The Tripods, season 1

[Screenshot]I am much indebted to for lending me this set; I didn’t even know this series existed. It’s an 80s BBC sci-fi series, which makes it an instant cult classic for the surprisingly respectable acting and the godawful special effects and music. Also, it’s based on a childhood favorite of mine and many other sci-fi junkies: John Christopher’s The White Mountains. The second season apparently followed the plot of The City of Gold and Lead, and the third season never actually happened, so there’s no television adaptation of The Pool of Fire, alas.

So, solid source material from my childhood, imagined for TV by the BBC? Will this be a happy revisitation of childhood memories or an awful cringefest? Bit of column A, bit of column B, really. On the upside, there’s a fair amount of good acting on display here, with characters comfortable in their roles. Ceri Seel’s accent seems to come and go, but his character comes across successfully as a perfect blend of pure rationality and airy detachment. John Shackley has perhaps the easiest job, and does a passable performance with respect to Will’s hotheadedness. Jim Baker I must be unfair to, for the problem with his character really isn’t his fault. In both physical attributes (fair curly hair, round face, short stature) and characterization (querelously solicitous and practical), his character reminds me unnervingly of Sean Astin’s portrayal of Samwise Gamgee. But it’s really not his fault that, a decade and change later, a character with similar trats appeared. So our principals are rock solid, and the supporting cast is mostly effective too.

Interestingly, with regard to supporting cast is where the TV adaptation has the changes I’m most ambivalent about. The book was a spartan boys vs. tripods story, and other human life is avoided except for the Tour Rouge subplot (whose name was changed, for no particular reason, to Ricordeau in the TV series). The TV series pads out the book signifiicantly (a book may be too long to be a movie, but it’s too short to be a 13-episode TV series) with human encounters. The overall effect, peculiarly, is to make the Capped more sympathetic and the Free Men less. We get two examples of charity by the Capped instead of one (the Comte de Ricordeau and the Vichots), and some fairly shabby treatment by both Captain Curtis and the Free Men when they actually get there. The Capped generally come across as a lot more human, which is something of a departure but not a particularly unwelcome one. What is unwelcome, to some extent, is the violence of the vagrants. The attack in Paris, and the enclave near the village festival, seems abrupt and uncharacteristic. But all in all, the fleshing-out of Christopher’s fairly simple story seems natural and appropriate.

Having gone from good to neutral, what’s bad about this series? Pretty much everything technical, actually. It’s got a gee-whiz early-80s attempt to be flashy and showy which it can’t actually pull off. Stationary tripods are good, but tripods in motion are painfully composited. The opening and closing sequences seem like they’d be more at home in Tron, and the music, oy, god, the music. Awful synthesized stuff, with occasional stings which want to be dramatic but come off as comic. It’s a real ruiner for an otherwise solid mood and feel. The synths might be appropriate for when the tripods come on the scene, but why not period instrumentation for the many many scenes not involving tripods? The tech-level of post-Tripod Europe is such that there’s plenty of solid instrumentation out there that’d be more appropriate than those awful synths, and easy to pull together an ensemble for.

But other than the music and occasional cringeworthy panoramic shots of tripods stalking, this is actually a pretty enjooyable series; doubly so if it you read the original novels and get the nostalgia buzz.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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ウィッチハンターロビン/Witch Hunter Robin episodes 1–5

[Screenshot]I heard good things about this — I forget who from — and it apparently had an Adult Swim run, so I entered with fairly high expectations.From a technical standpoint, the show meets those: it’s unsettlingly and imaginatively structured, and the character and background designs are well done (although Robin’s hair is ridiculous). The part that bugs me is characterization. Amon’s disrespect can be shrugged off as Amon being a bitch, but it’s not clear why everyone at STN-J treats Robin so badly. She saves everyone’s ass in the first episode, as I understand it, but they seem to spend the next four warming to her very, very slowly (and apropos of that ass-saving: why does TN-J only treat Robin as a human flamethrower, when her first and best trick relied on no superpowers but mere esoteric knowledge?). I’m wondering if the character designs deceive me in this: the dialouge and level of faith people exhibit in Robin seems like it’d put her at age 15, but she looks to be drawn more 20ish to me. Maybe I’m just a poor judge. Anyways, except for the interpersonal dynamics, Witch Hunter Robin seems promising. Consistent tone, good art, and an interesting world-model. Can the plot and charactes rise to this occasion? We’ll see, I guess.

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

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, episodes 1 & 2

[Screenshot]The Cold War espionage thriller is a genre those time has come and gone, I think, but when it was still an active genre, Le Carré was its master. To my shame, I’ve not read anything of his except The Tailor of Panama, but I get the impression he really knew what he was about (like Graham Greene, he had a stint in British intelligence). But, since I haven’t read the book, I’ll have to judge the series on its own merits.

