Entertainment News and Views
Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger's Blog
• Location: Durham, NC
Godannar: Not your Father's Giant Robot Series
ADV calls their upcoming Tuesday release of Godannar "the wildest giant robot series ever." That's a lofty claim, and in some ways well-founded. Let's assume for argument's sake that two camps will be interested in Godannar: twelve to 15-year-old boys, and Gen eXers who grew up with shows like Voltron and Robotech. ADV has rated it for mature audiences, so I'll proceed under the assumption that Godannar is aimed at the latter camp.
As a thirty-something who loves anime and loved Voltron, I got a kick out of Godannar. Every cliche is prodded for comic potential. The enemy is kinda glossed over; all we need know is that Japan is not safe, and all that stands between us and annihilation at the hands of gigantous blob beasts are shiny robotic suits with human pilots inside. Breasts come in two sizes, huge and huger-- one particularly well-endowed woman even stores her cell phone conveniently in her endless cleavage. The enemies are silly throwaways, and the pilots are laughably exaggerated (I loved the German team with the flame-haired fraulein shushing her Eurotrash partner). No one does anything in Godannar without melodramatically announcing their intentions ("Firing the Supersonic Lance of Doom Impairment!") or engaging ludicrously complex machinery. Crusty mechanics work on the exoskeletons, while preordained savior-schoolgirl pilots rush to class. There is nothing here we haven't seen dozens of times. Godannar plays like a big gag at the expense of the shows we loved, which in retrospect simply weren't any good. Fans of early mecha shows are automatically in on the joke.
In that sense, Godannar is actually better than the shows I watched growing up. Nonetheless, I couldn't help a mounting sense of distaste as Godannar wore on. The reasons are quite simple: pace and tone. Godannar combines the shrill pace of Puni Puni Poemy with the stultifyingly generic tone of Gravion. It seems as though anime producers are either searching for the holy grail mecha parody that will grab Generation X or, more disturbingly, simply producing manic, narratively conservative mecha shows without seeing the irony. If big breasts are funny, bigger breasts aren't funnier. If high pitch seems zany, a higher pitch doesn't seem zanier. At no point in volume one of Godannar was a plot in danger of taking its time, blossoming slowly but tensely into conflict or joy. The plot is thrown at the viewer in a hurricane-force pinwheel of characters, weapons, enemies, and themes, while the frequent fan service comes and goes like a strobe light.
Perhaps my experience would have been more positive if this screener had provided the much-preferable Japanese language track, or not maintained a screen-wide, two sentence disclaimer along the top third of the screen. The English track is well-crafted, but I can't escape the suspicion that much of Godannar's intended irony has bee tossed out the window. Perhaps most of all I'm simply longing for a series with the depth, tension, and masterful pace of Neon Genesis Evangelion. I'm sure the anime producers are, too.
The Inconsistent Gardener
I go to the movies about 2-3 times a year, because I vastly prefer my own home theater, the beer and silence and manners it offers.
Even more rare is when my wife wants to see a movie in the theater. She has less tolerance for humanity-in-a-box than I do, which is saying something. But Ebert's review convinced her that The Constant Gardener was a must see. (Should it pain me that my wife trusts another reviewer's tastes over my own? Well... though she's a great one, I probably wouldn't use her as my psychologist, so it all evens out.)
The Constant Gardener deeply impressed me in some ways. It uses in-vogue documentary techniques to give the fictional tale an absolutely realistic sense. From the winged-migration-like birds to the gritty outdoor scenes, even the quiet moments of daily life, The Constant Gardener walks and talks like a documentary. This is effective when credibility needs to be absolute, but a detriment when people are reading the newspaper or walking down the hallway. In other words, I wish the technique had been used judiciously instead of onmipresently.
Rachel Weisz shines. I'm not sure that The Mummy Returns really tested her gifts. She is absolutely convincing, both in her love and her secrecy. Ralph Fiennes is downright approachable, and transitions believably from dweeb to truth vigilante.
