of Zeus
A for the courage of Achilles
M for the speed of Mercury

12 April 2006

Disappearing Ink #8 - Anastasia

I just discovered a new Disney Animated film! Actually I am well aware that Anastasia was produced by 20th Century Fox, but I am also sure that some reading this are scratching their heads and wondering if I just might be wrong. This film was released in 1997 a few months after Disney's Hercules, and collected a respectable $58 million domestically (by comparison Hercules took $99 million). Anastasia was directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman (not Coleman) who brought us The Land Before Time, The American Tail, and later Titan A.E. This film seems to have borrowed most heavily from the Disney cookbook as most of the Disney ingredients are here. Princess? Check. Evil supernatural villain? Check? Talking animal sidekick? Check. Musical performances? Check. But unlike most Disney films, this is set in the real world. 1920's Russia to be exact. I am not too clear on my 20th century Russian history, but I think there were some Bolsheviks, and a revolution, or something like that. While the ingredients are here, this film should not be dismissed as a Disney knock off. Its really a bit darker, and more real world based and brings its own flavor to the party. Having just seen it for the first time, it was not the girly saccharine fairy tale I was expecting.

Anastasia (the princess) is the daughter of the Romanovs, who were ousted from power. Being young during the revolution, and not knowing her true identity, she becomes part of a con to reunite with her Grandmother "posing" as the real Anastasia. Voiced by Kirsten Dunst (young) and Meg Ryan (older) Anastasia is a likeable character who makes this story worth telling. And like any good princess, she gets her fair share of glamorous gowns to model (dolls for sale?).

I am not sure how historically accurate this film is, but I am pretty sure that Rasputin the Mad Monk (the films villain) was not a zombie (but to be fair, I think I remember from History class that he was one tough dude to kill and on further investigation according to the wikipedia he survived cyanide poisoning, being shot three times, and being beaten only to finally drown while trying to claw his way out from under a sheet of ice). He is a great villain, fun to watch and just menacing enough to be a threat, though he doesn't monopolize the story-- which is a good thing. He drives the tension in a train wreck sequence and in a big fight at the end, but doesn't interfere from the truly dramatic moments such as the reunion between Anastasia and her grandmother.

In the film, Rasputin has an albino bat (talking sidekick) named Bartok, voiced by Moe the bartender, who was popular enough to have his own sequel, but I was underwhelmied by his performance. I am not even sure he was supposed to be comic relief. He just never approached funny. Besides, I am not sure what business a talking bat had in this film's realistic setting other than to meet the Disney film checklist.

Several good musical numbers performed by the characters are peppered through the film. They are not so much catchy as they are appropriate and mood developing, my favorite being the haunting Once upon a December. This songs tune is integral to the score, and comes from a music box which is a key plot element. So, while Anastasia may be Disneyesque in its use of music, the choices for songs are different and more suited to the film's darker edge than would be songs along the lines of Be Our Guest (and while Angela Lansbury voices a part in this film she doesn't sing but Frasier Crane's character does).

One note on the animation style-- It makes use of rotoscoping, a technique in which actors are filmed and animated over, to give the animation more realistic movements (this same tool was used much more noticeably in A-Ha's Take on me video). It's sort of a pre-motion capture technique, and also adds to the realistic feel of the film.

Rotten Tomatoes gives this film a generous 93%. I would have to say that while I enjoyed it, Anastasia was not awe inspiring or anything like that. As a romantic drama I think it is more suited for women than men, but I feel no shame in giving Anastasia a B.

Check out my past reviews:
Princess Mononoke
The Black Cauldron
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Grave of the Fireflies
The Iron Giant
Kaena: The Prophecy

11 April 2006

Sandwich 2.0

Nothing says fresh like 7-11. Right? The only food item I am brave enough to buy from a gas station (other than the beverages in the back fridges) is the occasional Slurpee. Sometimes their food looks ok, but you know those Big Bites have been spinning for days, and who knows how many bugs have made the chili sauce their graveyard. But now from this same champion of freshness comes the most ridiculous sandwich I have ever seen with an equally ridiculous name. As a follow up to my previous sandwich discussion, here is some more fuel for the fire that you can make a sandwich of anything. The P'EatZZa mixes upper and lower cases with the same reckless abandon that it uses to squash old deli meat between cold slices of rubbery pizza. Mmmmm. I guess nothing is good enough by itself anymore, and its only a matter of time until the hot-fudge and bacon sundae sandwich makes its debut. But until then, read about the two new mouthwatering P'EatZZa choices.

