13 October 2007

Ink Blots - Avatar: The Last Airbender, Season 1

This Blots is a bit unusual. I normally do movie or short reviews, but Season one of Avatar plays like a continuous story and deserves to be spotlighted. I was reluctant to watch the show at first. I couldn't see how it could live up to what everyone was saying. It heard outrageous claims that this was up there with Lost as one of the best shows on television. How could a Nickelodeon show, of all things, with a little bald kid with an arrow on his head really be that good? Well, believe the hype. This is a great show with well choreographed action and a compelling story arc with tight continuity.

Season 1 serves as the first of 3 chapters in a larger story. The first couple episodes introduce a world, rich with mythology and exotic hybrid creatures, in which four nations had long lived in harmony. Each nation more or less worships one if the 4 elements, and some members of that nation can "bend" or manipulate that element. There is also one person, the Avatar, that can bend all of the elements. He is reincarnated in a rotating cycle as a member of each nation, this time as an Airbender. His job is to keep peace and harmony. But 100 years ago, he went missing, and the Fire nation attacked the other nations. Cut to the present day. Two young members of the Water nation (Katara and Sokka) find the young Avatar Aang frozen in ice. They revive him and with him decide to return balance to the world. Unfortunately this Avatar has not yet mastered the elements aside from air. He must train and face off against the Fire lord before the war, which is going badly, is lost.

Season 1 not only follows our heroes as Aang and Katara study Water bending in search of a master, it also follows the exiled Fire Prince Zuko and his mentor Iroh whose only chance to regain honor is to capture the Avatar. One of the amazing aspects of the show is its depth of characters and growth demonstrated by Zuko who acts villainously, but is not a true villain in spite of his relentless hunting. Even Aang acts unheroiclly now and then... though he learns from his missteps.

During the season, the trio of Aang, Katara (Waterbender), and Sokka (Water warrior) accompanied by the flying bison Appa and lemur Mo-Mo, encounter a number of characters in their world, and though you do not realize it during the first season, they will weave complex stories through their interactions with the main characters when they return in season 2. Among these characters are a freedom fighter named Jet whose methods are a little extreme, Suki a tough female warrior that teaches Sokka a thing or two, the Blue Spirit a mysterious masked vigilante, and the spirit form of the previous Avatar, Roku, who serves as an Obi-Wan style guide.

It is fun to watch Katara and Aang's water bending skills increase throughout the season. At first they could just make waves but by the end, they control water whips, turn water into ice to freeze enemies, use water to heal wounds, and keep coming up with creative ways to bend water -- like the water octopus.

This show is kid friendly as it teaches morals (discrimination, gender equality, courage, honesty, compassion), though never too heavy-handedly, and features kids as main characters, but the growth of characters is unusual for a kids show. There are also comic elements, usually with Mo-Mo and Sokka, but not of the scatological kind. The humor is usually funny, not stupid. There is also plenty of action. Each tribe fights with its own style based on real martial arts and many battle sequences are quite elegantly put together.

The show also features noticeable influence of Miyazaki, the great Japanese animator. This influence is most noticeable when Aang links to the spirit world with its grotesque panda monster and nofaceish (Spirited Away) face stealer. Also, in the seasons epic showdown between Fire and Water nations, the spirit of the ocean gets pretty angry ala the forest spirit in Princess Mononoke.

I watched this first 20 episode season on DVD and couldn't stop watching just one more episode. A season 2 review is forthcoming, but let me assure you, it doesn't drop the ball. Anyways, Avatar truly is a magnificent show and those dismissing it for any reason are really missing out. It ranks as a modern classic, it is one of my favorite TV shows, and earns an easy A.

BUY IT NOW: Avatar on DVD

The Friends and Foes of Batman - Egghead

Egghead was a villain created for the 1960s Batman television series. Played by horror film mainstay Vincent Price, the character was identifiable by his pale bald head and white and yellow suit. He believed himself to be "the world's smartest criminal," and his crimes would usually have an egg-motif to them as well as including egg puns in his speech where appropriate such as "egg-zactly" and "egg-cellent." Additionally, he would use a wide assortment of egg-shaped weapons, such as laughing gas eggs and tear gas eggs (laid by chickens on a diet of onions).

