Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Movie Music Musings: Favorite Composers - Yoko Kanno

Yoko Kanno

In the previous installment of my Favorite Composers series, I talked a bit about John Williams and his work. His music certainly impacted me during my youth, but as always, tastes and interests change.

In the late ‘90s my interests shifted over to Japanese animation and the world of Japanese pop and rock. While most of anime series featured plenty of scores focused on pop elements, there were a few with larger budgets that managed to get full bodied orchestral scores. Some of the best of these scores were created by a woman named Yoko Kanno.

When it comes to the work of Kanno, variety is the name the of the game. The first work of hers I obtained was the score to Macross Plus. This series is like a sci-fi version of Top Gun, but with better characters and killer artificial intelligence added for kicks. The AI at the center of the story is a pop idol completely manufactured to appeal to the largest number of people. Her concerts include amazing holographic images, and she can appear in many forms (all of them smoking hot).

Kanno’s score is all over the place. For the starfighter based scenes she uses a mix of Bill Conti’s heroic sound for The Right Stuff and Stravinsky’s style from The Firebird. It’s wonderful dynamic stuff. For scenes in the city of Macross and in the more urban environments she provides a vast array of music. Some of it could come from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and some of it sounds like techno-urban-vocal-jazz... if that makes any sense.

There’s her pop music for the virtual idol, Sharon Apple. Again it’s an eclectic mix, but one that makes sense for an idol singer who appeals to anyone. She does a jazzy piece that sounds like something out of Twin Peaks, another piece that could be performed by Enigma, and a rhythmic chant in Sanskrit that is exotic and sexy all at once. A techno jazz piece appears during an action climax where the hero attempts to break through a blockade of defense satellites. The result is exciting and iconic in the film itself. As a stand alone listen it’s a great piece of electronica. Here is the jazzy piece called: Borderline.

Video Removed from Youtube at this time

Finally there is the song "Voices" performed by the leading lady in the film. It comes in two different versions and adds a touch of bittersweet sadness to the whole series. Kanno's work here is what gives a real heart to this action oriented series and is the highlight of the Macross Plus soundtracks.

Since I enjoyed anime primarily in the 90s, most of my collection of her works comes from that period. But she's been busy working in animation and video games for years now. Still you'll notice that when I talk about her music, its for series that are pretty old. Take this piece called "Ark" from the long forgotten series Brain Power'd

What really got me was when the series Cowboy Bebop came out. The score is a mix of jazz, blues, funk and rock. Not only does it fit the series like a glove, but the amazing array of styles and how well they are executed is impressive. Check out the extended version of the opening credits called: Tank!

The same woman who wrote and performed on that also gave us an amazing fantasy score to a series called Vision of Escaflowne. She takes various influences from classical works and fuses them with modern film scoring techniques. You’ll hear some Stravinsky, Holst and Wagner melted with John Williams and James Horner. One of the best pieces from the series is the thrilling track: Dance of Curse. It has a full chorus chanting along with the powerhouse orchestra.

One of her most powerful pieces comes from the film Jin Roh. She was brought in for the end titles, and that is her singing under her pseudonym Gabrielle Robin. It's called "Grace Omega".

When I first discovered Kanno, I was floored by her abilities. How could one person be so adept at writing pop, jazz, rock, and orchestral scores? Was she a musical genius? How come I’d never heard of her before, and why hadn’t she gotten discovered by Hollywood. Hell, the woman can even sing.

Well if you have some knowledge of film music and classical music than you begin to hear one of Kanno’s biggest issues. She takes her inspiration very directly and rarely masks it. It's a controversy that always comes up whenever I talk with more musically knowledgable folks.  Some call it plagiarism, and I agree in some cases she gets really close to the edge. But I believe that she adds enough of her own style or orchestrates the music with enough of a difference to make it unique. I always enjoy her music and to me that is the most important thing. 

If you don’t mind the borrowing, her stuff is amazing. I can easily recommend the first CDs for either Cowboy Bebop if you like jazz, or Vision of Escaflowne if you enjoy orchestral. Both includes some J-pop songs as well, but they are darn catchy.

For the next installment I'll go into one of most famous composers of the Golden Age of film music. Even if you've never heard the name Bernard Herrmann - you have heard his music.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

From Russia with Love (1963)

Following the success of Dr. No the creators behind the James Bond series knew that they had franchise in the making.  They picked one of Flemming’s better books, gathered a good supporting cast, and secured a larger budget.  Terrance Young was brought back to direct, and Sean Connery was back as Bond.  All the ingredients were in place to create a movie that would be bigger and better than the previous.  Does From Russia With Love fit the bill or does it suffer a sophomore slump?