1) Mouth-watering turkey on pepperoni pizza with ranch sauce and lettuce.

2) Zesty ham and salami on cheese pizza with peppers and lettuce, topped with oil and vinegar.

Where can I get one of those delicious pizza, ham, and vinegar sandwiches? And lest you forget, if the food combination isn't gross enough for you, remember these are available only at 7-11!

10 April 2006

Is Noah in Charge of Movie Ideas?

Why are there 2 of every kind? And why do they always come out within a year of each other? It's one thing when the super hero genre becomes profitable, or science fiction films ride on the coattails of Star Wars. Capitalizing on the success of a big hit makes sense, but its another thing altogether when the films are based on such specific and similar ideas. All of a sudden asteroids are a big craze that everyone wants a double dose of!? Why? Often these films are in a race to get to the big screen, as if there is some desperate insatiable demand out there waiting to be fed. Lets examine some of the most blatant examples.

Lets start with one of the worst offenders opening this week: Madagascar (2005) vs. The Wild (2006)
Granted, I haven't seen either, but I am not sure which one is which. Both seem to be about zoo animals that escape a New York zoo and travel to Africa for one reason or another. Both have a lion and giraffe, but I think only one has a koala and the other has some penguins. Really, this is probably the worst offender since the Go-Bots ripped off the Transformers. Noah would really like this pair since its full of animals, except that I don't know how well two male lions would do at propagating their species. I hear they are also making Madagascar 2, as if this tale really needs to be told 3 times. Some people may really be thrown though when they think they have already seen part 2 (assuming anyone actually sees The Wild).

A few years back, the threat of reality TV inspired the next showdown: The Truman Show (1998) vs. EdTV (1999)
Both were sort of "scary" possible futures for TV shows where peoples personal lives were invaded and made into TV shows. The only real difference was that Truman didn't know he was on while Ed did. I guess that tiny difference constitutes viable intellectual property. Ah what a genius spin. Little did we realize that pretty soon half of prime time would be shows making these "crazy" movie premises seem tame.

The end of the world: Armageddon (1998) vs. Deep Impact (1998)
To be fair, Armageddon was about an asteroid as compared to Impacts deadly comet. Other interesting differences, if a comet was destroyed as proposed in Deep Impact, the resulting debris would cause so much friction that the Earth's atmosphere would rise killing off all life-- even without the titular impact. Sadly, Armageddon was the more scientifically sound with the splitting of the mass to avoid Earth entirely. I am not making this up either, I heard it form a seminar at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. Its nice to know that people aren't too worried about death from big rocks anymore.

Insects had their 15 minutes with Antz (1998) vs. A Bug's Life (1998)
1998 was a real year in the creative doldrums I guess, this being the third pair of offenders that year. I guess it's unanimous that ants are the good guys of the insect kingdom, as both focus on a day in the life of our six-legged friends. I guess that is because ants aren't really gross (like spiders or grasshoppers), though they are pretty annoying when you find them in your picnic basket. I guess that we learn all we cared to about how bugs spend their time. Lucky us.

All of a sudden the ocean became mysterious with a triple threat: The Abyss (1989) vs. Leviathan (1989) vs. Deep Star Six (1989)
I am pretty sure all of these have aliens or monsters living in the ocean depths. I remember being bombarded by commercials for these three and really wondering why there were so many movies on the topic. Its been 17 years, aren't we about due for another journey to the deep? Maybe we will get 3 more all at the same time.

All the good ol' west: Tombstone (1993) vs. Wyatt Earp (1994)
So Wyatt Earp is a fairly interesting fellow, but he died in 1929. Is 64 years a good amount of time for an anniversary celebration?

Another animated showdown: Finding Nemo (2003) vs. Shark Tale (2004)
I am sure Troy McClure wouldn't complain of this fishy onslaught, but it was bit much for me. The ocean sure is wondrous, but its not big enough for quite so many fish stories.

Another disaster averted: Dante's Peak (1997) vs. Volcano (1997)
People in the 1990's loved looking for creative ways to die. From asteroids to volcanoes, nature had it out for mankind. Are we really worried that a stream of lava will be our doom? I always though Los Angelino's had to worry about earthquakes... As if that wasn't enough. Both movies were lame, so it's a good thing we got 2 of them.