Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Wow. Just, wow...

Someone hijacked Mr. Anibator's blog. It now points to gay porn. Apparently he upset the wrong person with his misanthropic meanderings. Sorry folks. We're a family blog...well, sort of, anyway. And we don't want people to get the wrong idea about us, in any event.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Cold Iron

(Obviously, images © Marvel Productions.)

Readers of our old blog (and yes, I will rebuild it...things are just bad right now) remember how unsatisfied I was with Ultimate Avengers 2. Which is why I didn't buyThe Invincible Iron Man on DVD, but rented it. (See, Blockbuster does have some uses. You can look at movies about which you have little interest, and that includes most of their stock.)

For those of you not into comics, or Marvel comics, understand that Iron Man is one of the most right-wing of Marvel's characters. The original origin story (that sounds redundant!) had millionaire weapons maker Tony Stark visiting Vietnam to see his weapons in use. He was kidnapped by a Communist general, after he had a near-fatal wound to his heart. Being a genius, Stark built a chest plate to keep his heart beating. Then he added stuff to make it a complete suit of armor, with jet boots and force-field repellers in the gauntlets.

Marvel's writers have done things throughout the years to try to make Iron Man interesting, and they were only partially successful. They fixed his heart so he could start dating women again, and not worry about taking off his shirt to reveal his Iron Man chestplate. They gave him numerous kinds of armor for special missions. Tony Stark became an alcoholic, and during rehab, had one of his assistants wear the armor. An enemy stole his armor's secrets, and Iron Man hunted down and destroyed the duplicates - even though some of them were bought by the military, making Iron Man a traitor to the USA.

None of this changed the idea that, if Dick Cheney read comic books, Iron Man would be his favorite hero. Wealthy, unrestrained in his use of force, protecting his wealth and power no matter what. And in Marvel's recent "Civil War" story line he promoted the registration of superheroes with the government, hunting down some of his old friends - including Captain America, who was American enough to see it as an exercise in facism.

Downplaying "Old Shell-Head's" comic book past in this animated film didn't make it any better. The story line takes place in China, where "rebels" are the bad guys who capture Stark, not Communist officials. And the main contention is the raising of a long-lost temple, which happens to be the center of a cult. The cult succeeds, and obtains the rings of an ancient figure called the Mandarin.

In the comics, the Mandarin was a cliched Yellow Peril villain. Here, he becomes a ghostly supernatural force (not the best foe for a technological hero) who takes over the hot Chinese chick, Li Mei (voice by Gwendoline Yeo, the Asian housekeeper from last year's Desperate Housewives).

The animation, mixing cel and CGI, works fairly well. But it's in service to a story where you can't gain any sympathy for any of the participants. Gee, I guess it's nice that Iron Man saved China from an ancient undead sorcerer, and that the hot Chinese chick got de-posessed, but I still kept the fast-forward button pressed through most of this movie.

The blandness of the plot, despite numerous off-screen deaths, made me focus on something peculiar to these Marvel productions, quasi-nudity. The show starts with Tony Stark (Marc Worden) in a hot tub with a well-built bit player. Their "naughty bits" were well hidden by mysterious clouds of steam. Later, when Li Mei is posessed by the spirit of the Mandarin, her nude form is carefully covered by mysterious streams of silk that hide her details but reveal her curves.

Y'know, guys, you're not selling that many of these things to kids; why not make it R-rated and show some nipples? At this point, it might be your only selling point. That way, perhaps you'd find some pressure to actually give the characters some depth to differentiate nude cartoon characters from pure porn. (I wouldn't call the character "the hot Chinese chick" if she didn't have less personality than Wendi Whoppers. And if you know who Wendi Whoppers is, shame on you.)

The only positive thing I can say about this DVD is that they avoided the terrible "blooper" section from the Ultimate Avengers DVD's, especially the "Tony Stark's House of Ribs" jokes that not even the most hardcore True Believer would laugh at.

Marvel was hoping to hitch their wagon to the rising star of Spider-Man's live-action movies. It hasn't worked. Come to think of it, if they had a working knowledge of what made a good cartoon, they could have made a good Spider-Man animated TV series - or kept alive the interesting CGI Spidey series they did with Sony a few years ago. Instead, they tried these lackluster DVD releases, failing to intrigue comic fans and non-comic fans alike.

There's still one more Marvel animated DVD in the pipeline, but if the trailer from Doctor Strange included in this disc's extras is an example of that movie, Marvel should cut its losses and end production. They couldn't pull off this militaristic, power-mongering military hero. What makes them think they can pull off the dimension-tripping, hippie-dippy, philosophically complex Master of the Mystic Arts in animated form?

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

The most contemplative bumpers...

This is a short post, as I'm busy trying to rebuild my studio into something for better and more frequent Cartoon Geeks podcasts. There are three types of bumpers on the Adult Swim service, and they promote three different mindsets.

The most famous ones are the white-type-on-black-screen bumps, the ones with the wiseass comments and self-commentary about AS programs. These are the ones that made the square-brackets [adult swim] logo famous.

Recently, these have gotten more tame and less outrageous. This should be a cause for concern. These are the simplest things to do, costing perhaps five minutes on a computer, and two minutes in the music library. The only thing I can assume is that the Williams Street facility is too tense to allow the usual jaunty attitude.

