بيروت الغربيه/West Beirut

This was the first film I caught in UCSD’s Heritage Language Film Festival, so unlike most of the entries here, it’s a watch-once thing, without screenshots. Nonetheless, these HLFF films are enough off the beaten path that I feel the need to share. So, West Beirut. The underlying conceit reminds me of another film most of my audience hasn’t seen, Moszkva tér. Like Moszkva tér, West Beirut deals with young people living in, and unaware of, the changes coming over their homeland. There’s a certain skirting-the-edge-of-danger atmosphere to this film, but Tarek seems to be an awfully slow learner. From a characterization standpoint, while I’m satisfied in a yes-people-actually-are-that-stupid way with Tarek’s character, I’m less satisfied with the weak-willed way Omar and May trail in his wake. They don’t say “this is stupid and is going to get us killed” nearly as often as they should.

All in all, West Beirut was engaging and fairly effectively blackly comic at times. Not a great film, but an interesting and rather human portrayal of a time and place I didn’t know much about. Worth a watch if the chance comes up.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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ちょびっツ/Chobits episodes 1–4

[Screenshot]Chobits is a sweet and thus far generally charming story. It’s something I’d like to like, because it’s a fun near-future world with some interesting possibilities and presented with generally good visuals and a fair number of essentially likable characters. These first few episodes would make for some uncomplicated brain candy but for some kind of disturbing oddities.

To detail those oddities specifically: there’s an awful lot of sexual humor, which goes a bit against the grain of an otherwise innocent show, buty more fatally, sometimes seems to miss its mark. I think sex may be one of those points on which I may never quite understand Japanese culture, because they’re weird about it in ways completely orthogonal to the ways Americans are weird about it. Some of the humor is spot on, like Hideki rhapsodizing about how he’d love to get a computer to download porn; but other parts seem over-the-top and unnecessary, like Chi’s power-switch placement, the gaggle of robot-maids, and that episode which seems entirely designed to get the voice-actors to say “Underwear” as many times as possible (although Sumomi’s increasingly strident error messages abotu the urgency of acquiring lingerie are kind of funny, in an absurd sort of way).

Anyways, I hope we can either get through all this kind of unnecesary and cheap sexual humor or redirect it into a Serious Plot Issue about Chi’s naïvite, because I was kind of expecting light humor and situational quirkiness, not the second coming of DNA2. Not that there’s not a place for that,b ut it wasn’t what I expected, y’know?

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre

[Screenshot]THis is another one of those films everyone told me was fantastic and out-of-the-standard-mold, like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. It’s a good one, and definitely not within the western genre it more-or-less inhabits. It’s heavier on theme and characterization, and lighter on action, and it’s much more solid therefor. Good acting helps: Huston and Bogart give creditable, believable performances; Holt is a bit colorless but suffices. The themes of trust and betrayal are laid on a bit thick, but it works out OK with the cast. A bit less foreshadowing might not have hurt though.

All in all, a good film, standign on the strength primarily of its script and acting. On technical details it’s good too, with competent cinematography and really quite excellent panoramic shots of the Sierra Madres. The one detail I haven’t touched on which a writeup wouldn’t be complete without is the oft-quoted (and oft-misquoted) line about badges, which, honestly, does not have that much to do with the film in the final analysis, so I’m at a loss to explain its ubiquity.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

今、そこにいる僕/Now and Then, Here and There episodes 1–5

[Screenshot]Paul O’Brien once said of an IFcomp entrant that it could be summed up in one word: dismal. That could equally well apply to Now and Then. The plot, scenery, and dialogue is unremittingly stark and bleak. This leads to an artistic simplicity which is objectionable but is perhaps meant to be. There’s something of a clash between a simplistic animation style I think of as almost oriented toward children and a clearly inappropriate-for-children story. Whether the story can be defined as “mature” is, perhaps another matter.

See, the story’s kind of a mess. Hellywood’s recruiting children as soldiers, but it’s not clear where they recruit them from in the barren wasteland they’re marooned in. It’s not clear why they need water to move (and more tellingly, why they don’t need water to subsist indefinitely in the middle of nowhere. I can’t help but think this framing is all in the service of an unnecessarily simplistic “Hellywood bad, Shu good” morality. I would be pleasantly surprised to be wrong about this. One of the most unnecessary aspects of this simplistic morality is the role of the mad emperor Hamdo, who in both the Japanese and English dub comes across as completely batshit insane far beyond the level of lucidity and charisma necessary to instill fear or loyalty in anyone.

