Saturday, August 28, 2010

G. I. Joe: Resolute (2009) review

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The Good: almost movie quality animation, characters are exactly as fans remember them except better developed, keeps the good points of past productions and improves on the bad, talented voice cast, well written narrative and dialogue, realistic and gritty.

The Bad: too short, violence may put off those expecting something kid-friendly

Current Availability Status: not in singapore. Code 1 DVD available from online stores.

DVD features:
- 20 minute long interview with director, producer and art designer
- original internet promotional video
- character gallery and information


The classic G I Joe cartoons have always been the poster boy of sorts for non-violent, almost campy "good team versus evil team" type of story. Despite the toyline being based on the actual military, being marketed to children meant a certain degree of pandering to the kids. As a result, the original show from the 80s featured increasingly bombastic science fiction plots, villians who got dumber each episode and a military unit versus a terrorist organization using stun laser guns fighting a war in which absollutely nobody got hurt (save for some collateral damage and robot destruction). Suspension of Belief was the order of the day. Three TV series and two CGI movies later, "G I Joe: Resolute" was quietly released as a series of ten minute long videos online, designed to ride the publicity wave of the live action G I joe movie.

Ironically, this little gem of an animated movie recieved much better fan critical acclaim than its live action counterpart. Where the live action movie stuck with the cartoony nature of the G I Joe cartoons, G I Joe Resolute remained faithful to the concept of the toyline and the comics while reinventing the franchise in a more mature light.

Either set in a new continuity or as a loose sequel to the original animated series, G I Joe resolutes opens with a literal bang as the G I Joe team's main Aircraft carrier base is nearly destroyed in a terrorist bomb attack. Following this, key installations around the world are seized with lightning quick effeciency and one of Cobra Organisation's head honchos turn up dead on the steps of City Hall. What has happened is that Cobra commander, yes that cowardly bombastic buffoon from the classic cartoon, is back. Now a cold, calculating tyrant, he has seized command of Cobra by force. With a deadly new superweapon, a fool proof plan to hold the world hostage and the G I Joe team all but crippled, it falls on the remants of that team to pull together and launch an ambitious multi-pronged stealth counterattack. Their mission is to retake the seized facilities, shut down the orbital superweapon and discover the wherabouts of Cobra's base. But with time running out and their most crucial member, Snake Eyes, off to settle a personal vendetta, will the G I Joe team pull through in the end?

Clocking at only 60 minutes total, one would expect a truncated and watered down story. Not true. The story in G I Joe Resolute plays out very nicely over its allotted time, never feeling rushed at all, and has a decent conclusion which leaves some space for a sequel. The writers on this one seem to really know their stuff and have went for a more realistic portrayal of the titular paramilitary team. G I Joe members plan combat strategies, use actual military jargon and weapons that actually shoot bullets. Supporting the team is a huge collection of intelligence officers and maintainence crew, unlike the original series in which the G I Joe team were on their own yet all vehicles were always properly maintained and all battle plans were always at the ready.

The focus of the story is more on the main team of Duke, Scarlett and the ninja Snake Eyes, all of them exactly as one would have remembered from the old 80s cartoon series but with added dimensions. Gone is the all American Good guy boy scout, "do no wrong" Duke. Here, he is a "take charge" leader, but not without his flaws; he allows personal feelings to get in the way of his judgement and puts himself at unnecessary risk often for the sake of his team. Its those flaws that make him ever so much more human. There is a visible love triangle between the 3, but thankfully it is only implied and does not descend into anything overly sappy. Snake Eye's backstory is the only one that is fully fleshed out though, from his days as a ninja trainee to his vendetta with Storm Shadow. Many of the original characters that existing G I Joe fans would recognise reappear in this show too. The amazing thing is that Only five voice actors performed the roles for over twenty characters, yet each character manage to sound unique.

Special mention goes to Charlie Alder(the voice of Starscream in the Transformers 2007 movie and Revenge of the Fallen) who carries on the tradition of a Starscream voice actor doing the voice of Cobra Commander. This Cobra Commander is very much in keeping with his toy description and his comic portrayal. A ruthless, tyrannical, scheming overlord with no qualms of killing his own troops should they refuse to obey him. His portrayal here can be compared to Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker in "The Dark Knight' or perhaps Hannibal Lecter. He is merciless and his new voice just reeks of evil. No more over the top schemes of world domination, this Cobra Commander cuts to the chase: surrender or die.

Similarly, G I Joe Resolute is an amazing technical achievement for OVAs. The artwork retains the designs of american comic books but with an attention to detail that rivals the best Japanese anime. The animation itself is smooth with dynamic shot angles and near perfect blending of CGI with the cel animation. Few animated shows can pull off a convincing 360 degree pan around a character or a believable slow motion shot without the scene looking jumpy but this one is an excepton. G I Joe Resolute has definitely set a new benchmark in animation. The battle scenes have also been taken to a whole new level. No more stun laser guns or shots missing at point blank range. No more "its only a scratch" or "he got shot but its just a flesh wound". THIS IS WAR. The battle scenes are very realistically planned out with the effects of war clearly visible in all its bloody glory.

