Across the Universe

[Screenshot]Everyone knew what thie gimmick was, and I remember when this film came out there was a bit of a buzz as to how well it could actually be pulled off. Pretty easily, actually, for the most part, since the Beatles, like every other band in history, recorded a prodigous number of love songs, and anyone that can’t fit a huge quantity of love songs into a movie isn’t actually trying very hard. The problem came with their attempts to fit everything else into the film, and it came off half-baked. Some of the associations were moderately clever: if you’re going to introduce a thinly veiled Janis Joplin standin, “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?” is a good song to introduce her with, and the surreal Selective Services imagery during “I Want You/She’s So Heavy” actually works. You have to stack that against everything that doesn’t work in this movie, though, like the copout of putting “I am the Walrus” opposite acid-trip visuals, Eddie Izzard butchering “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” (disclaimer: I have nothing particular against Eddie Izzard, but I think his thing doesn’t work here), and random elements which don’t integrate into the story, like the extended Detroit race riots montage and pretty much everything involving Prudence (yes, I get it. She’s a lesbian. How is this significant?).

There’s some potential here, but this film is dragged down fairly heavily by the mediocrity of the love story and the producers’ complete inability to get over themselves and their own ostensible cleverness.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Á bout de souffle

[Screenshot]I was given to understand this was a landmark work of French cinema. My lukewarm reaction confirms my impression that there may be elements of Culture-with-a-capital-C which I simply don’t get. The pacing’s glacial, and I’m not given much to work with: it’s the story of a fugitive who adamantly refuses to live as a fugitive. But even the cause of his fugitive status seems to be the effect of completely random and terrible decisions on his part. Simply put, it comes across as the story of a very stupid person, and very stupid people are hard to view sympathetically. I find Patricia a far more interesting and complex character, since she actually displays both intelligence and some serious conflict. Maybe she was the one we were supposed to find interesting. I sure hope so, because Michel is not really a very interesting character to be following.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

鉄コン筋クリート/Tekkonkinkreet

[Screenshot]Tekkonkinkreet gives me an interesting perspective on what I like and don’t like in my films (specifically Japanese animation, which has genre conventions all its own). Good worldbuilding I like, and that wasn’t here: we’re told about Treasure Town, and get the local color done up in broad brushstrokes, but people’s reactions to and participation in its growth in decay never really rises above the archetypical. Psychodrama I like, so some of the best parts of the story for me are the interplay between Black and White (and Black’s behavior during the third quarter of the story). Mindscrew needs to be justified, to me, so Black’s corporealization of his inner demons really doesn’t work at all.

I could work around all this and come out with a positive vibe but for the art. The backgrounds are lush, detailed, and occasionally shocking, but character designs are simplisitic and seem, to me, rather crude. I’m used to a certain stylistic minimalism in character designs, but normally it can convey a certain elegance in its sparseness. This, I didn’t like, which may be my own problem, really.

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

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

[Screenshot]Buckaroo Banzai is a cult film, and as such, one doesn’t necessarily expect it to be good in the traditional way, but to do something interesting with layers of awesome and camp. It doesn’t disappoint in that regard. It essentially feels like an 80s version of (or affectionate parody of?) those early 20th century pulp sci-fi stories, in the Buck Rogers and Doc Savage vein. Our hero is a test pilot and a brain surgeon and a rock star and god knows what’s else. It’s all very over the top and everyone overacts a lot (but it has its real moments, like Buckaroo and Penny’s encounter in the club). So the film’s got tone (camp), and acting (alternatingly over-the-top and workmanlike, but it seems to fit), but what about plot? The whole story feels a bit of a muddle, what with all the hanging-off-bits-of-plot nobody bothers to illuminate. An awesome, campy muddle, but a muddle nonetheless.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