Head of the British Secret Service, M (Bernard Lee) discovers a lovely Russian cipher clerk wants to defect and take a top secret coding device with her.  Her only stipulation is that secret agent; James Bond (Sean Connery) is the one that helps her.  M and Bond suspect a trap, but they go along with the plan.  Bond is sent to Istanbul where he meets the head of British spy operation named Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz).  Bey promises to help Bond and lovely Tatiana Romanov (Daniela Bianchi) escape via the Orient Express.  The trap is sprung when Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and “Red” Grant (Robert Shaw), set out to ensure that Bond and Romanov die in shame the decoding device falls to SPECTRE.

Good Points:
  • Connery’s chemistry with Bianchi and Armendariz makes this movie work.
  • Location work in Istanbul and Venice is beautiful.
  • The movie has a gritty tense feel to it. 
Bad Points:
  • The movie moves at a slower pace until the chase kicks in. 
  • There is a bit of padding in the beginning of the film. 
  • The James Bond theme is overused for just about everything.
With this Bond film we get a great mix of espionage and fantasy. The stakes are high, the tension builds up well and everything feels bigger than the previous film. It ends up being one of the best Bond films of the 60’s and secured the fate of the franchise.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 4
Acting: 4
Script: 5
Music: 4
Direction: 5
Entertainment: 5
Total:  5

In Depth Review
I know that many people consider this to be the best James Bond movie. I can see why they think that. From Russia With Love marks the last time Sean Connery got to play James Bond as a normal man.  From Goldfinger on he became more over the top and archetypal.

In terms of visuals, this movie improves with excellent location shooting in Istanbul, Venice and Scotland.  Istanbul provides the bulk of the films most exotic scenes.  The city’s mystery is captured with scenes of the Bosporus, the bazaars and the interior of the Hagia Sophia mosque. Venice is featured for the first time in a James Bond film (it pops up again in Moonraker and Casino Royale).  While most of the filming was done for rear projection work, there are some establishing shots in the famous city. Scotland does some doubling as Italy and the Yugoslavia.  This film started the globe hopping tradition of James Bond.  By the time the Moore films rolled around, James Bond was traveling to three continents in one adventure.

For the most part, the sets go for a more realistic look. The best examples are used for the cars on the Orient Express.  These create a cozy and yet claustrophobic setting for some of the key moments in the film.  They are recreated with such skill, that most viewers believe the scenes were filmed aboard the train.  Bloefeld’s yacht interiors are stylish yet believable.  On the flip side, Kerim Bey’s office and the chess tournament have a bit of the Ken Adam feel to them.  The chess tournament especially uses open space and a chess motif that makes it one of the more memorable sets in the film. The only place where the visuals fail a bit is in the rear projection.

Sound work is also impressive for its time.  Per the norm, gunshots and explosions get the best treatment.  The real highlight is the battle between Grant and Bond.  The crunching, smashing and shattering adds to the violence of the scene.

For the first time John Barry offers his score to a James Bond film.  It seems to be a perfect match.  Barry uses a brassy, jazzy score that incorporates three separate themes.  The first is the popular James Bond theme, first utilized in Dr. No. Barry uses what sounds like the same version of the theme from the previous film as well as working it into his unique pieces.  The theme song From Russia With Love sung by Matt Monroe is used for the end credits, but a sassy instrumental version is used for the opening titles.  The piece also acts as the romantic music used for Tatiana and Bond.  The final piece is one that is a personal favorite of mine, the 007 theme.  It shares many similarities with the James Bond theme but its more action oriented. I particularly love the steady driving rhythm of the piece.  It is utilized several times, and would pop up again in Thunderball and Moonraker. The only downside to the music is that the James Bond theme is used for everything.  Bond opens a door, cue the theme.  Bond wanders down a street, cue the theme.  Bond sits down, cue the theme.  It’s very heavy-handed.  Barry tones this down in his later movies, but in a way it reminded me of David Arnolds work on Tomorrow Never Dies.