Alas, with all these excellent aspects of this movie, its only flaw is that it is too short. Sure, it does not feel truncated or watered down, but a more visible build up in the tension and the story would have been a welcome additon. It is how one would like an enjoyable thing to last, but sadly this movie did not last long. Both long time fans and new comers to animation would love this latest G I Joe production that is easily the most realistic and mature entry into the franchise so far.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you want to see G I joe at its very best. Incorporating everything that worked in the past while getting rid of every aspect that did not work. Also go for it if you felt let down by the live action movie and would desire something more "true to the original"
Avoid it: if you expect the campy kid-friendly nature of the 1985 cartoon series

Entertainment: A
Story: A-
Characters: A
Animation: A
Art: A-
Voice work (English): A
Replay Value: A
Brains: C+

Seamless blending of traditional cel animation (the runway personnel) and CGI (the plane).
In fact the plane looks completely like a cel animated plane, but it really is a computer generated model

The G I Joe team, assembled.
Same old recognisable characters given a modern makeover

Ninja Assassin!
G I Joe team member Snake Eyes prepares to dispatch an opponent

I Know Kung Fu
The action in G I joe resolute borrows stylisticly from "The Matrix", "Equillibrium" and other big hollywood action movies.

Macross missile massacre or Robotech rocket rain. Either way, its way cool.
Other influences come from famous anime like Macross, Sword of the Stranger and Jin Roh.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Halloween (2007) remake review

Overall verdict: 7/10

The Good: Excellent acting, full character development, psychological insight, satisfying kills (the victims deserved it), does not "reinvent the wheel"

The Bad: not scary, might be too much gore and sex, lacks the tension filled mood of the original

Current Availability Status:
-discount priced DVDs in most Singapore DVD stores.
-Unrated Directors cut available in limited supply from HMV singapore

Remaking the much adored classic horror film "Halloween" is no easy task. A devoted fanbase who have been let down by a series of increasingly disappointing sequels, guard their beloved franchise like rabid dogs. Any attempt to tamper with the original story of Laurie Strode and the mysterious killer named Michael Myers would be met with immediate negative reaction. Heavy Metal Musician-turned-film director, Rob Zombie, knows this well. As a result, he does not even both rehashing Lauri Strode's horrific encounters with a killer. In this remake, Michael Myers himself is the focus of the story as his tragic origins are traced right from his tortured childhood, thus giving birth to the souless evil that has become a famous horror icon.

The movie can be essentially be split into to distinct parts: Myer's childhood and incarceration at Smith's grove Sanitarium right up to his escape years later, and then the second part would be his return to Haddonfield to carry out his grizzly murders; this being a loose recreation of the original classic movie only with the focus on the killer instead of the victims.

Growing up in the town of Haddonfield, young Michael Myers is bullied at school, teased by his sister and continually insulted by his stripper mother's boyfriend, Ronnie. Though he tries to hold it all in, he is Pushed to the brink. One day he snaps; His psychopathic tendencies finally manifest resulting first in the grizzly murder of the school bully and then his sister, her sex partner and Ronnie on Halloween night. Michael is then placed under the care of Dr Samuel Loomis who tries unsuccessfully to "cure" the boy and then makes a career out of him by writing books based on Michael Myers' deteriorating psychological condition. Following the suicide of his mother, Michael grows ever more distant and remains in Smith's Grove for the next fifteen years until he escapes by murdering the employees as one of them were attempting to rape a fellow patient.

It is in this first segment where we get to see how the director, Rob Zombie, manages to craft a world as seen through the eyes of a killer. Hate drove Michael to kill and similarly every single character, with the exception of Dr Loomis and Michael's mother, is portrayed in such a way that you just MUST hate them as much as Michael did. The girls are complete bitches, the guys are foul mouthed retards, every single character is just so easy to dislike; it is a skewed world that Michael Myers sees and one of the reasons why he has no qualms about killing everyone who inhabits it. Aside from Michael, Dr Loomis is also given a much better character development here than in the original. He is a more sympathetic character who genuinely wants to help Michael Myers and for a while, the two actually form some sort of bond. Much better than the obsessively driven Loomis of the original who was more like a crazy Captain Ahab after Moby Dick.

The second part involves Michael returning to Haddonfield and going on a bloody rampage while searching for his long lost sister. This part is the "horror story" remake proper and depending on how you look at it, might seem very disappointing. For one thing, it is not scary at all; you'd know it every time Michael is about to kill someone so that takes away a lot of tension. But then again, seeing as how this movie is from the killer's point of view, Michael Myers is not scared when he kills and thus neither should the audience be.

