Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tron: Legacy (2010)

Overall verdict: 9/10

The Good: imaginative production design, clear concise directing, charismatic acting by most of the cast, unique soundtrack, filled with homages and references, more underlying complex themes than a typical disney movie, satisfactory emotional core, originally filmed in 3D

The Bad: mediocre acting from main protagonist, truncated first act might be difficult to follow,

Current Availability Status: Coming to video soon

In 1982, "Tron" gave the world a vision of a world unlike any other. A world within a computer where programs exist as actual living beings who race along freeway style circuits. A world that defied human imagination and piqued the obsession of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), computer programmer extraordinaire. In an opening narration, Flynn, who is now the head of the ENCOM company, tells of his adventures in the original Tron movie and his motivations for using the computer world which he calls "the Grid" to benefit mankind.

With this little bit of exposition, barely sufficient to bring newcomers to the Tron franchise "up to speed", Kevin Flynn disappears one day, leaving his son, Sam, who grows into a rebellious young man. Sure he is the major shareholder of ENCOM, but he'd rather play cyber pranks on the greedy ENCOM CEO and outrun the Cops on his bike than sit in board meetings. He is a punk slacker in every way, and smart mouthed to boot, living each day with no discernible purpose until he is approached by his father's long time friend over a mysterious "page" from his father's old office in an arcade. Yes a "page", from a pager. OLD school tech. Sam discovers a supercomputer but an accident lands him mysteriously transported into the Grid which is ruled over by the tyrannical (and equally smart mouthed) "Clu" who bears a striking resemblance to Sam's father. NOW the movie begins in earnest with Sam fighting his way through gladiatorial combat, making a daring escape during a "lightcycle" death race and meeting new allies while searching for his father. Hidden secrets will be revealed and expect some surprising twists in this otherworldly digital domain of peril and adventure!

And what a world it is! Carrying on the legacy of its predecessor, Tron Legacy once again presents imaginative production design coupled with cutting edge computer imaging. It is worth watching purely for its visuals, 3D or otherwise. Newcomer director Joseph Kosinski peppers his action with wide angles and sweeping cinematography, a fresh feel indeed from the frequent close-ups and "shakey cam" used by his other more "experienced" compatriots. Breathing life into the Grid is the similarly surreal soundtrack by "Daft Punk". It is mixture of electronic and orchestral music that serves to highlight the "synthetic" aspect of the Grid world while paying homage to the electronic synthesizer tunes used in the original Tron movie. The masterfully composed score blends eerie with Epic in the action scenes while toning down into warmer traditional tunes in the more emotional scenes. Like the directing style, the electronic soundtrack is a welcome change from the typical percussion and bass heavy action movie music.

Without putting up spoilers, one has to admit that the story works on multiple levels for both newcomers and sci/fi fanatics alike. For example When Sam first enters the Grid, it is one big tribute to classic spaceman stories like Flash Gordon. (Stranger lands on a strange world ruled by a tyrant, he is captured, made to fight as a gladiator, breaks out and joins the resistance). It might be a tad hard to follow at first as many concepts might be lost on viewers without some smidgen of tech savvy-ness or those not quick enough to get the little narrative homages. A lot happens in little time but once things slow down near the middle, the story has room to breathe. Under all the light and flashy spectacle is a very down to earth father/son tale that anyone can relate to. Between the lines lies an almost biblical parable relating to mankind's rejection of God in his quest for his own perfect Godhood. Present too is a running theme about how well intentioned legacies left to the wrong people become corrupted by those it was left to. Rather complex for a Disney movie to incorporate such themes.

One little byte to pick with this film would be the acting. Jeff Bridges reprises his role as Kevin Flynn as well as the villain program Clu and does a wonderful job of just becoming his character. He exudes a charisma and charm that his son, Sam, seems to lack. It is very ironic that the digital characters like Olivia Wilde's Quorra and Michael Sheen's Castor seem so much more "alive" and real than Garret Headlund's snarky Sam.

Needless to say, Tron: Legacy is epic storytelling that challenges the boundaries of imagination. It is a fun and exciting ride with a satisfactory emotional center. The more learned viewers would be happy to dig into the underlying themes that can be easily related somewhat to ontology and even biblical theology, while the the rest of you can just sit back and enjoy the visual spectacle and human father/son drama. Unlike stuff like Inception or the Matrix, tron Legacy does not force feed you the complex stuff, thus making it very accessible to viewers of all ages.

With an animated series in the works (as of writing this review) here's hoping that the legacy of the Tron lives long for ages to come and goes from being just a Cult classic to a full fledged sci/fi epic franchise.

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Go For it: If you were a fan of the original "Tron" or would like to witness one of the best and most imaginative disney action movies to date
Avoid it: if you just don't like this genre of movies and would prefer some romance slop anyday.

