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Capsule Reviews: Anime and Movies (The LEGO Movie, Paul, etc.) Animation | Anime | Live-Action | My Reviews 07 AUG 2014

War of the Worlds: Goliath (2012)

War of the Worlds: Goliath is a 2012 Malaysian animated science fiction film directed by Joe Pearson that was released in November 15, 2012 in Malaysia. Unlike other War of the Worlds films, this film is a loose sequel to H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds.

With strong dieselpunk/steampunk undertones, the film is set in an alternate reality Manhattan, New York City, in 1914, just before the First World War. As it happened, Earth was invaded and laid waste to by Martian invaders, doing most of their damage via giant tripod battle machines. However, the invaders eventually succumbed to common Earth bacteria, thus allowing humanity to recover and rebuild.

However, the aliens are set to return, now immune to Earth’s bacteria, setting the stage for a second confrontation. This time around though, humanity, having learned a few tricks of their own since the first war, are ready – as are their giant battle mecha!

Honestly, this wasn’t very good as a whole. The backdrops are generally beautiful and well animated, but the main characters and action sequences not so much. Simple lines, over-muscular builds on all the male characters, and often very flat CG overlay effects (particularly for things like fire, lasers and explosions), means that visually not everything works on this one. The story is relatively simple and just a little too ‘rah rah’ for me as well, and I have to be honest, despite one or two nice ideas (particularly the steampunk aspect of it all), I struggled to make it through this one in a single sitting.

It isn’t for kids I don’t think (given all the death rays employed to great success), but it doesn’t really work for adults either, leaving this film stranded in a bit of a no man’s land scenario really. Not recommended, nor worth the time.

Rotten Tomatoes rating: N/A

war of the worlds goliath movie

The LEGO Movie (2014)

The Lego Movie is a 2014 computer animated adventure comedy film directed and co-written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, and featuring the voices of Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, and Morgan Freeman.

Based mainly on the Lego line of construction toys, the film tells the story of an ordinary Lego minifigure named Emmet prophesied to save the Lego universe from the tyrannical Lord Business who plans to use the Kragle to glue everything in place.

Sounds simple enough, but oh my goodness, what a fantastic, heartfelt film that is guaranteed to please absolutely anyone who watches it – provided of course they’ve had some sort of exposure to LEGO in their lifetime. It pushes all the right buttons, features humour on levels for both young and old, carries a huge sense of nostalgia for older viewers, and then to top it all off, tugs equally hard at the heartstrings at the very end.

It’s a fantastic tale, that is brilliantly done, featuring the perfect voice actors, fantastically clever visuals and an awesome soundtrack. Having gushed all that, by now you might just have guessed as to how much I enjoyed The LEGO Movie – and just how much I recommend you see it, especially with your kids!

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 96%

the lego movie emmet batman and wild style

Paul (2011)

Paul is a 2011 British-American Comic science fiction road film directed by Greg Mottola and written by and starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, with Seth Rogen as the voice of the title character. The film is about two British science fiction fans who meet an ET-like alien who has a sarcastic manner and a penchant for alcohol and cigarettes. The two help the alien to escape secret service agents who are pursuing him so he can return to his home planet.

Hmm, I have to say, I’ve come to realize that I’m not actually such a big fan of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost buddy movies after all. Paul has a moment or two, but to be honest, it felt as if it just lumbered through some over the top scenarios (one after the other) and just didn’t put in the necessary laugh a minute punches to make it a memorable comedy film. Maybe it is because I’m a little jaded, but I have to say, I can’t really remember enjoying this one all that much.

Still, the CG visuals are great, and the soundtrack pretty good too – plus, the surprise ending certainly proved a unsuspected treat!

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 71% (looks like a lot of people enjoyed it after all).

paul movie simon pegg nick frost

Æon Flux (2005)

Four hundred years in the future, Aeon Flux is the top underground operative at war with the totalitarian regime governing what appears to be a perfect society. But is this perfect life hiding a perfect lie? Aeon is on the front lines of a rebellion that will reveal a world of secrets.

Hmm, it’s hard to say that I found Aeon Flux a complete disappointment, primarily because at the end of the day I really did enjoy the visual style, the visuals themselves, and all futuristic concepts on display. That said, the acting is perhaps not the greatest in the world, and there are some action sequences that are just too over the top (read silly) to be enjoyable. The story starts out interesting enough and there is certainly twists and turns that you don’t see coming, but it feels jerky quite often in terms of pacing, and there are just too many implausible logical jumps (and twists), all of which combine with some seriously dull dialogue that eventually just weighs the movie down.

Honestly, it probably isn’t worth watching, even if you adored the original MTV cartoons. Unless of course you’re a big Charlize Theron fan that is.