On the technical side, Most of the cast do a decent job of acting their parts. Special mention goes to Malcolm McDowell as Dr Loomis who does an incredible job of fleshing out his character's inner torment; he feels responsible for Michael's actions but at the same time cannot bring himself to kill a man that he pities more than hates. None of the supporting cast are every fully explored though, with only Michael Myers and Dr Loomis getting the most character development; perhaps again a side effect of focusing the movie on Michael. Rob Zombie does fall back on quick cuts, cheap shocks, and other typical camera tricks of horror movies but it does not take away from the enjoyment of the film. There is also a good amount of gore and nudity here to satisfy the casual slasher movie fan too.

Not everyone will be happy when a horror movie not just humanizes its main "monster" but fails to be scary. But other would love the fresh new direction that the remake decided to go which adds a whole new dimension to the slasher film killer stereotype. Though not entirely perfect, Halloween 2007 is a lousy horror show but an excellent psychological drama that delves into the mind of a killer, effectively reminding us that behind every face of evil, there was once an innocent child.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you are open to an actual reinterpretation of a classic horror icon that adds a new level of depth
Avoid it: if you expect something as creepy or scary as the classic that inspired this remake

Entertainment: B
Story: C+
Acting: B+
Characters: A-
Replay value: B-
"Brains": B-

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (1985)

Overall verdict: 8/10

The Good: creative directing that hides animation limitations, easy to follow character driven narrative, well paced war story, realistic character portrayals, philosophy as a "side dish", emotionall compelling.

The Bad: a few "far out" concepts about psychic powers, skimps on the politics that made its predecessor such a treat to watch.

Current Availability Status: "Anime legends" edition boxsets available online. Not available in singapore.

> Below: Limited collectors edition. Out of print.

DVD extras: trailers


7 years have passed since the events of the original MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM and the battles lines have shifted once again. Yesterdays heroes are today's oppressors as the once heroic Earth Federation has degenerated into a fascist ruling party whose iron law is upheld in the space colonies by the "Titans", an elite task-force created to quell any form of possible insurrection. Opposing them is "A.E.U.G", formed by a number of ex-ZEON members including the legendary Char Aznable. It is an underground group of freedom fighters slowly gaining support and power among the colonies. Enter the brash and hot headed Kamille Bidan who, during the events of an A.E.U.G attempt to capture some experimental mobile suits, lands up piloting the newly developed Gundam MK2. A series of tragedies occur which forces Kamille, who already harbors a dislike for the Titans and the Federation, to join up with the A.E.U.G as they make their way to earth. While the Titans are determined to stop the AEUG no matter the cost, the AUEG themselves are planning an all out attack on the Earth Federation. However, as the two factions tear at each other, a more dangerous threats looms in the form of the "Neo Zeon" movement.

The first thing that would strike any viewer of Zeta Gundam is how the various players in the war were portrayed. Instead of going for a morally ambiguous stand and make each side seem "good" in their own way, this show is quick to bring out the "ugly face" of each side, ally or enemy; it is the viewers' choice to either root for the devil or the demon. Even the heroes do some morally questionable things over the course of the story, but it all plays into some very well thought out character development.

This series focuses more strongly on its main character of Kamille Bidan, his point-of-view and how me meets the various different characters as the story advances. Kamille starts off as, quite honestly, a self-centered brat with an identity crisis and a dysfunctional family relationship. But his development over the course of the series is heart warming and emotionally engaging as he matures and is given a crash course in "growing up" and being a responsible soldier. Without spoiling anything here, but let us just say that the poor kid experiences quite a good number of deaths, especially involving some people close to him. Some of those deaths were a result of enemy action, but others came as a result of Kamille's own childish stubborness.

How the characters react to their situations are realistically logical, in a style that one would expect from any real life person thrust into that situation, and lead up well into their subsequent actions, be it a subtle change of attitude or even defecting to the other side. From the inner turmoil of Kamille Bidan, to the crazed obsession of Jared Messa, to even Quattro Bajena's loss of faith in his leadership capabilities. All of them are equally compelling and fully developed. Character from the original MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM series return, all grown up and a little differnt in their outlook toward the war, but the same people that the fans remember. However, it is Kamille's story and the narrative manages to keep its focus despite the ever growing cast.

The story moves along at an excellent pace with enough twists to keep you coming back for more. It may start off a little slow for the first few episodes, mainly just to get all our main cast into place, but manages to pick up after that. The episodes never seem to drag and the intrigue just keeps building especially after the introduction of the cyber newtypes and "Axis Zeon". Though not as in the forefront as other Gundam productions, politics play an intergral role in advancing the plot and giving a sense of scale to the ongoing conflict.