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

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Love Hina (2000) review

Overall verdict: 8/10

The Good: Emotionally deeper than other "harem" genre anime, bettern than usual TV animation, exceptional japanese voice cast, well timed humour, well developed characters, beautiful artwork and character designs

The Bad: Cliched premise, unoriginal plot, over reliance on budget saving animation short cuts, weak final act, some humour borders on the nonsensical.

Current Availability Status: some VCDs available in singapore. DVD not available


Poor Keitaro Urashima, the dude just cannot catch a break. Having Failed the Tokyo university exam twice, Keitaro was kicked out of his home and forced to take up residence at an inn run by his grandmother. Little does he know that the inn has been converted into an all-girls dormitory and that his grandmother has left him as the dorm manager. As expected, the girls are not too happy with the arrangement, but they get a teeny bit more sympathetic once they discover the poor bugger's plight. Madcap wacky boy-meets-girls adventure with a sweet romantic twist follows in one of the better romance comedy anime series out there.

More an ensemble piece than other shows of this genre, its main selling point is definitely the characters. Each of them is given a unique and multi-layered personality making them both easy to relate to and incredibly lovable. Keitaro is THE guy that the intended target audience (single male who wastes his life either studying or watching anime like this) would die to be. He is a bumbling idiot, a complete loser, yet his tenacity and optimistic outlook would either inspire or disgust you; one would not be blamed for wanting to slap some sense into Keitaro. But give the guy a break, he has got a promise to fulfill a promise to a forgotten childhood sweetheart and get into Tokyo university.

Naru Narusegawa is the "main" female protagonist here. Her fierce demeanor toward Keitaro and hot headed attitude (not to mention, hot body) belies a secretly insecure neurotic looking for her place in the world. You see, the girl is studying to get into Tokyo university too. And the fact that she bears a startling resemblance to Keitaro's childhood sweetheart causes some inevitable sparks to fly. It is the "unlikely couple" scenario seen in so many romance shows: he likes her, she hates his guts, she cracks and shows her vulnerable side, he so happens to be there for her. etc. We all know where this goes. But no romance would be right without a proper love triangle and we get that in the form of Mutsumi Otohime, a simple but adorable ditz introduced later, who claims to be Keitaro's childhood friend.

Though the central tale is a little cliched sort of a coming of age thing for Keitaro and the surreal love story, each of the other girls are given ample development of their very own character arcs. Timid little Shinobu learns the value of trust and how to assert herself, carefree Kitsune gets a lesson in responsibility, the icy Motoko learns to open up her heart and even the wild and sprightly Kaolla Su learns to grow up. As said before, all very lovable, all easy to relate to.

Created at the turn of the 21st century, Love Hina was among the first shows to be colored by computer. The result is some beautiful artwork and cute, albeit slightly simplified, designs with a color scheme that uses the unlimited palette offered by software without looking overly bright and saturated. The animation itself is pretty standard anime stuff; it has its decent share of animation short cuts, lazy scene panning, some stiff character motions, but they only crop up occasionally per episode. On a whole, the quality is slightly better than the typical TV series with more attention given to maintaining a consistent high level of detail in the artwork.

In contrast, the voice acting is superb throughout. Veterans like Megumi Hayashibara, Yui Horie, Yuji Ueda, among others, totally sell their characters, playing them with the same diversity that fits their personality. A bit over the top at times, but it fits in with the very nature of the show. A Chinese dub and a USA English dub were released as well but neither can hold a candle to the original language. Though, in comparison, one might favor the English version over the Chinese version purely for the superior acting standard; at least the English version is not downright terrible or miscast like the Chinese one.

The more conservative types would be glad to know that fan-service is only teased and not blatantly tasteless like many recent anime. Comedy is well written, jokes are timely and in good taste with only a twinge if innuendo. Its shortcomings in its animation is forgivable but a hastily written and seemingly lower quality final few episodes earns it a couple of demerits. Definitely "cleaner" and emotionally deeper than other shows of similar genre, Love Hina is a fun filled gem of a series filled with truly emotional drama, romance and crazy comedy complete with giant robot turtles, mysterious island kingdoms and a little bit of magic.

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Go For it: for a cleaner, better written romance comedy anime that puts the focus on the characters' personalities and not just on the characters' bodies
Avoid it: if you are a staunch "the manga is always better" kind of person

Entertainment: A
Story: B
Characters: A-
Animation: B-
Art: A-
Voice work (japanese): A
Voice work (english): B-
Voice work (chinese): C
Replay Value: A-
"Brains": B-Bold

Did i mention slapstick (or more like slap Keitaro) humour?

Did I mention the giant robot turtle?

Did i mention..........YIKES, wat the hell is this??

Childhood sweetheart, an undying promise