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 10% (That rating seems a little harsh to me)

aeon flux movie charlize theron

The Skull Man (2007)

Studio BONES adapted Skull Man into an anime TV series which premiered on Fuji TV in April 2007. The series is directed by Takeshi Mori and written by Yutaka Izubuchi. Unlike the previous Skull Man, the story closely focuses on a journalist named Hayato Mikogami who returns to his hometown at Otomo to investigate strange rumors of killings done by a man wearing a skull mask. Tailed tightly by a young photographer, Kiriko Mamiya, the two soon uncover the many strings of connections between the victims, a local pharmaceutical company, a mysterious new religious sect, and strange half human, half animal creatures, which roam the night streets for blood.

Nice and short, lots of intrigue and some decent twists and turns (even if the plot does hasten a little too fast towards the end) makes for an enjoyable viewing that starts out strong, fumbles a bit during the middle, and then picks up some good steam to deliver an action-packed finale – which doesn’t necessarily satisfy the viewer mind you. Dark visuals, slick animation and a generally likable cast makes for a decent drama/horror watch that will certainly entertain followers of the genre.

In the end, I did enjoy the viewing, though I can’t necessarily say that I loved it. Worth catching given the slickness of production though.

the skull man anime

Review: Angelic Layer (2001) Anime | My Reviews 30 NOV 2013

angelic layer animeSuzuhara Misaki is a sixth grader who has just moved to Tokyo to stay with her aunt, Asami Shouko. As she arrives at the station, she witnesses a strange sight. A televised fight between a beautiful angel and an Amazonian warrior. Transfixed by the beauty of the angel, Misaki learns about the game called Angelic Layer.

Angelic Layer is a system whereby inanimate dolls can be brought to life within the confines of a special “Layer”. These layers serve as battlegrounds for the various Deuces and their angels to decide who is the best fighter amongst them. Age, size or talent doesn’t matter. Anyone can play Angelic Layer.

With the help of the mysterious Icchan and her new friends, Kotaro, Hatoko and Tamayo, Misaki is drawn deeper and deeper into the realm of Angelic Layer. As she progresses through tournament after tournament, she reaches ever closer to her goal – to fight the angel Athena.

But Angelic Layer is more than just a game. It might just be the very thing to repair a broken and neglected relationship between a very special little girl and her mother. Misaki and her angel Hikaru will never give up. They will always fight to the very end. To be the very best that they can be.

Angelic Layer is an extremely beautifully told story about a failed relationship between a mother and her little girl. It is a story about how the wonderous invention of Angelic Layer provides the perfect platform to reunite these two. The story is beautifully written, and you can’t help but cry as the series slowly draws to a close.

The Angelic Layer concept is really cool in its idea. A special layer that brings dolls to life so that they may battle each other, based on the brain signals inputted from the controllers. Although it seems a violent game, the majority of the players are in fact female. Because it is not a physical contest, neither age nor size nor gender determine who will win at Angelic Layer.

The animation for Angelic Layer is really well done. The character lines are kept nice and simple, but the fluid animation and brilliant colours more than make up for this. The fight scenes are well thought out and coordinated, and the animation is very capable of delivering the feeling of hand-to-hand combat taking place. The character designs are really nice, with Misaki stealing the show as the cutest of them all.

The show is very well written and paced, with the right amount of drama, action and humour. It deals with the relationship between a separated mother and daughter in a very nice manner. Also, the themes of trying one’s best, and never giving up are continously promoted throughout the series. The scenes between Icchan and his crew, especially Ogata, are hilarious. The “Wrong Answer” game will have you laughing out a loud.

The musical score is very beautiful, and the director seems to know exactly when to use it. The ending credits song for the last half of the series is especially beautiful to listen to. The show has a neat trick of starting the credits music while the scene of the current show is still running. The voices all fit into place very well, each character developing a distinctive profile through their voice.

Overall, I really really liked this show. It is very cute and well done. There is no major disaster threatening life on Earth as we know it. Only the slow revelation of a failed relationship between a mother and her daughter and the steps taken to heal this relationship. People willl complain that the plot appeared to be too simple – that too many people could see what would happen in the story. I would disagree with this opinion. The story is written for younger viewers, and I think that the writers have achieved their aims perfectly. I know that I really enjoyed watching this series.

angelic layer anime wallpaper

(Historical Note: This review was written way back in May 2003. Pleasingly my writing has improved greatly since then.)

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angelic_Layer

Darker Than BLACK Anime | My Reviews 20 APR 2008

Darker Than BLACKTen years ago an indescribable tragedy occurred across the globe when the inexplicable twin Hell’s Gate and Heaven’s Gate phenomena appeared in Tokyo and South America respectively, decimating the surrounding landscape and changing the world as we know it in the blink of an eye. The night sky completely disappeared, replaced by a fake skyline, filled with imposter heavenly bodies that are seemingly linked to the rise of the Contractors, emotionless human beings with special abilities and the unnerving ability to think rationally and logically above all else.