Created in 1985, Zeta Gundam's animation is actually quite good for its time. It can hold up to many anime series up to those in the late 1990s thanks to its detailed artwork. The director does use a number of stock footage and repeated scenes especially in battles, but he does it in such a way that it is never really obvious the scenes are re-used. Little things like using a stock footage in mirror-image or re-coloring the background of a stock footage or even playing with the speed of the animation all helps to "mask" the re-used scenes and animation. A very shrewd bit of directing there that allows the animation to look great while saving on cost. In fact, one can argue that the style of the art and animation here lends a very "gritty" look to the show that goes well with its darker storyline. Thanks to that, the action in Zeta Gundam is intense and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

At times however, the saturated narrative does seem to lose its focus. Near the latest parts of the series, psychic powers start to manifest. The concept of a "Newtype" initially was a person born in space with the ability to fully understand, almost metaphysically, the intentions and actions of others. Now, a "newtype" is anyone who exhibits not just enhanced perception and low level ESP, but actual psychic powers that allows one to predict an opponent's next move and even used in the form of a psychic attack. Thankfully other concepts fare a lot better, particularly the differnt points of view and philosophical rhetorics about the nature of war.

Conceptual shortcomings aside, MOBILE SUIT ZETA GUNDAM is very much and enjoyable anime series; a timeless tale that can appeal to any modern audience who are willing to look past its vintage. For those that can not look past its age, Sunrise and Bandai saw it fit to remake the series back in 2005 into three movies featuring updated animation and artwork. However, any Gundam fan will tell you that nothing beats the"classic charm". With animation beyond its time, a dark but highly engaging story and an emotionally identifiable cast with strong characterization, it is no wonder many long time Gundam fans regard MOBILE SUIT ZETA GUNDAM as the best Gundam series ever created.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you'd like to experience a milestone in anime history; a sweeping galaxy spanning tale that takes the time to focus intimately on its characters.
Avoid it: if technical age is a factor that would affect your enjoyment of a story.

Entertainment: A-
Story: A
Characters: A
Animation: B-
Art: B-
Voice work (Japanese): B
Voice work (Canada english): C+
Replay Value: B+
"Brains": A-

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994) "Uncut, Uncensored, Unleased" edition

Overall verdict: 7/10

The Good: Superbly choreographed fight scenes, highly fluid animation, detailed artwork, characters look exactly like in the game, great voice acting.

The Bad: unfocused narrative, cheesy dialogue,

Current Availability Status: "Uncut, Uncensored, Unleadhed" edition available at most Laser flair and MJ outlets in singapore.

DVD Features:
- Japanese, US and UK versions of the film
- interactive character dossier

DVD Value for money rating: C-

Many fans will argue that Group TAC's"Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie" is THE Street Fighter movie. The prefect adaptation of the popular fighting game franchise. Compared to the two live action movies, the American animated series, the Japanese anime series and three other anime OVA movies, it is definitely the best in that it is almost exactly like its source material, flaws and all.

Like its source material, this movie delivers all the flashy fighting moves one would expect from Street Fighter while mixing it up with realistic fight choreography courtesy of professional Martial Artists. Every punch from wind up to the hit to the follow through is thoroughly animated. Close ups and long shots are used appropriately to give a very dynamic viewing experience. Characters act and react to their opponents like how real fighters would and unlike other fighting anime like Dragonball, special powers are not thrown around. In fact, special powers are very rarely used in this movie and only as a last resort. Most of the time, we have one on one duels that look better than some big budget kung fu movies.

All this is set to the gorgeous animation and artwork by Group TAC. It break free from the stereotype of anime utilizing more animation short cuts and lower frame rate than western animation. The frame rate here is so smooth, it almost looks rotoscoped. Even in non-action scenes Characters are always in motion with expression in the faces and body posture portrayed very nicely in the art. Now One would think that with a higher frame rate and smooth animation, the detail of the art would suffer. This is not the case here. The artwork is beautiful and finely detailed. Shadows and blacks are heavy lending to very nice gritty look and feel for the show. And the painted backgrounds are works of art on their own. The character designs are true to the game and pleasing to the eye, though some like Guile and Balrog tend toward looking exaggerated. In Balrog's case, he loooks downright off-model (check out those eyes)

On the flip-side the Street Fighter games were never known for deep narratives. As a result, The story of the movie is weak and cliched, teetering between juvenile and just plain silly. A power hungry dictator, M Bison, has been capturing the world's greatest fighters to turn them into his own private army. He seeks out one particular fighter named Ryu after he defeated Bison's second in command, Sagat. Ryu's life as a vagabond wanderer makes him hard to track, so Bison goes after Ryu's best friend, Ken, whose power level is also "over 3000". At the same time, Captain Guile of the US air-force and Chun Li of Interpol are looking for leads to take down Bison's Shadowlaw crime empire. The story plays out very straight forward with no hint of intrigue or build up, and hearkens back to the cheesy spy movies of the 60s with evil crime empires and giant sky ships. At the same time, the quasi science fiction elements of "power levels" and "mind control" never seem to blend with the more fantasy aspects like "Chi powers". It is almost like watching three different shows cut and pasted together.