In From Russia With Love, Connery is still very strong, but not quite as relaxed with the character as he would be in Goldfinger.  It’s a difference in tone that not only affects Connery’s performance but the whole movie as well.  This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just different from the James Bond that evolved later.  Here Connery plays the part more naturally.  James Bond is well aware of this being a trap, and does his best to enjoy the adventure, while keeping his eyes peeled.  His confrontation with Grant (before the fight erupts) is cautious, measured, and a bit frightened.  Bond knows he’s caught, and he’s hoping he can make it out of this alive.  I’m convinced this performance has much to do with director Terrance Young, who seemed to understand James Bond’s character very well.

Daniela Bianchi provides Tatiana Romanova with a perfect mixture of alluring beauty and naiveté that not only entrances Bond, but the audience as well.  Her voice was dubbed over for most of the film, but her expressive eyes and body language work wonders.  Her part is key to the story, but it’s also a bit underwritten (especially compared to the depth given to her character in the novel).  However her performance works for the film.

Pedro Armendariz as Kerim Bey gives us a warm and likable performance.  He comes across as very capable in his skills as a British contact in Turkey, but more than that, he creates a real friendship with Bond.  It’s an extremely effective performance, especially in the first portion of the film.  Here we are given plenty of character moments but at the cost of padding out the film.  Pedro’s performance helps us forgive the padding and enjoy his repartee with Bond.  To find out that the actor was deathly ill and died during the production of the film was amazing.  His performance doesn’t seem hampered by illness in the least.

A trio of villains faces off against our heroes.  The most physical threat to Bond comes in the form of Donovan “Red” Grant played by Robert Shaw.  I was familiar with Shaw’s work in Jaws.  So it was amusing for me to see him as the cold and dangerous assassin.  Shaw plays the part very calm, focused and cunning.  He uses opportunities to his advantage and when he makes contact with Bond on the Orient Express, he keeps the British Agent fooled.  In a way he’s probably one of the most dangerous opponents Bond faced in his 60’s film.  We wouldn’t see his like till Necros took on Bond in The Living Daylights.

Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb is one of the most memorable characters in the film.  Not only does her no-nonsense attitude combined with her short stature work, but her choice of poisoned shoe is an interesting weapon.  As Bond continues to foil her plot, she reminded me of Le Chiffre in Casino Royale.  There is an air of desperation to her performance, knowing that if she fails Bloefeld in capturing the Lector, she’ll be dead.  Her meeting with Tatiana is also very well done, and sets her up for the end sequence with Bond.

Also of note is Vladek Sheybal as the chessmaster Kronsteen.  He plays the part slimy and confident, a good mix.  We also get Walter Gotell as Morzeny.  I mention him because the actor returned as General Gogall in TheSpy Who Loved Me and every Bond film up to The Living Daylights.  Here his character is more of a thug.  I also have to mention that this film introduces Bloefeld as the mastermind (and the first villain with an evil cat).

Back in London we have the usual suspects.  Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell continue the classic performances that they originated in the previous film.  The main difference is that Desmond Llewelyn appears as Major Boothroyd of Q branch for the first time in the series.  He delivers the part as a straightforward employee merely showing James Bond the new piece of equipment that he will using.  We won’t get to see the classic performance of Q until Goldfinger.  Still it’s good to see all the familiar parts filled out.

Just watching From Russia with Love and not really knowing much behind the troubled production, it comes across as a well-made film, one that sticks fairly close to the novel, but is just different enough to keep thing interesting.  The script was altered mostly in the case of the villains.  In the novel, the Russians were the masterminds behind the plot.  SPECTRE didn’t have anything to do with it.  The addition of SPECTRE ties back to Dr. No and at the same doesn’t make this film too topical (especially with the cold war in full swing at the time of its release).

For the most part of the script works well enough, but there is a bit of a problem (one that’s actually based of the book).  By introducing the villains of the film in the beginning and setting up the plan intended to entrap Bond, it diffuses some of the mystery.  The story might have worked better if we hadn’t really known what was going on with Tatiana or Grant.  This would have worked as a surprise (for some) when things fell into place at the end.  After all Bond knows he’s walking into a trap.  He’s just not sure what pieces are arrayed against him.

However in defense of the script is the fact that we are introduced to Grant in the beginning and when he shows up throughout the movie he acts like “Hitchcock’s Bomb”.  We see him, we know he’s going to go off, but tension and suspense is created by not knowing when it will occur.  The only thing I don’t like about this strategy is that it ends up front loading the movie with too much exposition.  Some directors might be able to make this work to their advantage.  Others, like Terance Young have a slower style to begin with.  With an exposition heavy first third this can slow the movie down too much.