Finally, the stark subject is a welcome change from the dumbing down we're often subjected to in domestic films. City of God was anything but trite, so this is to be expected from Fernando Meirelles, but it is refreshing nonetheless.
Despite these positives, The Constant Gardener left me feeling empty afterward. Perhaps it was because the leads never had a fully honest connection to each other, and their relationship grew most post-mortem. Maybe I reseted the constant stream of red herrings. Maybe African tragedy is just too sad.
I can say with certainty that the ending was dissatisfying. After the immense growth of his character, the leverage he'd gained, why did Justin lie down? He had a plane, a gun, money, knowledge, and friends. He had a mission with much left to accomplish. Perhaps his execution was certain. But wouldn't staying alive have been a more fitting tribute to Tessa? Wouldn't the attempt to right things, disburse funds, help people-- even the attempt to live-- been the better course?
BLOG REVIEW: Double Dare with Bad Girls and Footballer's Wives
I recently screened a trio of British efforts courtesy of Capital Entertainment. It is always fun to see what people are watching on the other side of the pond.
BLOG REVIEW: Intentions
It is difficult for me to give an honest review of the content in Ariztical Entertainment's Intentions, so I hope any actors, directors, and other crew involved in the film will forgive me. Why? The technical quality of this screener is absolutely wretched.
DVD critics usually receive advance copies of the final product, but sometimes we get "check discs" or screeners. These can range from near approximations of the final disc's quality to unrestored bare-bones transfers. Even so, Intentions has shockingly bad visual quality. Aside from dizzying grain, the transfer had microblocking, macroblocking, and other forms of blocking that haven't been invented until now. I view DVDs on a projection screen, and in some cases the image was formed of vague blocks literally the size of my fist, so fuzzy and inscrutable that I couldn't determine what was being depicted onscreen. One love scene with a tasteful breast in silhouette resembled a ziggurat turned on its side, with a small hut at the top and hordes of square birds swarming around it.
Perhaps shock colored my experience, but Intentions didn't captivate me. Perhaps the way people "emoted" by tilting their heads a lot (or the lagging pace of the film) prevented Intentions from coming together. It's a shame, because the story is a low-key, non-obvious tale of sexual identity. Maybe the commercial release is better, and maybe you'll be able to enjoy the film for what it is, but my experience was not pleasant.
DVD collecting demands a new vocabulary. Do you see yourself in any of these faux definitions? Be honest, now.
"When home video enthusiasts first confront the dizzying array of aspect ratios, anamorphusion usually follows."
"When bludgeting his choices for dinner that evening, Mark realized that The Cheesecake Factory was worth a Warner Classics collection, while Long John Silver's would only cost a pre-viewed copy of Blue Crush."
"John had an advanced case of catophilia, which led him to purchase a barcode scanner and custom-made shelves to house his DVDs."
"Sally's catophilia made her inventory her collections in DVD Profiler, Guzzlefish, and DVD Spot."
"The Jungle Book 2 DVD had one decent production featurette buried among a bunch of featurtisements."
"He poked his finger playfully through the optorfice."
"Do not use too much finger pressure on the optorfice, or it may develop a fissure."
"Jane protested that the Dude, Where's My Car? qualibuster had been a gift from her clueless aunt."
"Fiona didn't understand her husband's region envy of Brotherhood of the Wolf especially given their region-free DVD player and the close proximity of Canadian video stores to Detroit."
"After her smudgasm, Betty verified the integrity of the DVD by scrutangulation."
"When Betty watched John pick up the DVD by the middle instead of the edges, she had a smudgasm."
"He resented the tyrrany of those miserable paper cases that misaligned the precise order of his collection; his snaprage was palpable."
"Savvy DVD consumers will often shake a DVD to listen for loose splineters."
Madlax: no, it isn't about a road warrior on diarrhea medication
Anime has reached a shiny layer of polish lately. Even the most rudimentary series rustle up eye candy galore. Madlax is a great looking series, with an emotionally resonant opening theme song, smooth animation, convincing explosions, and other technical touches that make it shine.