Street Fighter II The Animated Movie also suffers from trying to introduce too many characters in too little time. Aside from Ryu, most of the characters are one dimensional stereotypes of different cultures or races. The motives of the other characters are never explained or only briefly touched on and they are never developed as the movie progresses. Even Ryu gets little development beyond being a guy in the wrong place at the right time. Then there are appearances by Zangeif, Blanka, Sagat etc who seem to be just there to make the game fans happy. They lend nothing too important to the plot, especially Zangeif and Blanka whose appearance is totally non-essential to the story and could have been cut out; that time and money could have been used to actually further the plot.

Lastly, The scripting and dialogue is undeniably plain. The games never had much dialogue aside from characters' "post stage" win quotes. Cheesy lines and over the top speeches abound in this movie. Thankfully, unlike other anime, characters do not spew lengthy monologues in the middle of fights. The Japanese voice actors deliver a solid performance and generally seem to have a lot of fun with their lines. The English version has more realistic, subdued acting and some lines are changed to make them less cheesy and more "adult". Plus it is more believable to have the majority of the characters, which are non-Japanese, speak English. Not to mention that the animators never bothered to properly sync the lip movement to the Japanese dialogue in the first place.Different music also accompany the different language tracks. The Japanese language tracks comes with a synthesizer composed score, very mellow and harldy noticable. A good point is that it never distracts one from the animation. The english language track comes with a heavy hitting grunge rock style soundtrack, no doubt inspired by the soundtrack of Mortal Kombat. It is more "in your face" than the japanese one, adding to the whole "badass" feel of the show. In the end, it comes down to personal preference.

Overall Street Fighter II The Animated Movie greatly enjoyable movie that captures the spirit of the games and likely to please fan and newcomer alike. Aside from the simplistic story and cookie cutter characters, the animation and fight choreography definitely sets the bench mark for fighting genre anime.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: to get a taste of what is essentially the best on screen adaptation of the famous fighting game.
Avoid it: if you expect this movie to give any further insight into the deeper workings of the various street fighter characters.

Entertainment: A
Story: C-
Characters: C-
Animation: A
Art: A
Voice work(Japanese): B+
Voice work (English): B+
Replay Value: A-
"Brains": D

Pull that strap for a nasty surprise.

My third "facing De-feet" joke in a single week.

ITS OVER 9000!!!

Come'ere I'm gonna EAT YOU!

Ryu comes close to De-feet (seriously i should stop with the feet jokes)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Full Metal Panic (2002)

Overall verdict: 8/10

The Good: above par voice acting, lovable characters, attractive designs, coherant narrative with a more mature feel that usual, realistic portrayal of semi-futuristic military combat, well written comedy, excellent cast chemistry, blends various genre seamlessly, high animation production value in the early episodes

The Bad: inconsistent animation, visible animation "short cuts" and downgrade with subsequent episodes, rushed conclusion,

Current Availability Status:

*above* hard box Region 1 "Complete Collection" from ADV films: Out of Print

soft box "re-release" edition by Funimation: still available from any major online DVD stores.

Bu-ray edition featuring remastered truHD audio: available september 2010
Comments: Do not expect true HD video for the Blu-ray release. This being a 2002 anime, it was not created in a HD 1080pi Master. It is not even widescreen.

Singapore Region 3 by Blue Max Entertainment: still available at most Blue Max stores islandwide.

DVD features USA R1: all versions of the USA DVDs contain the same features
- Clean OPs and EDs animation and songs
- production sketches
- comicaly original copyright warnings (the characters themselves warn agains copyright infringment)
- ADV DVD previews

DVD Features Singapore R3:
- just the TV series.

DVD Value for Money grade:
USA R1: B-
USA Blu Ray: C
Singapore R3: D

Remember back in chemistry you had to mix the various volatile chemicals in the right proportions or it will all go up in smoke? Full Metal Panic is a daring experiment that mixes serious military style action with high school humor and romance with mech battles. Dangerous combination there of serious and light hearted: too serious and the comedy loses its flavor, too comedic and no one would take the show seriously. So many anime have tried mixing genres with less than satisfactory results. Full Metal Panic on the other hand maintains its perfect balance of serious and silly, making for a very unique anime series.