Another interesting element I noticed in this viewing was how much the film deals directly with sex. That’s not to say that Dr. No avoided the subject, but here it really seems to be saturating the film. Sex is used as a tool, by Bond to get what he wants out of Tatiana, and by Tatiana to ensnare Bond. It is used as a weapon by SPECTRE when they record Bond and Tatiana’s lovemaking and plan to use it to destroy Bond’s legacy after they kill him. Bey has a bunch of sons at his disposal and plenty of women hanging around. Even the visit to the gypsy camp is based around two women fighting for the “love” of a single man. More then any of the following Bond films, sex is a key component of the plot and the texture to the film. Sure there were plenty of bad sexual puns and liaisons with women in the upcoming films, but sex was just an added spice. Here it is a key ingredient.

Even with the plot heavy first half, Young is able to keep From Russia with Love moving at a steady pace. He is helped by good performances from Connery, Armendariz, Bianchi, Lenya and Shaw.  But once the theft of the Lector device occurs he creates a masterpiece of tension that rarely slows down.  There’s plenty of action in the second half and most of it propels Bond and audience along. The first half has some good action scenes as well, the fight in the gypsy camp is a highlight for certain. But the true action climax is the battle between Bond and Grant – one that is often considered one of the best hand-to-hand battles in movie history.

As far as entertaining goes, this film meets all the expectations.  It’s a bigger adventure for Bond than Dr. No and yet it keeps itself grounded in glossy and fun reality, but avoiding the cartoony nature of the later Bonds.  If you watch From Russia with Love expecting the pace to be a bit slower in the first half, you’ll have a good time with the movie.  But if you go in expecting wall-to-wall action, or the over the top nature of You Only Live Twice, you could be disappointed. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Pod People (1983) - MST3K Review

In a very foggy forest, some egg poachers see a meteor crash. An investigation reveals that aliens have arrived on earth and have laid eggs. One of the poachers takes offense to this and starts smashing the eggs only to be killed by the brown furry alien. 

Meanwhile a very 80's band records a goofy song, and then heads out to the same woods. The aliens attack the groupie with band and this leads them to a lone house in the woods. 

In the house is Tommy (Oscar Martin) who has secreted away one of the alien eggs. It hatches and Tommy names the alien Trumpy, because of his elephant-like snout. The two become friends, but it looks like Trumpy or one of his relatives is on a killing spree, taking out the poachers and band members alike! Can Tommy convince his family that Trumpy is good and not one of the murderous Pod People?

Movie Review:

According to the rumor this movie started out as a horror film about an alien that is killing people in a forest. But when E.T. came out, the producers wanted the alien to be cute and befriended by a child. Director Juan Piquer Simon acquiesced, but really did not like the final result. I can't say I blame him.

The original title is Los Nuevos Extraterrestres or The New Extraterrestrials. The film was a Spanish French co-production, so that means the version you see here is dubbed. But what is funny is that it appears that the actors are speaking in English. Most of the time the dialogue matches the lip flaps. I'm guessing this is similar to what you see in many Italian films, where all the dialogue is looped because of poor location sound equipment.

Honestly the dubbing doesn't make things any clearer. This movie suffers from severe split personality, moving from horror tropes to kid friendly goodness at the drop of a hat. And there is all kinds of odd moments in between. Take the bizarre new age score for the film. Someone loved their keyboards, and came up with some odd dreamy music for certain scenes and for the more intense sequences, just had a drum machine on loop. Since what we are seeing here is an adaptation of the film for an American audience, it's hard to know whom to fault for the insane editing and bizarre music choices. These could have been added later.

However what can't be added later is the performances. Sure the dubbing makes it worse, but these characters are all aggressively stupid or annoying. The most likable character is Tommy's mother Molly (Concha Cuetos). Maybe its because she has the least screen time, but she manages to be believable and likable. Her son on the other hand is probably your typical child actor in the original version, sure he over-acts, but so do most kids. No, what really makes him annoying is the high-pitched dubbed voice he is given. I swear it’s a woman doing his voice and that makes it even stranger. 

Finally there is Uncle Bill (Manuel Pereiro) perhaps the grouchiest man on earth. His first moments of screen time are snapping at Tommy about using the scientific name for a centipede. Heck! I was impressed that the kid could say all that Latin without stumbling - or at least his dubbed actress... whatever. Bill continues being annoyed and grumpy and just unpleasant during the remainder of the film. He starts slamming down the booze near the end and that does nothing to help matters.