Fortunately, and perhaps more important, the material shows promise. The first episode is a rousing adventure story that stands on its own. A stunning secret agent lands in the midst of a skirmish, and uses a host of clever espionage techniques to navigate her way through the mess. Some of the sequences reach the stylized heights of action and character that characterize the most memorable anime.
The second episode is less impressive. It shares no obvious link with the first episode, taking great pains to introduce us to a flighty character who has no obvious importance. This will surely change as the series wears on, but as of this moment I have very little to go on.
Madlax is one part action spectacle, one part slow characterization. The glossy technical presentation pushes it over the edge, making it a series I'll look forward to seeing unfold.
Full Frame kicks off tomorrow!
Last year, the line went out the door and around the block as thousands of expectant patrons tussled over the scant seating for "An Evening with Michael Moore." Moore was discussing his new documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, a film that was already generating some heat among the select group of festival goers who had witnessed its world premiere. As we know, the film generated some heat in the rest of the world shortly thereafter.
If you're going to be near Durham, North Carolina within the next four days, you should stop by the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and take in a film. There's no telling which documentary will touch a nerve this year. For the last couple of months, I've been among the volunteers who have been working to make the festival happen. The day is upon us, and we're all pretty excited. If you want to be ahead of the curve on this year's 9/11 or Supersize Me!, this is the place to be.
Full Frame will screen ~77 new documentaries as Films in Competition for awards. We'll host nearly 150 filmmakers, from Martin Scorsese, Ken Burns, Barbara Kopple, and Ric Burns to local filmmakers to an exchange group of documentarians from Turkey. Pile on a handful of parties, panel discussions, screenings of films not in competition, and special events such as "An Evening with Martin Scorsese" and "An Evening with Ken Burns and Ric Burns: The 2005 Full Frame Career Awards" ...it gets interesting.
I'll post more about this beast as the week progresses; I'll be working the Filmmaker Party and Filmmaker Lounge, so who knows what interesting things might come to pass. I hope to see some Verdict readers at the festival: I'll be the guy in the purple "Volunteer" shirt and ponytail.
Who reads DVD Verdict?
Warner brothers has been cranking out a river of DVD goodness of late, and one good example is the Gangster Collection. I had some kind words for the commentary track in Angels With Dirty Faces, and to my pleasure the review was read by the professor who provided the commentary. Film is a community; it is good to remember that from time to time.
"I wanted to thank you for the incredibly kind comments on my ANGELS WITH
No... thank you, Professor Polan. Good DVD commentaries are tricky, and you delivered.
From the Reader Mailbag
Catherine Breillat's Fat Girl is an intense film with heavy sociological overtones, explicit sexual situations, and one of the grimmest endings since Se7en. Even among Breillat's divisive body of work, Fat Girl is particularly provoking. I was pleased to receive this reader feedback, which proves that sometimes you just have to relax, laugh a little, and go with it:
Gotta Respect the Owls
A trio of barred owls hangs out in our neighborhood, and they really like my backyard. At night, they lull me to sleep with a cacaphony of weird hoots and the strangled yelps of their prey.
The owls are relatively tame. All three descended on my yard one afternoon while I was watering the plants. One swooshed down about 48 inches from me, blotting out the sun on his way towards a barely perceptible vole at the base of a tree. The shadows of the other two circled over the grass as they watched. The first one flew to a branch and started eating his catch. The other two touched down on a branch about ten feet away from me and watched their brother dine. I went inside, got the camera, came back out, and snapped a few pictures that went unnoticed. Then, to cover my bases, I switched on the flash and took another picture. As one, the two owls swiveled their heads from opposite directions to fix me with a curious stare. I snapped the picture below, the only one that turned out well.
After that, the owls and I chatted about the weather and the generally poor condition of the roofs in our neighborhood. They told me to clean out my gutters. I invited them to return the next day for tea and voles, but they stood me up. Anyway, nature is cool and stuff.
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