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Review: Halo Legends Anime | My Reviews 10 NOV 2011

2010 saw the release of Halo Legends, overseen by 343, the appointed managers of the hugely successful Microsoft Halo gaming franchise. It is a seven part anthology (eight if you count the fact that “Origins” is split into two episodes), consisting of episodes ranging in length from ten to twenty minutes each, and produced by some of Japan’s hottest anime studios and directors, including work by Studio 4°C, Production I.G., Casio Entertainment, Toei Animation, and Bones, never mind the fact that the applauded director Shinji Aramaki also wades in on the act.

So this is the marriage of the Western Halo gaming franchise with Japanese anime, a mix that doesn’t always work that well in practice, but which does actually stand a fairly good chance to successfully translate this time around, thanks mainly to Halo’s focus on mecha and space ships, one of the staples of anime design!

Anthologies are not my cup of tea as the short nature of the stories means that you don’t easily get sucked in, and if they aren’t linked up in a coherent storyline like say Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic or Green Lantern: Emerald Knights managed to do, it becomes somewhat of a waste of time in my opinion.

And this turns out to be very much the case.

Ignoring the slapstick “Odd One Out” episode which is completely out of line in terms of tone to the rest of the DVD, the short stories are all haphazardly placed in the Halo mythos, and apart from Origins which at least gives us a deeper look into the historic timeline of the franchise, the rest of the stories really matter very little indeed.

In other words, unless you are already a hardcore Halo fan, there really isn’t all that much for you here.

In terms of the animation, each studio uses completely different techniques, resulting in a very disjointed affair, reminiscent of the problems that plagued the poor The Animatrix anthology release back when it was originally published. That said, the animation employed by the various studios do all for the most part work and work well, with particular mention being made of the absolutely gorgeous and fluid CG used to render Shinji Aramaki’s The Package insert. However on a similar note, the horrid watercolor effect completely destroys Hiroshi Yamazaki’s The Duel piece, and while Toei’s Dragonball Z-like animation suits the tone of the “Odd One Out” story, it just serves to re-enforce how much this episode really doesn’t belong in what would otherwise be a pretty serious group of tales.

One thing that does however work across all the episodes is the great choice in voice actors cast to fill the characters’ shoes, as is the splendid music that often serves to provide a hauntingly beautiful and epic backdrop to each and every one of the stories being told.

All in all, Halo Legends is probably something best left to the fans of the series, especially those who are interesting in the single player storyline of the Halo franchise, and not those just in it for the multiplayer. For me it suffers from the same sense of pointlessness of the other anime-inspired anthologies that have come before it, in other words The Animatrix and Batman: Gotham Knight, meaning that I really can’t recommend it to anyone other than those aforementioned hardcore fans.

Still, it’s not like it doesn’t have its pretty moments though…

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

Review: Vexille Anime | My Reviews 17 MAR 2009

VexilleBy the 2060s, robotics technology had advanced to a point where cybernetics were now plausible. However, due to strong negative opinions towards this new and possible dangerous field of science, the U.N. declared a unilateral ban on any further research and development into this new technology. Japan however, already at the forefront of this new technology, was not going to bow down that easily and subsequently withdrew completely from the international world, closing their borders and covering themselves in a deep electromagnetic interference shield to prevent anyone from looking in… or communicating out.

2077, and a bizarre series of incidents leads the American technology police agency “SWORD” to believe that Japan is using their self imposed exile and ‘invisibility’ to conceal their extensive development in the so-called ‘banned technology’, meaning that unsanctioned action is now finally required.

Of course, this means an unauthorised injection of SWORD agents into Japan, including the veteran agents Lieutenant Commancer Vexille Serra and Commander Leon Fayden as part of the team. However, just what horror these agents were about to stumble across, no one could ever have imagined in their wildest dreams…

Vexille, or more fully Vexille: 2077 Japanese Isolation, is a 2007 Japanese CGI anime film written, directed and edited by the famed Ping Pong director Fumihiko Sori and features the voice talents of Meisa Kuroki, Yasuko Matsuyuki and Shosuke Tanihara amongst others.