The poachers are a mixed bunch, with the older gent looking like a Spanish Lorne Greene. One carries a crossbow for most of the movie and is a real sleaze. The last wears dorky glasses and a silly hat; I think he's supposed to be funny. The movie starts with these guys and will jump to them occasionally, but they really don't figure into the story too much, other than to get the ball rolling by destroying the alien eggs.

The band is comprised of lead singer Rick (Ian Sera) who I think is supposed to be our hero, but is a real jerk. He yells at his band mates, cheats on his girlfriend and threatens to shoot grouchy Bill (not that he doesn't deserve it). But at the end of the movie we are supposed to feel good that he survived... I think. His girlfriend Sharon (Nina Ferrer) is one of the backup singers and she's bland but pretty. The same could be said for Kathy (Sara Palmer) the other backup singer. She's dating Brian (Emilio Linder) the nice guy who is the voice of reason. Then there's Tracy (Maria Albert) who is boy crazy but nice enough. Along for the ride is the rock stupid groupie Lara (Susanna Bequer). She's a cutie but dumb as a post and faces the brunt of Sharon's anger.

Last but not least is Trumpy. He's brown, short and has a trunk like an elephant and pointy ears like Spock. He doesn't speak (thank god), but pantomimes. He eats peanuts and drinks milk. And sometimes his eyes glow with a brilliant white light and things get goofy. He can make objects move on their own, he can reverse gravity and he can make telescopes super powerful. According to Tommy, Trumpy "can do magic things." There is also a grumpy version of Trumpy that is going around killing people. He does this by slapping them. One hit and you're dead. So avoid evil Trumpy at all costs!

All the characters are really enough to make things hilarious, but the editing is just the icing on this Trumpy cake. The movie jumps from scene to scene randomly. Sometimes showing us the poachers, or the band or Tommy. Sometimes cutting to an empty outdoor scene, maybe to show time passing? It's not completely confusing, but it just feels slapped together.

The split personality keeps this from being a winner in either genre. It's never scary, because the alien is silly looking. If this joker was stalking me, I'd fall down laughing instead of reacting like many of the humans do in the film. As for the fun family film, well Tommy is so grating that you want to slap him. Tthere are people getting killed all over the place. It reminds me of the duel personalities of Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders. Trumpy can do magic things, but he can't save the film. That's why we turn to Joel and the bots.

Episode Review:

This is one of the classic Joel episodes. It was the third episode of Season 3, and is considered by many to be one of the best episodes of the show. But I've run into plenty of people who don't like this episode and I'll explore both options.

This movie is a mess, no two ways about it. Even if it was edited properly, I still think it would have ended up on this show. There is too much to make fun of. Joel and the bots start right up as soon as the credits kick in. The opening titles play over scenes from another movie, one that looks equally bad. They pick on the names, the footage in the background and the odd music. Once the movie begins with a shot of space with stars shooting away from the camera Tom quips "Boldly backing away from where no man has gone before." It's because the cameraman knows that Trumpy is coming.

The poachers provide plenty of comedy with the crossbow wielding one being the brunt of Renaissance Faire jokes. The older poacher seems a bit too eager to steal the eggs and this leads to all kinds of jokes about his bloodlust. The dorky poacher and his egg-smashing scene is classic stuff. It's so nonsensical you can't help but laugh, and Joel and bots provide other observations.

Then there is the song the band is singing. This sequence by itself is one of the highlights of the show. The song is horrible. The acting is hilarious and the quips are top notch, especially since you can't understand the lyrics. Joel and the bots start adding their own lyrics and its great stuff. Once the band is on the road things calm down a bit, but remain amusing.

But don't let that fool you, Trumpy's scenes with Tommy are provide plenty of laughs. The charming music, the scenes that try to ape E.T. and even the clever disguise at the end of the film provide mountains of riffing. But it's the whole "magic things" moment that is jaw droopingly insane. Using stop motion animation and what Joel calls Pee Wee's Playhouse music, everything goes nuts in Tommy's room. It just happens for no reason, and you almost don't need to riff it at all. The team picks key moments to add comments and it's all gold.