ローゼンメイデン/Rozen Maiden, episodes 1–4

[Screenshot]If you watch enough series, you start to recognize “types”. There seems to be a standard plot, which I’ll call the “Stray Cat” type, where a teenage boy, either at a crossroads in life or in a rut, meets and becomes the host to a clueless and smitten girl who is physically weak, small, or otherwise incapable. This basic setup describes, say, Chobits, Midori Days, and, with a little bit of tweaking, Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge. Rozen Maiden kinda flips this on its head, since the little companion taken in (and her entire cohort!) is far more capable, powerful, and all around on-top-of-things than her host is, and very much not smitten: all of the dolls we’ve been introduced to so far seem to positively detest Jun, for different reasons. This not only makes the series more interesting and fresher, but also shifts the genre: instead of the more common light comedy, Rozen Maiden is a drama with heavy fantasy notes. It’s a pretty busy series, and even though it has notes of comedy, it clearly takes itself seriously and wants the viewer to take it seriously. So far I have no problems doing so, because we have some interesting, well-drawn characters who suggest their three-dimensionality and backstories which suggest the plot has somewhere useful to go. Ultimately, though, it’s always up in the air as to whether the series as a whole lives up to its initial promise, but Rozen Maiden at least gives me hope.

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

Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey

[Screenshot]Theremin had a pretty meaty story, and it mostly did right by it. The story is that of Lev Sergeyevich Termen, an eccentric blend of Nikola Tesla and Robert Moog. It seems to pretty much scrape the bottom of the barrel with historical video, since there simply wasn’t that much to begin with, so the video is sometimes inconsequential and it’s much happier when it can find an appropriate still. The discussion of the historical role of the thereminvox is balanced and accurate, and there’s a lot of good footage of its role as a performance novelty in the 20s and 30s, as a film-score adjunct in the 40s and 50s, and as a respectable popular-music accompanying instrument from the 60s to the present (with, alas, the much-debunked assertion that the theremin appeared in Good Vibrations). The actual focus on Lev Termen’s life was somewhat less effective: the chronology of his time as a social butterfly and popular genius in the 20s is well-presented, but his return to Russia, forced labor, and eventual rescue are played pretty flatly and summarily (possibly due to a lack of actual information or good backgrounds to talk over).

Still, for all its flaws, Theremin is a film well worth the seeing, if only because its subject is so rich. If you’re into theremins, it’s a must, and even if you’re not, you may well find it fun.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

11人いる!/They Were Eleven

[Screenshot]Netflix recommended this one to me, and sometimes I even take its recommendations, but I think sometimes they fall flat. This one here is an animated space epic from the 80s, so I kinda expected something like Gall Force: Eternal Story, only better. I guess within the bounds of those low expectations it succeeds. It’s got much more of a story, and at least a few of the characters have personalities, although of the titular eleven, we get a real feel for maybe 4 of them. It’s not bad within its time and place, but doesn’t give much to chew on. The mystery isn’t very compelling, especially as its conclusion is unsatisfactory (I had a good guess as to the reason for the 11th crewman ten minutes in and was right; the identity was unforeseeable, since so many of the characters were basically ciphers). But, hey, if you roll with it and like space epics, you can ignore the mystery plot and just run with the action (and the few characterizations we’re treated to). The ending is, quite frankly, pretty awful, and I’m not even talking about the uncomfortable gender-politics play so much as the “where are they now” treatment, whcih I can but hope is an addition of the American release. The crew’s fates are both banal and seemingly divorced from their actual ambition: for instance, we’re told “Amazon went on to be a famous musician.” Sure, we see him play the guitar, but I’d presume he didn’t join the Space Marines Super Elite Corps for the free guitar lessons. In fact, none of the epilogue snippets seems to mention a military career, or even a career related to galactic security. Makes one wonder why they bother if they’re not actually going to transition their academy training into careers. With respect to technical issues, well, it’s an ’80s anime. An ’80s anime with high production values at least, but it still has that distinctly ’80s look (love it or hate it), and the music is awful synth-supported stuff.

Apropos of the American release: go with the sub, not the dub. The dub has a lot of odd random crap thrown in, including a throwaway line by Tada which should (but inexplicably does not) derail the Frol’s shocking revelation and major plot point later.

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