The story for Vexille is a pretty neat sci-fi tale with a genuinely interesting and unexpected twist which then devolves nicely into a good action-orientated finish, with the movie spouting some philosophy on the meaning of life at the end just for good measure. The story is neat, self-contained, contains plenty of action and drama and as a whole is pretty enjoyable and should please most science fiction nuts.

Visually, Vexille extends on the already impressive cel-shading CG technology used in the earlier Japanese-produced Appleseed CGI movie and presents some of the most stunning computer generated imagery, both character and background, that you would ever have seen on the big screen. Beautifully rendered, capable of dealing with both static and action-packed sequences equally deftly, and almost never seeming to suffer from lag or any other such computer-related drawback, Vexille in a word, simply looks absolutely beautifully stunning.

However, beauty aside, one must note the the basic problem of producing such lifelike CG graphics still remains – the characters look so perfect that at times they are just a little too real, and that funnily enough makes them appear a little unattractive to the naked eye. This coupled with the usual stiffness that is also generally prevalent with most CG generated characters does have a slight negative impact on the movie as a whole, but these are pretty minor niggly points and can pretty much be ignored unless you are one of those hardcore critics that finds the smallest of faults in everything! :)

Aurally, Vexille serves up a particularly intriguing and brilliant mix on its musical score, combining elements of electronic, techno, urumee melam and trance and features a strong musical selection that includes work by Basement Jaxx, Boom Boom Satellites, Asian Dub Foundation, Dead Can Dance, Carl Craig, The Prodigy, DJ Shadow and M.I.A amongst others. Singer Mink provides the hauntingly beautiful theme song Together Again and Paul Oakenfold is tasked with handling the music duties on the movie as a whole.

In summary, Vexille is yet again another successful iteration in Japan’s ever improving full CGI movie stable, producing some of the most beautiful rendered visuals you will ever experience on the big screen. The unique and polished soundtrack together with the excellent voice artists’ performances completes the presentation package, while a deftly written and enjoyable science fiction story provides the meat for what is in the end, a thoroughly enjoyable and worthwhile science fiction romp.

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Related link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vexille

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa My Reviews 19 DEC 2008

Madagascar Escape 2 AfricaWell they’re back. Following 2005’s first adventure which was pretty average but fairly entertaining all in the same breath, the unique visual style of Madagascar returns, this time in the guise of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.

Brought to us by the same team of directors of Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath as the last outing, we do however have a new writer on board, this time a man by the name of Etan Cohen, the same writer who wrote the screenplay for this year’s Ben Stiller comedy, Tropic Thunder. And just like the last time, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa goes straight for credibility’s jugular by loading the entire voice cast with a host of A-list Hollywood celebrities, meaning that back for round two as Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo are Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith respectively, teamed up with the likes of Sascha Baron Cohen as Julien, Cedric the Entertainer as Maurice, Andy Richter as Mort, Bernie Mac as Zuba, Alec Baldwin as Makunga and Will.I.Am as Moto Moto!

The story for Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa continues directly on from where the first movie ended off, meaning that the show starts off with our lovable New Yorkers making good their escape from Madagascar thanks to the madcap penguins’ particular ingenuity. Of course, as with all things penguin driven, their escape plan doesn’t exactly do off without a hitch and before long our intrepid zoo outcasts find themselves stranded in the middle of Africa, killing time while the penguins hatch up a new rescue plan.

Things get turned on their head just a little as the four split up and each get entangled in their own trials and tribulations, that of which includes a long lost family reunion, doubts over one’s individuality, the search for love and even the search for courage. However even as the animals start dealing with these problems another group finds themselves stranded in Africa – and as events slowly unfold and resolve themselves, these two groups eventually find themselves on a path leading directly to a head on collision – with disastrous consequences if left unchecked!

