Saturday, July 28, 2007

This is the last dance with Comic-Con

We're going to still go ahead with the podcast...or at least try to do it. However, no more trips to San Diego for us. A bit of explanation...

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Gonna try and get a CG podcast done from SDCCI

It's almost time for San Diego Comic Con. Will we be able to get a podcast out from the wilds of steamy, sleazy SD? Like they used to tell me to say when I did my time working at Fry's Electronics..."I don't know, let's find out!"

Keep checking the site. Not making any promises. However, I do have my MacBook this time. A Mac with GarageBand is the ultimate podcasting machine. Hawesome.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tekkonkinkreet: yet another classic Japanese mindf**k anime

On July 1st, I went to see not one, but two movies. One was SiCKO, of which I will only say two words: SEE IT. (This does not apply to people who live in rational countries with single-payer health care.)

The other was Tekkonkinkreet. Based on the manga "Kuro to Shiro" (Black and White), the curious name of the movie is three Japanese words mashed together: in English, those words are IronConcreteMuscles. Perhaps not in that order.

Two feral children, Kuro, the older and fiercer of the two, and Shiro, the younger and more childlike/childish, live in the decay of Treasure City. Is the city in Japan, or somewhere else in the world? It is left very much up in the air, as you see verbiage in English, Thai and Hindi on buildings alongside the Japanese Kana and Kanji. There are some references that are very Japanese, however: the city is being carved up by rival Yakuza gangsters, some of which might actually be Yakuza from another planet. After the Yakuza chew through some of the lesser young toughs of the city, they find that dealing with Kuro and Shiro is much harder than it seemed it would.

The movie shifts between the world as it is, and the inner lives of the two feral boys. They are linked together telepathically, and you are not sure at times from whose point of view you are looking at the story. You wonder how much of the story is going on in real time, and how much of it is actually going on within their minds. This is not new: movies have been playing around with this for decades, and so have artists like Dali and Rene Magritte. At times things get so surreal and hard to follow it will probably take several viewings to untangle, and I have yet to only get the benefit of one. You get the feeling, however, that the effort is worth it.

This movie marks the first time an American working in the Japanese animation industry has directed an anime feature. Director Michael Arias was born in Southern California, and through a circuitous chain of events learned animation and computer programming at NYU, then returned to California to work in computer special effects at places like Digital Domain. He then went to Japan to work alongside the artists of Studio Ghibli as their digital effects programmer, beginning with Mononoke Hime. Before Tekkonkinkreet, Arias is best known for his involvement in The Animatrix, an assemblage of 9 Matrix-universe animated shorts which arguably is the best of the sequels to The Matrix.

It is in the best interest of the animation industries of both America and Japan to come together in these kind of hands-across-the-Pacific collaborative efforts. Considering the state of the industry in both countries (the US is almost dead, Japan is struggling) it is likely that collaboration will not make matters worse, and will likely help both to revitalize.

Tekkonkinkreet is going to be coming to theatres this weekend. It is likely to be released to DVD quite soon after this, but seeing the movie in a theatre with a huge screen and excellent sound is well worth it.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

I'm saving my cynicism for Christmas...

I choked when I saw this poster in the theater where I saw Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. I pointed at it to the lady I was escorting. And she, not a particularly fanatic cartoon fan, said, "So they do rap. So what?"

And while certain individuals over on LiveJournal might choke and curse at the sight of this poster, I didn't. Not after that remark.

This may give away my age, but I remember when The Alvin Show TV series aired in the 1960's. I remember the in-between cartoon of Clyde Crashcup and his whispering assistant Leonardo, trying to invent the shoe and the hat, with Clyde getting it wrong. I remember the odd interstitials. I remember the rendition of "I've Been Working On The Railroad" that was cut off before the song finished, with the director screaming imprecations at the Chipmunks, the whole set behind them being dismantled, and everybody calling it quits, and Alvin slowly walking to the soundstage door, looking back and saying, "Well, that's show biz."

Back in those days, the Chipmunks' songs were limited. Tape technology was used to get those high voices, meaning that the beat track had to be played at half speed, and their enunciation was pretty garbled. So the songs had to be pretty limited in beat, and they were all old songs, because Ross Bagdasarian, their creator, was cheap and old-fashioned.

It wasn't until 1980 when his son, Ross Bagdasarian Jr., released a new album, "Chipmunk Punk." It happened by accident; an LA DJ played a record at the wrong speed and ad-libbed that it was the latest Chipmunks release. There was such a clamor to hear this "new album" that Bagdasarian revived his father's characters. Curiously enough, "Chipmunk Punk" was the first certified Gold Record for the Chipmunks, and brought about the new animated series.
First animated by Ruby-Spears, then by DIC, and aired on NBC and then in syndication, Alvin and the Chipmunks had much better voices; digital technology did the pitch changing, meaning that the actors could speak normally at normal speed. They also recorded modern songs, in fact contemporary hits. It was probably the only really good animated series NBC had, besides The Smurfs, that aired in the 80's.

This new movie has generated outrage for several reasons. Jason Lee (playing David Seville in the picture above) hasn't done anything good since his initial appearance in Clerks. If the CGI Chipmunks stay the indicated size, they will be the size of real chipmunks. They always used to be the size of human children, making them easy for kids to identify with, and making them able to interface with the real world. Now they can't.

And if they can't really take part in our world, how the hell did they learn rap? How did they get street attitude? Unlike some purists, I don't mind them rapping. But rap is supposed to come from distinctly human experience and from interactions with society. If Remy had problems dealing with the human world in Ratatouille, how can Chipmunks no bigger than Smurfs be said to be rappers? I said, I'm willing to give them a chance. One chance. I'll wait for the reviews. I'm even tolerating the fact that this is coming from Fox. Maybe it's the happy glow of Ratatouille that's making me generous. But...I will be watching.