The Williams Street folks should be tense. The live-action shows that have replaced animated shows have had a few airings, and they are pretty bad. Saul and the Mole People deliberately copies other children's programming - the Sid and Marty Krofft shows with cheap chroma-key over miniature backgrounds, huge papier-mache heads on the "monsters," and campy dialogue delivered campily. The only thing added are a few blood and sex references. This would have been a forgettable sketch run very late on Saturday Night Live with no sequels. But AS is continuing to make it, because it's cheaper than animation.

Realizing that real animation work is getting scarce around Williams Street, of course they can't be terribly happy. They may also know some horrible things about the forthcoming Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie that were intended to be glossed over by that incompetent Moonanite ad campaign.

Okay, besides those bumpers are the ones done for the "Action" programming block. These are far more abstract, using assorted images and icons moving around the screen. These aren't for specific shows, but just "label" the action shows. These are really attractive, but they haven't been updated in about a year.

The third category of bumpers is what promted this meditation. They are modified photographs of deserted locations. Street corners at three AM, the street lights throwing pools of light onto deserted sidewalks. Mount Fuji at 6:02 AM, overlooking one of the businest cities in the world while it is still struggling to awaken. In this category are also pictures of deserted factories and rural barns, often with the words "Adult Swim" Photoshopped someplace inconspicuous into the picture. These are accompanied with very minimal music, sometimes someone noodling a few slow chords over a piano.

These are the most interesting to me, because they represent a truth about these late-night shows. They are, for the most part, for lonely insomniacs.

I knew this feeling in high school and college, as I stayed up late, too bothered to go to sleep because I felt that I hadn't really accomplished anything in the day. TV stations obliged me, with some of the cheapest and most oddball movies and programs running overnight on Friday and Saturday night. Back when most TV stations signed off sometime during the night, the last entertainment show of the program day was called a "spot carrier," a place to run any leftover commercials. They always seemed like places to meditate, think about your life, and try to sum up the day, as Number Six tried to escape The Village, or some anonymous adventurer was caught in an intrigue with some Middle Eastern model trying to become an actress.

That's the same appeal as the anime action cartoons run by AS late-night. The tragic romance of Cowboy Bebop, the serious struggles in Full Metal Alchemist, even the existential rigamarole of Paranoia Agent, all touch the soul of the lonely insomniac. Not as noisy as American movies, not as intrusive as American TV series. And the photo bumpers? They're very much what we insomniacs would see if we looked out our windows to see the world abandoned by those people who are blessed by sleep.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Annie Awards wrapup...

The Annie Awards have come and gone. Amazingly, my fellow ASIFA members made the best of it.

The results are here.

Too bad Bill Plympton didn't win for "Don't Download This Song." However, he did come away with a Winsor McCay award for his whole body of work. And much respect for Steve Worth, our second interview "victim," for his receiving the June Foray Award. Basically they give the June Foray award for being a mensch. Which he is.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Promotion Amateurs Strike for Al Quaida!

To promote the upcoming movie Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Colon Movie Film for Theatres, various people have been leaving little figurines of the Moonanites (as seen in picture) with blinking LED lights all over various cities. It was considered stupid, and ignored just about everywhere...except in Boston.

The ten devices shut down traffic in Boston while police went hunting for these things. I won't go through the details that other print places have mentioned. If you want to read about it in detail, here's a link:


Promotion campaigns run by amateurs, and without any oversight, can go bad very fast. In the animation field, perhaps you may remember the Internet firm icebox.com. One of their Flash-animated shows was Mr. Wong, about an old Chinese butler/servant who was a bitter, angry, drunk old bastard. You know, the kind of character that the Icebox target audience of twenty-somethings would take to their hearts.

To promote the show, the Icebox crew ran through some of their investors' money putting posters for "Mr. Wong's Takeout" throughout San Francisco's Chinatown. When you called the number on the poster, you got a tape of Mr. Wong cursing you. Exactly the kind of thing the resident Chinese community would love, right? This example of "viral advertising" got them only bad press, and hastened Icebox.com to its bankruptcy.

And a few weeks ago, a radio station's "morning zoo"decided it would be funny to have contestants drink as much water as they could to win some sort of stupid prize. Despite a phone call from a nurse, warning that this could be fatal, the contest kept running. And a woman died. The radio station's DJ's lost their job and the station is being sued.

Nobody died in the Boston incident, as far as we know...although tieing up traffic and making emergency personnel do something stupid instead of saving lives doesn't help. Some posters are complaining about the Boston police "over-reacting," although apparently harmless toys are used worldwide by terrorists as lures to get people to trigger bombs.

What this comes down to is just plain stupidity on the part of AOL Time Warner and the ad agency for the Aqua Teen movie. If the buzz I've picked up on the Internet has any validity, the movie itself is going to be a disaster. The show itself has lost about all its relevancy and interest, just as the "dorm and bong water crowd" who were its biggest supporters have lost all relevancy and interest. Apparently, the ad agency was doing this "viral marketing" to try to get a good opening-weekend box office, because they knew this movie had nothing going for it in the long run.

The irreverent and self-mocking bumpers on Adult Swim can't spin this into something amusing. Regardless of whether AOL-TW is guilty of anything, or is prosecuted for anything, this stupid promotional campaign smacks of desperation. What angers me the most is that the good shows on Adult Swim, like The Venture Brothers and Aaron McGruder's The Boondocks will suffer by association. They are the shows that should have gotten the nod for a theatrical movie, although they aren't owned by AOL-TW, and with this kind of nonsense it doesn't look like they'll get that nod.