On the story front, it must be said that Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa simply tries to do to much in one movie. There are about six simultaneous story threads that run, all of which gets neatly resolved and thus leaves you with a movie that sometimes feels like it is trying to pack just that little bit too much story into one small package. That said, it is a complete movie in that it starts out neatly, ends off neatly and leaves no little thread hanging around so that it can annoy anyone. And on top of that, it actually makes you laugh – a lot.

There are tons of cultural, musical and just plain silly puns, jokes and circumstances to take in, and on the humour front Madagascar certainly doesn’t miss, taking any cheap shot that it can lay its hands on in order to pull a laugh. But it works. There are some genuinely funny sequences that will have both young and old laughing and this is essential because this is what makes Madagascar watchable – it’s a silly, over the top little romp designed to tell a story but more importantly to let you walk out of that cinema feeling like a million bucks. And simply put, that it does.

Visually, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa continues with its rather unique and almost cardboard cutout look that makes it stand apart from other fully CG animated movies, the most of which are always for some or other reason trying to put a lot of emphasis on perfecting physics and natural light phenomena, just so as to wow us audiences that extra little bit.

Instead, Madagascar takes the approach of making its characters as colourful and humorous-looking as possible, forgoing the need for visual perfection and instead concentrating on producing amusing, vibrant and entertaining visuals to complement its often wacky story elements.

In terms of the voice acting, with such a cast of respected actors voicing the majority of the characters, Madagascar simply doesn’t put a foot wrong. Each and every one of the guys are now well and truly comfortable in their roles and each and every one of the on screen characters simply wrap themselves around their associated voice over artist, making it a perfect, almost indistinguishable match. And soundtrack-wise, Madagascar simply just doesn’t disappoint either. Clever, diverse music choice and some excellent compositions from the Will.I.Am and Hans Zimmer collaboration makes for an aural masterpiece, funky, uplifting and just a whole lot of fun, rounding off the entire Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa package perfectly.

So in short, if you are looking for a fun, colourful movie that will have you and your kids laughing out loud, then Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa will certainly not disappoint. The story is a little bit long winded and jumps around too much thanks to all the plot threads it tries to work through, but if it keeps you laughing every step of the way then you’ll probably, like me, overlook this one little flaw. Great fun, a polished and well shined package and an absolutely wonderful entry into the Madagascar franchise, this is one holiday kid’s movie you really should make an effort and go and see.

(…or else the penguins just might get you!)

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Related Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0479952/

Enchanted My Reviews 30 DEC 2007

EnchantedA classic Walt Disney fairytale story of the prince and his one true love Giselle, talking animals and all, are about to hit a bit of a bump in the road when Giselle is forced into our world through the machinations of the kingdom’s evil stepmother, the witch Queen Narissa. Bewildered, lost and without the staples that make an enchanted animated world what it is, Giselle is left to the mercy of modern New York City.

Fortunately for her, she is soon reluctantly rescued by a world-weary lawyer and his young daughter and slowly is given an opportunity to adapt to this strange new world – a world that unfortunately contains more emotions than just happiness and also carries a heavy lesson in reality for the young and rather na’ve Giselle!

Of course help is at hand when Prince Edward too decides to journey to our world in order to save his one true love, and much hilarity ensues as this fish out of water with a very sharp pointy sword strives to bring our world to heel and reveal the whereabouts of his princess.

Enchanted is the latest 2007 movie out of the Disney stable and is primarily a romantic comedy with the unusual twist of combining a traditional Disney 2D animated fairytale with the modern day, real world setting of New York City. The man behind the camera for this movie is Kevin Lima, a pretty unknown director who hasn’t done all that much work in the past, but has directed other Disney productions including 102 Dalmatians (2000), Tarzan (1999) and A Goofy Movie (1995).

Enchanted’s story starts out in a traditional Disney animated classic and we are introduced to the stereotypical Giselle, a woodland lover awaiting her prince in order to save her. Prince Edward is the stereotypical prince, complete with a dazzling smile and quick blade. Their happy union however is opposed by the evil Queen Narissa, who then boots Giselle out of the animated kingdom and into our world.