Full Metal Panic takes place i a world not to different from our own. However in that world, there exists "Black technology" and selected special individuals called "The whispered" who possess enhanced cognitive capabilities. This Black technology allowed the mass production of giant humanoid mecha units called "Arm Slaves" which soon fell into the hands of terrorists. A secret organization called "Mithril" was formed to combat this rising threat of and to protect the Whispered from being captured and exploited by the terrorists. Mithril Operative Souske Sagara, only 17 but already a battle hardened soldier, is assigned to protect a newly discovered "Whispered" named Kaname Chidori. Along with his teammate, the wisecracking Kurz Weber and team leader Melissa Mao, Souske enrolls undercover as a student in Kaname's high school. Kaname's seemingly normal life comes crashing down as Souske tries to protect her in the only way he knows how: violently, decisively, like a well trained soldier, even employing some common battlefield strategies usually used to take down armed assailants. Hilarity ensues as Souske, who has only known a life of warfare since birth, tries to integrate himself into "normal" society and to fulfil his mission, much to the chagrin of Kaname. But just as it seems like the story is becoming a typical romantic comedy, a mysterious terrorist organization has discovered Kaname's whereabouts and is out to capture her by any means necessary.

Adapted from a series of novels as opposed to a manga aimed at kids or teenagers, the writing on Full Metal Panic stands out as decidedly more mature than its contemporaries. Every character is fully fleshed out and given a decent amount of development as the series moves along. Even side characters that would usually be just one-dimensional stock archetypes end up rather likable. Central to the story is the excellent chemistry the emotionally suppressed yet tenacious Souske and the hot headed Kaname. Though at first Souske only regards Kaname as a "mission objective" and likewise, Kaname regards Souske as "sergeant Psycho", the two grow closer as they get to know one another. There is definitely a theme of romance yet it is tastefully played out without any of the cheesy mushy stuff.

The way the dialog is written and lends a stronger feel of realism to the entire story. This top notch script, full of wit and charm, is complemented by equally top notch acting. Of particular note is the English voice acting by ADV films which matches the quality of the Japanese track tone for tone. Some of the roles may even come across as more natural in English such as Chris Patton's role of Souske Sagara in which he peppers his dialog with military jargon and maintains a stoic drill sergeant type of tone. There is also a Chinese dub track released in Asian countries but that one is plagued by serious miscasting of roles and a certain lack of actor enthusiasm. All in all, Both the Japanese language track and USA English track are equally enjoyable and sound equally natural.

For a 2002 production, Full Metal Panic is among the better looking ones, yet it has not aged too well despite being so recent. Boasting a beautiful level of art detail and an adequate frame rate animation by GONZO studios, Full Metal Panic's quality gets inconsistent as the series progresses. Badly rendered CGI is thankfully kept to a minimum, used only on a Submarine and some aircraft, but the show has its fair share of obvious cost cutting techniques in the later half, almost as if the production went over budget halfway through. Seen here are two screenshots of the same "Arbalest" mecha. The one o the left is from episode 6, the one on the right is from episode 24. Notice the dramatic drop in detail, the absence of any metallic like sheen and even a change of design.

There is a stark contrast between the animation quality seen in the first episode and the last episode. Quite a disappointment coming from the same studio that produced some awesome animation in Samurai 7 and Afro Samurai.

Animation flaws aside, Full Metal Panic is a rare series that manages to feel as good as some of the best Hollywood blockbusters of all time. This makes it easily accessible to viewers who have not watched anime and is a great series for "newbies" to jump into anime fandom. Two anime sequels, a couple of manga spin offs and a dedicated fan base despite its young age, Full Metal Panic might just end up a modern classic, talked about for years to come.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you love both comedy and science fiction action that is nicely blended and perfectly balanced, jumping between the two different genre seamlessly. Both down-to-earth realistic and humorously unreal at the same time.
Avoid it: if science fiction anime for you has to be dark and depressing, and comedy anime has to involve a harem of girls.

Entertainment: A
Story: A-
Characters: A
Animation: B-
Art: B-
Voice work (Japanese): A
Voice work (USA english): A
Voice work (Chinese): C
Replay Value: A
Brains: B-

Aliens Vs Predator: Requeim (2007) Unrated Extended edition review

Overall verdict: 5/10

The Good: numerous references to the past Alien and Predator films, a return to the R Rated level of violence, roaring musical score,

The Bad: overall "cheap" B movie feel, overly dark cinematography, cliche filled story, shallow characters

Current Availability Status: on discount priced code 3 DVD in Singapore

DVD Features:
Disc 1
- Directors commentary by the Strauss Brothers
- Commentary by special effects crew on the more technical aspects of the film
- Trailers

Disc 2
- Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes
· Prepare for War: The Making of AVP-R
· Fight to the Finish: The Making of AVP-R
· AVP-R: The Nightmare Returns – Creating the Aliens
· Crossbreed: The PredAlien
· Building the Predator Homeworld
- Design art gallery
- Picture reference guide to the Aliens and Predators species

DVD Value for money grade: B+
Despite negative fan reaction and harsh reviews, 2004's Alien Vs Predator went on to turn a profit. As usual, with any profit comes the production studio's desire for a sequel. Another promise made by the producers was that this sequel th PG rated "Alien Vs Predator" film would return to the R Rated violence of the original Alien and Predator movies. That promise was delivered wholeheartedly, but the bland story, flat characters and initial gaping plot holes, all flaws of the first AVP film, still remained. The "extended combat" edition reviewed here corrects some of those plot holes and adds more violence, but does little to improve the overall story.