The finale with the alien killing off the last of our characters and Tommy and Trumpy trying to escape isn't quite as goofy as the rest of the film, but there's lots to enjoy. The shower death scene is dumb, and Bill's drinking provides lots of humor. The ending is strangely sad, with Trumpy being abandoned in the woods. As goofy as he is, you feel bad for the little guy just standing there alone in the fog. A bizarre ending for a messed up movie.

People who dislike this episode site the following reasons. The new age music puts them to sleep. It is a very soothing score and there are lots of moments where there is no dialogue, just the keyboard. Of course the silly song at the beginning and Trumpy's magic moment are very different but it might not be enough to keep some people awake. The movie is also very foggy, literally. Nearly every outdoor scene has fog and the director even managed to fill a bathroom with fog for the shower scenes. This makes the episode a difficult watch for some people. The dubbing is also sited as too painful to ignore. I'm in the opposite side of the camp. I find dubbing to add to humor and some of my favorite episodes of the show are dubbed: Godzilla vs. Megalon, Jack Frost, Fugitive Alien, Hercules Against the Moonmen. Then there's the editing and basic storytelling. I agree that this movie moves very slowly or at least it feels that way because of the editing. This slow development of the plot along with the music can put people to sleep. There is also a running joke involving the television show "McCloud". If running jokes rub you the wrong way, you may not enjoy it, but I chuckle every time. I don't agree with these, but I figured I'd put there, in case you might find yourself in this camp.

Joel and the bots are inspired by the film and have a blast with the host segments. It all starts with a one man show by Crow followed by Tom's attempt. Then they do the invention exchange with the mad scientists. Joel creates the ultimate guitar chord - its powerful stuff. The Mads create a public domain karaoke machine and then sing the worst renditions of "Ave Maria" I've ever heard. The first break occurs right after the band records their song. Joel and the bots recreate the moment with all new and insane lyrics. This segment coined the phrase "Idiot Control Now", something I've seen all over the net and not related to MST3K items in the least. For some reason I see related to video games? At the next break, Joel is inspired by the new age music to create his own wall of keyboards. Crow helps him out. "Hold this key down for an hour or until you get a contract from Windam Hill". The next break comes after the magic moment. Joel is Tommy. The bots take turns playing Trumpy and all kinds of insanity breaks out. The Mads are stunned. The final segment ends with Joel singing a song "Will There Still be a Clown in the Sky", a heartfelt and yet melancholy ballad in honor of Trumpy's sad fate. The Mads respond by imitating Rick in his studio.

Yeah, I love this episode. It's not a fast mover, but Joel episodes always tended to be slower paced, especially in the first three seasons. The movie is amazingly goofy and bad, and the riffs are top notch. The host segments range from clever to laugh out loud funny. And so many memorable lines come from this episode "Trumpy you can do magic/stupid things." "Idiot Control Now!" "It's called 'evil', kid." "I'm going to have to find a ranger or a bear to sleep with." "No, 'M' like Manhattan or Mimosa."and the immortal "It stinks" complete with hand gesture. It's a great episode to start new viewers with, and it's very rewachable. For my money it’s easily one of the best episodes of Season 3.

I give this episode five Trumpy aliens out of five.

This episode is available in the Mystery Science Theater Collection Volume One.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tenchi Muyo – The Night Before the Festival (1993)

After wrapping up the six episode OAV (direct to video) series, the creators of Tenchi Muyo decided to make a one off episode that would bridge into the second series of OAV adventures for Tenchi and the girls. This would focus more on humor and the every day adventures of the alien gals getting used to life in Japan. But is this episode a misfire or the perfect mid meal drink to whet our appetite for more?

It appears that some time has passed since Tenchi (Matt Miller) and his pals saved the earth.  Summer is in full swing and Tenchi is spending most of his time working at the family shrine and planting carrots for the cabbit Ryo-Oki. This isn’t keeping the feisty Ryoko (Petrea Burchard) or the prim Princess Ayeka (Jennifer Darling) from attempting to seduce Tenchi. Sasami finds some romance comics and offers these as manuals for earth style dating. This leads to all kinds of shenanigans. Meanwhile Officer Mihoshi (Ellen Gerstell) must tear herself away from the fun to report in, and Washu (Kate T. Voigt) wants to experiment on Tenchi to further her research. All Ryo-Oki wants is carrots. Will Tenchi survive the day to have more adventures?