So far it’s started off on an impressively cerebral note. These days spy thrillers are all flash and no fire, so it’s actually sort of comforting to see one where it’s a bunch of older, canny, cautious information-gatherers witing for their moment to strike. There’s enough action to keep things moving, although most of it is quite subdued: the flashback in Lisbon and Ricky Tarr’s current fugitive status keep a good deal of dramatic tension in the show without resorting to cheap tricks. So of course this all has to be supported by solid action, which is generally delivered. Most notably Alec Guinness makes it work, of course. He’s the main reason I checked this out, and he works very well in this essentially non-comic role (Smiley can be drily witty, but he’s not a comic character). The cast around him do an OK job, but, really, he dazzles with competence, both as an actor and (in-role) as a canny intelligence administrator. I’m only left unsatisfied by the fact that the plot hasn’t unraveled much yet, but I think to satisfy that complaint, all I can really do is watch some more.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

グラビテーション/Gravitation OVA

[Screenshot]I saw the broadcast Gravitation series and was reasonably entertained: it’s a fairly solid character-exploration in a reluctant BL mold. I haven’t explored romantic anime on the BL/shounen-ai/yaoi spectrum much, but the original Gravitation series seemed to get some good characterization and exploration of sexuality and identity in. Not so much with the OVA, I’m afraid; the plot is ridiculously thin and predicated on a lot of people behaving deliberately perversely and the characters sketched too broadly to really be sympathetic (incongruously, the less subtle depiction of Shuichi seems to tone down his hallmark boisterousness a lot). Tonally things have changed a lot; there’s a lot more direct sexuality and less romantic/emotional consideration (I’m thinking of one rather unnecessarily explicit scene here), and I find this less appealing, but I was more interested in the emotional aspects. The music is somewhat better although still disappointingly bland for a show about music, and the artistic style is more consistent, except that the stylistic inconsistency in the original series served a constructive purpose. There are two artistic points that need to be mentioned in greater detail: haircolors have been changed from the original series, which may throw a lot of people, and Shuichi spends the entire damn OVA in this alarmingly effeminate number which would not in itself be a problem, but for the fact that he spends a whole hour with his shirt falling off a shoulder (psst, Shuichi, your manssiere is showing).

Ultimately, I don’t see this one as really much worth seeing for anyone: fans of the original series will find it a pale shadow, and newcomers will be dropped in at the deep end with an established cast of characters and an already-concluded storyline, and would be much better served by watchnig the broadcast series.

Apropos of that established cast of characters: when did Shuichi acquire a sister? And as a secondary parting snark: if your biggest hit includes the phrase “Spicy Marmalade”, I think you’re not allowed to have lyrics-writing slumps.

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

Long Way Round, episodes 1–3

[Screenshot]Long Way Round is a simple story about how to get a motorbike from London to New York. Sensible people would just throw the bikes on a boat or a plane, but apparently Ewan MacGregor (who is extremely famous but tried to go quasi-incognito) and Charley Boorman (somewhat less well-known) decided it’d be far more interesting to ride them there by way of Prague, Ulaan Baatar, and Anchorage. This set of episodes, after seeing them off, focused mostly on Kazakhstan. Bear in mind this predated Borat, so Kazakhstan is treated as a mysterious unknown quantity, not as the butt of a dumb joke. And it is pretty exotic, in a roughing-it sort of way.

I can’t judge a documentary on the usual metrics I use for discussing video I experience, so it comes down to two questions: is it interesting? and does it have verisimillitude? The answe to the first is definitely yes: while the journey’s going through desolate places, they’re interestingly desolate and, more importantly, our interpid heroes’ response to the desolateness and uncertainty is interesting. As for verisimillitude, despite reassurances, I must confess wondering if some of the footage and stories were canned, or if the support vehicles hung a bit closer than they were claiming to. In spite of the careful planning gone into in the first episode, the Kazakh and further east portions of the trip seem really absurdly dangerous, and it wouldn’t do for two famous actors to just disappear in central Asia. But they run into enough trouble that one might believe that they actually did do it authenticall (and not all of the troubles involve Ewan McGregor getting petrol in his eye, although a disproportionate number of them seem to).

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Magnifico

The Heritage Language Film Festival closed out with a Filipino tearjerker. It’s definitely affecting; foresighted members of the Linguistics department brought boxes of tissues, which were needed. After the fact I felt sort of manipulated, though; it’s more sentimental than actually moving. I found it interesting to a large extent from a slice-of-Filipino-culture extent, and it succeeds in that purpose with enough of a story going on to be an awful lot more engaging than, say, a documentary. The cinemacraft is flawless; there’s a coexisting festivity and poverty pointing up Ikoy’s peculiar priorities. I thought most everything about it was good, but what with it being a Lingustics screening, I kept getting distracted by idiosyncrasies of the Tagalog language; a couple of English words have snuck in in non-obvious places. So maybe I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have. But even I noted the tragic story. And the Christian allegory. People who look for Christ figures in everything don’t have to look very hard here. Although it does make me want to look back at the Gospels to find the bit where Jesus solved a Rubik’s Cube.

See also: IMDB.

Shaun of the Dead

[Screenshot]Like so many films which everybody raves about but nobody specifically recommends to me, Shaun of the Dead made me feel vaguely like a community outsider. I don’t watch horror films generally, and I particularly haven’t made a point of watching zombie flicks. The original Night of the Living Dead, and that’s pretty much it. So I may be missing out on some of the background. The beginning is excellent: the subtly off-kilter Britain whose inhabitants are taking to lurching even more than usual, and without the benefit of a few pitns; but as the zombie invasion becomes full-fledged rather than peripheral, IMO, a lot of the story gets kinda bogged down. Maybe I’m just not a zombie-movie person, because this whole school of survival-horror kind of doesn’t work for me. And since the original genre doesn’t work for me, I’m not as sensitive to the presumably hilarious elements being spoofed as most folks seem to be.

Anyways, the problem in this case is probably me. But I probably won’t see Hot Fuzz now, since I’m almost as much into the action-cop genre as I am into survival horror.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.