Egghead schemed with Chief Screaming Chicken of the Mohican Indian tribe to revert control of Gotham City to the Chief's people. In return, Egghead would also govern the city and enable the criminal underground to run amok. Needless to say, their scheme was foiled by Batman and Robin. Egghead would return twice with his new partner and love interest, Olga, Queen of the Cossacks, and in exile from Bessarovia.

Egghead has rarely appeared in other Batman media outside of the 1960s series. It is somewhat doubtful if he is part of the comic book continuity, although he can be seen in Shadow of the Bat as an inmate of Arkham Asylum.

BUY IT NOW: Batman on DVD

Friend and Foe Profiles:

Ra's al Ghul
Talia al Ghul
Baby Doll
Bat-Hound (Ace)
Black Mask
David Cain
Calendar Man & Calendar Girl
Clock King
Crazy Quilt

The Dark Knight returns in 279 days!

12 October 2007

Golden Preview

This little gem of a trailer has arrived. I really think The Golden Compass is going to be a big hit come Christmas.

BUY IT NOW: The Golden Compass Novel

11 October 2007

I Talked to Optimus Prime!

Mr Prime himself called me up today to warn me of a turncoat friend and to remind me that his DVD is coming out next week... Wasn't that thoughtful? He can call you too and your friends using this pretty awesome marketing tool. What are you waiting for, brighten someones day with a personalized call from the big guy.

BUY IT NOW: Transformers Movie on DVD

More Goblin Bloggin

BUY IT NOW: Gobby on DVD

09 October 2007

Ink Blots - TMNT

The notion of mutated turtles, trained as ninjas who also happen to be in their teens, is a tough one to swallow... decidedly more so in live action than in animated form. I enjoyed the 1990's turtles movies for what they were, but "man-in-suit" turtles can only be taken so seriously. TMNT is the turtles return to the big screen. The story builds off of the continuity set up in previous films, but moves the stage to a CG platform. TMNT is the best of the bunch, and also the least vanilla-ey.

The film focuses mostly on Leonardo (Swords / Blue ) and Raphael (Si / Red). Michaelangelo the joker (Nunchucks / Orange) gets a few lines, and poor Donatelo (Bo Staff / Purple) does pretty much nothing. Speaking of Leo and Raph, they have a fantastic rooftop fight in the rain. This incredible sequence really stood out and showcased some fancy animation. While the CG models were not at the level of Pixar or Dreamworks, they were perfectly serviceable. And the camera movements were cinematic and top notch.

I also really enjoyed the films take on a new vigilante named the Nightwatcher (who may or may not be one of the turtles in disguise). He was a cool dude with an interesting design, and much tougher than Casey Jones, our other returning vigilante.

The voice acting was pretty good. I mean, they got Jean Luc Picard and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but my favorite voice was that of Splinter. Some old dude named "Mako" who also voices Uncle Iroh in the Avatar series. I am not familiar with the turtles voice actors, but they also did a good job and didn't sound too cartoony.

One of the the films weak point was the bad guy(s). TMNT could have benefited from a familiar and established foe ala The Shredder. I know they have been there before, but the cosmic statue / monster plot was a little generic with not too much real danger. The surprisingly strong character moments make up for some of the weak plot, but really the overall story is pretty forgettable... if not slightly convoluted. Still, those fight scenes were pretty cool.

One last question, since when did April O'Neal become trained as a ninja?

In any case, this was a fun little movie that gets me excited for the future offerings of the Imagi Studio with Astroboy and Gatchaman. I laso look forward to TMNT 2. In this first CG outing, the renaissance artists take home a B.


08 October 2007

Bender's Big Score Trailer

Those morons at Fox that canceled Futurama were fired, and beaten up badly. Say what you want but Futurama is a better show than the Simpsons. Its a tough call if you just look at the 4 best years of the Simpsons, but at least when the two shows were on at the same time, Bender and Co delivered the bigger laughs. And for Scifi nerds like me, Futurama always offers plenty of delightfully crazy scientific nonsense.

Anyways, there would be no justice in the universe if a turd like Family Guy can be brought back unless Futurama got a second chance too. So, GOOD NEWS EVERYONE, the return is just a month away. By the way, beware of the hypnotoad.

BUY IT NOW: Futurama on DVD