It’s only a 13-episode series, and it’s been critically acclaimed, so maybe I’ll watch the rest to see what all the fuss is about. Then again, maybe not. The story so far has come across as a sort of moralistic snuff film: “Hey, here’s torture, mutilation of a corpse, and rape! This is what bad people do!” It’s so insanely caricaturedly evil that I half-expect a twist where Hellywood’s goals are in fact noble and all the horrible things they do are in service of that goal. That’s about the only thing I can see redeeming this.

Parting shot: in a world where the protagonist of Hellsing‘s name gets romanized as “Arucard” half the time (which doesn’t make sense, since it doesn’t reverse right), how is it we can consistently transcribe ララ・ルゥ as “Lala-Ru”?

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.

La Notte di San Lorenzo/The Night of the Shooting Stars

[Screenshot]This one was tricky for me. It seemed to have all the right bits, but managed to lose my engagement early and never really get it back. Perhaps it was the comparatively large cast of characters, none of whome were quite well-defined enough for me to really become invested in their individual struggles and dramas. There’s a lot going on with frictions among various villagers against the backdrop of their flight nad desperation, but for soem reason I didn’t follow it all (there were a few scenes where I wasn’t clear whose lines were subtitled with what, which might have added to my confusion. There were moments which shone through as indicative of a greater theme, as, for instance, the massacre in the fields, driving home the absurdity of civil war, as partisans and fascists greet each other as brothers and are shot, then swap shirts and deceptively shoot their own ostensible comrades. It’s a bit of a farce, but like any good farce has an edge.

Anyways, it was a cinematographically solid work, and I can even grant the power of the source material. I’d imagine the problem in this case was me, so anyone with an interest in a pastoral story from wartime Italy might well like it. I thoguht I would too, but tastes are sometimes mysterious and weird.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

ヒカルの碁/Hikaru no Go episodes 1–4

[Screenshot]I try to like go. I don’t actually play go, but I have a vague sense of the rules and rudiments of strategy. So a series about a kid possessed by a go-playing ghost and compelled to play go doesn’t push any particular buttons for me, but it seems like an intriguing gimmick (I keep waiting for an anime in which the protagonist’s quest is to become a master crochet artisan). Like a lot of these gimmick shows, there’s a notion that a single perfect technique will suffice (the Divine Move in this case; compare the Lightning Ball, the Giga Slave, the Ja-Pan, or any of a variety of ostensibly ultimate moves, cards, or pets from the likes of Dragonball Z, Yu-Gi-Oh, or Pokemon respectively), which is not, in my experience, how go strategy actually works (or baseball, or breadmaking, or a well-balanced CCG; magic, fighting, and animal-training I’ll concede ignorance of).

Anyways, Hikaru no Go is a pretty straight-up seeming shounen series. There’s a spectrum of plotlines, character-types, and styles adopted for shounen, and I think this is closer to the action-protagonist DBZ/Naruto school. Althoguh I dare hope it’s more interesting than either of those. The series has started off pretty sluggishly though, setting up a couple of confrontations for Hikaru, but still an awfully compact cast. It’s too early to say for sure what’s up, and yet, by the third episodes of most animes we’ve got a good idea where the story’s going. I forsee a long-running story taking its time about getting anywhere. Also, I’m dubious about how much this can continue to engage an inexperienced Go player. There’s a lot of footage of Sai whispering coordinates in Hikaru’s ear, which I can only assume makes more sense if you know more about the game.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.

フルーツバスケット/Fruits Basket episodes 7–12

[Screenshot]My statements on the first installment can be seen here; most of this remains the case, althoguh the pacing has changed up a bit: on this disc the Sohma family relationships are the primary focus, and the interactions of the Sohma-Tohru collective with the outside world seems to be left behind. That’s a bit of a pity, since even though the primary characters are engaging, interesting, and well-done, they really shine only when they’re placed against a background of normalcy (also, I still want to know Uo and Hana’s stories). The art remains gentle and immersive: I think I maybe actually prefer shoujo artistic conventions. Anyways, it’s still good, but I’d like to see more development of the characters we have instead of more character-introduction on the next disc. Surely we don’t need twelve Sohmas. This disc also got us through some of the more formulaic anime obligatory episodes: we got our Hot Springs Episode, and got clsoe enough to a School Festival episode that we don’t have to do that again. So, with the preliminaries out of the way, I’m hoping Fruits Basket will start picking up again.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.