Set immediately after AVP, the body of the dead Predator has been recovered by his brethren. But unknown to them, he had been infected by an alien facehugger during the events of the first film. Before long, a baby alien/predator hybrid explodes out of the dead one's chest and stows away aboard a scout ship that detached from the main mothership. The hybrid makes short work of the crew and causes the craft to crash land back on earth, this time in Gunnison county, Colorado. Despite this, the hybrid survived and released the other aliens contained in stasis. In a last ditch effort, a automated distress signal is sent back to a certain Predator warrior on the Predators' home-world. This warrior, who is supposedly a battle hardened veteran and an expert in dealing with Alien breakouts, proceeds to earth where the Aliens are slowly encroaching upon a small unsuspecting town.

While the Alien films took place in a future of space travel and the Predator films brought the viewers to exotic jungle locales, urban or otherwise Alien Vs Predator: Requiem "(AVPR) takes place in a "isolated small town" setting that is so common in Sci/Fi horror B movies. Populating said town are characters who are either there just to be killed off or are, again, homages to past films: the main character of Dallas Howard is a reference to Dallas in the first Alien film and "military mom" Kelly O'Brien is almost a clone of Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley. There is some attempt at developing the characters such as the mother/daughter relationship between Kelly and her estranged daughter whom she hardly spent time with in the past, but that is never the main focus. In fact, delivering the violence and the numerous fan-friendly references seem to be all that this film sets out to do.

In that respect, AVPR does not disappoint addicts of R rated horror films. Heads are blown open, guts are spilled, someone is even slowly melted by acid while he is still alive and screaming as his eyeballs leak out of their sockets. Though the film was censored somewhat for its theatrical run, all the cut scenes of violence have been restored for the "extended combat edition" DVD release. No Man, woman, child or baby is safe. Predator fans who were let down by having their favorite monsters offed within 10 minutes in the first AVP can rest easy in the knowledge that this new Predator is no pushover. Packing a mean arsenal that includes double plasma launchers, laser mines and a razor whip, this Predator, nicknamed "Wolf", tears through alien xenomorphs like they were harmless puppies. His most challenging foe though is the "PredAlien" hybrid that possess all the genetic traits of the aliens plus the brute strength and hunting instinct of the Predators.

This theme of hybridisation is carried in every aspect of the movie but is most evident in the rousing music score by Brian Tyler. The young composer masterfully blends the fast paced wind orchestra style of the Aliens franchise music with the heavy militaristic percussion sounds of the Predator franchise. The result is an epic soundtrack that pays homage but never copies its predecessors, one that is fit for a modern film masterpiece.

Sadly, AVPR is anything but a masterpiece. Colin and Greg Strauss, both self-proclaimed fans of James Cameron's "Aliens" and John McTiernan's "Predator" make their directorial here. They too desire to carry on the theme of "hybridization" and their love for the two monster franchises shows in the way everything from the characters to the sound effects and the filming style all pay homage to the original films in the franchises. There are even entire scenes lifted wholesale from the past movies: for example the National Guard getting taken out by the Alien swarm is reminiscent of the same slaughter involving the space Marines in 1986's "Aliens". This is evidence of either a near obsessive desire to "remain true to the original" or of a genuine lack of experience in the directors to craft their own film. Instead of taking the best elements of each franchise and combining them, they chose to copy and paste wholesale.

At times however, the Strauss brothers' strict adherence to their favorite films and attempts at hybridization is their stumbling block. For example, in the Alien and Predator films, quick cuts and extreme close-ups are used to create a sense of tension and frantic action. The creatures were kept in the darkness in order to maintain an air of mystery and fear; you can hear the screams, you can see snippets of silhouettes, but never the whole creature or what the creatures are doing and how they are killing their prey. Those quick cuts, close-ups and lack of lighting are all present in this film, except that people come to watch something titled "Aliens Vs Predator" to see exactly that; aliens and predator mashing it up with each other, which is almost impossible without manually tweaking the television's brightness.

On a whole, the lack of lighting never allows the full glory of the creature effects or the "full gory" of the violence to shine. Calling the film "unoriginal" is an understatement. The way it "references" the past films could be considered mild plagiarism and whatever original aspects of the show are merely B movie staples complete with a cheesy teenage romance scene. While it might thrill the fans to be able to slowly pick out the various references to past films, it makes Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem little more than pastiche of scenes from great movies past set to a familiar "B movie" feel and thus never developing its own identity.