Good Points:
  • Gives us more time with the girls and another bathhouse scene
  • Has some of the funniest moments of the series in it
  • Wraps up some loose ends from the first series

Bad Points:
  • Lots of Ayeka and Ryoko bickering in this episode
  • Lots of cute Ryo-Oki antics
  • Tenchi is just as bland as ever

As far as this single episode can be judged, it’s a good bit of fun. Yes it gets a bit silly at times, but never threatens to derail the series. I also like how some closure is given to Mihoshi’s assignment and Ayeka’s spaceship. Worth catching for the sequence where Ayeka and Ryoko attempt to woo Tenchi using techniques found in romantic comics.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 3
Sound: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 3
Music: 3
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

In Depth Review

For a pure comedy episode, this is probably the funniest one of the entire OAV series from the ‘90s. In fact most people lump this episode together with Series 1, because it does act as the perfect epilogue. Series 2 really feels like it’s own beast, and doesn’t balance the humor quite as well.

As entertaining as this episode is, you also get the seeds for some of the more annoying traits that would end up hurting the franchise. Ayeka and Ryoko get really catty in this one. Sasami doesn’t do much more then look cute. Washu experiments on Tenchi in weird pseudo-sexual ways. Mihoshi seems a bit more clueless than normal. And Tenchi is just a prop in this episode. I like the series best when all the characters are working together and feel like they are doing more than playing up their traits. Yes humor is often mined from extremes, but the Tenchi Muyo series as whole would often take it too far.

It sounds like I’m coming down on this episode, and I’m not. It’s a lot of fun, and works fine as a finale for the first series. But this used to be my favorite episode of the series. Revisiting it has taken a bit of the luster away. A bit sad, but not completely unexpected. A second series of OAV episodes was created to continue the adventures of Tenchi and the gals.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hollow Man (2000)

Caught part of this movie on a hotel TV in London. I only stayed up for the first forty minutes or so, but what I saw was pretty entertaining. I figured I’d give it a shot on Netflix. Besides it’s a Verhoeven film and he is usually able to make his movies entertaining, even if they aren’t particularly good… right?

Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) may have a Bond villain name, but he’s really just a cocky scientist who has been tasked to create a serum that can render a human invisible. Working at his side is Dr. Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue), who happens his ex-girlfriend. And McKay is currently dating Dr. Matthew Kensington (Josh Brolin), who is also on the project. Once the team is able to turn a gorilla invisible and bring it back without it liquefying – Caine decides to test it on himself. Because this is a Verhoeven film, the invisible scientist lets the power go to his head and starts a raping and murder spree. Now its up to the team of scientists to stop him before the Hollow Man vanishes without a trace.

Good Points:
  • Impressive visual effects for the time
  • Bacon is having a hell of a time in the role
  • Jerry Goldsmith’s score works overtime to keep things moving

Bad Points:
  • Goes from entertaining to amazingly stupid about half way through
  • Shue just doesn’t strike me as a scientist
  • Lots of violence toward animals and women

This almost works. The initial premise is entertaining and Bacon delivers as the scientist with a severe God complex. But Verhoeven just lets his obsessions with sex and violence take over, and not in a fun way. The movie gets really ugly at times, and all the action, heroics and excellent special effects can’t keep it from descending into a dark, bloody mess.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 4
Acting: 3
Script: 2
Music: 4
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 2
Total:  2

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.   

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)

Time for another dive into the horror/comedy realm, but instead of another funny zombie movie, we get a new take on the teenagers vs. hillbillies. So do the laughs and the thrills add up to a good time?

Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are two backwoods fellas out for a nice weekend of fishing and camping. But when Dale lays eyes on the lovely Allison (Katrina Bowden) he triggers a series of incidents that leads to a grisly death, and then another and then another. Now Alison’s teenage friends are running scared from Tucker and Dale, who may or may not be deranged killers. But the real question is, just who is the “evil” of the title?

Good Points:
  • Several funny twists keep the viewer guessing
  • Great mix of gore and laughs
  • Solid acting by the entire cast

Bad Points:
  • Comedy fans may find this too gory
  • Gore-hounds will be disappointed
  • If you haven’t seen a lot of slasher films, this may not be as amusing

This movie was a lot of fun. It takes the “teens pursued by insane hicks” genre and turns it on its ear. A deft hand with the direction and some excellent acing makes keeps the laughs coming (as well as a few ewwws). Anyone who enjoys a good horror comedy mix should check this movie out.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 5
Music: 3
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.