These Contractors are so-called thanks the often strange contracts they are bound to in payment for their spectacular and deadly powers, the payment of which can literally take the form of almost anything. The existence of Contractors is held back from public knowledge and the majority of these super-powered beings are currently employed by various governments and government agencies, often involved in espionage and bloody disputes over information ownership.

However, with Contractors lacking any human emotions, especially aversion to killing, not all of them are working for the greater good. Where there is opportunity to seize power and money to be made, there are usually Contractors working the scene and one of the largest seemingly criminal organizations around is simply known as the Syndicate, a worldwide group whose reach seems to extend into almost every facet of daily life.

Hei (better known as The Black Reaper), a Contractor with the power to control and direct electricity, makes up one of the teams that carry out jobs for the Syndicate and together with his human supervisor and information provider, Huang, fellow contractor (though stuck in the body of a cat), Mao and a soulless spirit medium doll called Yin, carries out some of the most daring, dangerous and thankless missions out there.

Better known to the authorities by his aligned star name BK201, Hei is also one of the most wanted Contractors currently active in Tokyo and section-chief and first class detective Misaki Kirihara will stop at nothing to bring him to justice. The only problem is that there are even greater powers than the contractors out there and these powers are beginning to stir, plotting machinations whose ramifications may very well echo across the very globe.

Without knowing it, Hei and Misaki are going to be drawn ever deeper into these mysteries and in order to get to the bottom of everything, both will have to fight for their right to life and existence on opposing ends of the law.

Darker than BLACK is a 25 part series directed by Tensai Okamura (Wolf’s Rain, Project Blue Earth SOS) and produced by BONES that premiered in 2007. It turned out popular enough to even spawn a short little manga run that ran for 6 volumes and it also happens to be an anime that suffered the misfortune of having the production manager run off with the manuscript halfway through the show!

The concept for Darker than BLACK puts a nice fresh twist on the super-powered being genre with the introduction of the remuneration aspect of using one’s powers. Dropping these unique characters into a noir atmosphere with the slightest hint of future technology and research, you are left with some great material for a story and on that front the final product that is Darker than BLACK doesn’t disappoint. There is enough mystery, intrigue and unanswered questions to drive the series forward and thanks to the occasional humour and plenty of action sequences thrown into the mix, one can never truly get bored with this fantastic show.

Unfortunately, I do have a slight quibble as to the format which the story chose to follow, namely being that of strict two-episode long arcs, which I really can’t help but feel stunts the flow of the series and takes away any of the momentum that Okamura might have been trying to build. On their own the little mini-arcs are great to watch, but in a series this distorts with continuity just a little and it is only really towards the end of the series where Okamura drops this format and strings together a really intriguing, edge of your seat ending which saves the show from being a little bit of a flop.

Visually, Darker than BLACK can only be described as flawless. Although it doesn’t stand out as anything special, the artwork for the series is very nicely detailed, the characters are extremely well animated and the backgrounds nicely laid out. Because a lot of the action takes place at night, a slightly grey and darker palette than normal is used but the show’s fairly clear and flat colouring makes the visuals appear always sharp and never distorted or muddy.

There are tons of fight scenes that occur throughout this anime and it is great to see such detailed and well animated sequences that are usually more than just breathtaking to behold. The wide variety of fantastical super-powers that are on display keep the animators on their toes and it is immediately visible as to just how much effort was put into the visuals making up this show.

As for the talent used on the show, the voice actors for the show all do a superb job and it is great to see the director use such established names like Hidenobu Kiuchi, Misato Fukuen, Masaru Ikeda, Ikuya Sawaki, Nana Mizuki to voice his characters. Darker than BLACK also gets an instant credibility boost by having Yoko Kanno onboard as the series’ music director. Yoko Kanno is one of the most recognizable names when it comes to Japanese composers/musicians and is universally known for her work on games, anime, live-action movies and advertisements. Amongst her credits are the scores for Macross Plus, Cowboy Bebop, Vision of Escaflowne, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Wolf’s Rain and with credentials like this, it is no wonder that Darker than BLACK ends up sounding as good as it does.

In terms of the opening and closing tracks, Darker than BLACK also features some strong tracks and performances, with Howling by the Abingdon Boys School, Kakusei Heroism by An Café, Tsukiakari by Rie fu and Dreams by High and Mighty Color.

Darker than BLACK is hurt a little by the decision to break up the show into two-episode arcs right up until the final few episodes and this causes the series to lose any sort of flow it was trying to build up, which makes it a little frustrating in places to watch but luckily the director pulls it together right at the end to build up to a great finish and this saves this title from mediocrity. The clever concept, great story, beautiful art and flawless, fluid animation makes Darker than BLACK a more than decent watch and is certainly worth the effort. It is a clever anime that straddles the noir and action genres perfectly and provides some great entertainment to the more mature viewers out there and therefore makes it onto my recommended list, though not perhaps right at the top.

Note that there is quite a lot of visual and bloody violence and a few mature themes that makes this series not suitable for younger viewers.

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