For the review of AVP, the film that precedes this movie, click here

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Go For it: if you didn't mind the flaws of the first AVP film but would like to see something darker, gorier and more violent. Also if you are the kind that loves trying to pick apart movies and point out the various references to previous film works in the narrative.
Avoid it: if you expect a masterpiece the likes of the original films by Ridley Scott or James Cameron that inspired this crossover.

Entertainment: B
Story: B-
Acting: C+
Characters: C+
Replay value: B
"Brains": D+

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tekken: The Motion Picture (1997) review

Overall verdict: 3/10

The Good: great voice acting that fit the characters, characters look exactly like from the game

The Bad: overly short running time, underdeveloped characters, inconsistent animation, off model artwork,

Current Availability Status: Internet only. DVD out of print.

In 1994, the success of "Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie" rocked the anime world. Three years later, ASCII and studio deen collaborated on "Tekken: the motion picture" in a possible bid to replicate the success of the previous video game anime adaptation. The result however was less than satisfying: a sub par product that was inferior in every way as an anime movie.

If the opening monologue about the nature of "the tekken" (supposedly the "complete knowledge of one's flesh, blood and fist" that would be the "key to life") does not confuse you, the rest of the movie might. The story somewhat follows that of the first two Tekken games: Special investigator and martial arts expert Jun Kazama, who is operating out of Singapore, is made to join the "Tekken" tournament hosted by the mysterious Mishima corporation under Heihachi Mishima. This is a pretense for her to infiltrate Mishima's island fortress and ascertain whether they are producing dinosaur-like bio weapons. In another part of Singapore, Kazuya the rogue son of Heihachi Mishima is attacked by an assassin Nina. This prompts him to stowaway aboard a ship destined for Mishaima's island in order to exact his revenge upon his father.

Along the way, it is revealed that Jun and Kazuya have a shared history. When they were young, Kazuya tried to help Jun. His father Heihachi saw that act as an act of weakness and, believe it or not, THREW KAZUYA OFF A CLIFF! All the while, waxing philosophical about how Lions throw cubs off cliffs as a test of strength. Thats to that event, Kazuya is now a cold heartless fighter obsessed with vengeance.

Running at 60 minutes, it barely has enough time to develop the main story of Jun and Kazuya. To make things worse, other fighters like Lee (who is jealous of his brother Kazuya and wants to kill him), jack (who's story seems ripped from Terminator 2 about the machine who values human life) and Nina hog the screen time with their own little story arcs. This leads to none of their characters being fully developed. Although the voice actors do a great job, Cheesy lines about "grasping your own truth with your hands" and "don't let the darkness in your heart take over" permeate the entire narrative. Along with some drivel about machine self-awareness, justice and truth and the purpose of fighting, it gives the feel of an anime desperately trying to sound as complex as its contemporaries. Instead it all sounds very silly and juvenile once given a little bit of thought.

And then there is the animation, which looks no better than a standard 1997 TV series animation. It does not do justice to the quality of anime movies which are meant to have a bigger budget. Character movements are lazily animated, frame rate is barely adequate and the fights lack a certain energy. Every motion comes across and stiff but at least the level of detail in the art is consistent. Cost cutting techniques are obviously used. For example, Conversations involve a long pan over a still scene, Motion lines on a still picture and there are even some repeated scenes thrown in.

Fans thinking that this could not be worse than the recent live action Tekken movie, think again. This is worse. Though the characters look exactly like they do in the game, the entire thing is ludicrous. Invisible dinosaurs, boxing kangaroos, cyborgs, psychic powers, devil energy, genetic alterations and Jun's ability to sense a "fighter's spirit", all concepts that are never explained. Even the final duel between Kazuya and his father is sadly anti-climatic.

Tekken The motion picture fails in every way to mimic the success of Street Fighter The Animated movie despite even lifting some scenes wholesale from that anime: A nude shower scene, an attempted assassination in a bedroom and even a sumo wrestler character that parodies Street Fighter character E Honda. Overall a major disappointment, not even worth the time to watch on youtube.

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Go For it: if you do not mind bad animation and insist that an anime adaptation can be no worse than a live action adaptation of a video game
Avoid it: if you have better things to spend 60 minutes of your life on.

Entertainment: C
Story: C-
Characters: C-
Animation: C-
Art: C
Voice work (japanese): B
Voice work (english USA): B
Replay Value: D+
"Brains": F


"Jahn Cahnnah. I appeer to harv fallen."

Kazuya faces De-Feet.

Definitely Singapore back in the 90s.
But WTF is that crappily drawn boat??