And this is pretty much where the humour of the movie lies. The translation of a character from their animated world antics to our real world provides a lot of laughs and unfortunately for the movie’s sake, the writers pretty much rely on this prop throughout the movie. That said it is funny to see someone create clothes from curtains, call over birds, rats and cockroaches to clean a house and to break out in song ala Disney spectacular style.

Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a romantic comedy without the romance, and it becomes pretty clear, pretty quickly that the grumpy, grounded in the real world Robert Phillip (Patrick Dempsey) is going to fall for Giselle (Amy Adams) – unfortunately this budding relationship is going to come at the cost of two other relationships (the prince and Giselle and Robert and Nancy), a seemingly strange movie from the usually very PC, family-oriented Disney writing.

The movie is pretty structured in it introduces the characters, focuses on the budding relationship and then forces the characters to ultimately make their choices in the end, and as such the movie is pretty formulaic but makes for a successful and enjoyable romantic comedy. My only real gripe with the writing in the end is the fact that the writers spoil the movie a little by introducing an unnecessarily extended ending sequence, which just drags out the movie a little longer than what is needed.

The cast for the movie do an absolutely stellar job in their respective roles, with Amy Adams leading the pack with her portrayal of the na’ve Giselle. Patrick Dempsey is as suave and as much a lady killer as he is in his usual guise of Dr Dreamy in Grey’s Anatomy and plays his role of the slightly world-weary Robert with a lot of believability. Idina Menzel plays the perfect woman scorned as Nancy while Susan Sarandon plays one of the most brilliant evil stepmom witches you will ever see. My favourite however has got to be James Marsden though – the man has an absolutely brilliantly apt broad smile and sense of comedic timing for this role, and you honestly can’t help but chuckle every time you see him on screen.

While there isn’t much special in terms of the camerawork throughout the movie, it must be mentioned that the people behind the merging of animated sequences within real life footage have one an absolutely amazing job. One of the foremost examples of this is the plucking apples in the water scene, and you’ll have to see it for yourself to understand what I’m talking about. The other side to the movie is the clever use of CGI, particularly in the use of animating Pip, our clever little rodent who also makes the trip from Andalasia to New York City.

Alan Menken, who has worked extensively with Disney throughout his career, provides the soundtrack for Enchanted, with most of the actual singing done by Amy Adams herself who does a really good job on the performance. The soundtrack is indeed everything you would expect from a classic Disney soundtrack, so it doesn’t hold too many surprises in the end.

Overall, the movie functions really, really well as a romantic comedy that delivers a good dose of chuckles and smiles and also works in a nice budding romance (if you can ignore the breaking of the existing relationship) as well. It provides some action and thrills too, in fact it is pretty much one of those flagship family movies that almost everyone will enjoy.

So if you are looking for some family friendly, PG fun with a spice of romance, then Enchanted won’t do you any harm. It is a fun premise for a movie and delivers all the goods it promises, so no wonder it is getting such rave reviews – definitely another Disney winner!

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Related Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0461770/

Starship Troopers at UCT General Nonsense 22 JUN 2007

Starship TroopersDoes anyone remember the movie Starship Troopers from a couple of years back? Big budget Sci-Fi action movie that most people wanted to see in the hope of catching Denise Richards in the nude? Basically a military movie in space, with rather ineffectively armoured humans battling against giant bugs? Anyone at all?

Oh well not important. I remember watching the movie when it came out, but I remember being far more interested in the CG kids show that was produced as a tie-in, again a completely different topic. In any event, the first movie spun off a second direct to video feature and now I hear a third movie is in production. Which brings me to the point of this post: it is being filmed right here in South Africa. Better yet, parts of it are being shot at UCT!

It was kind of cool to see all the movie support trucks parked in front of Jameson Hall yesterday. All the crew were running around and the props were scattered around for the world to see. Futuristic helmets and paintball-like looking guns lay around all over the place. Lots of interesting bits and pieces to see.

But to be very honest, what the heck is a futuristic space movie doing at UCT? Guess I’ll just have to wait for the direct to video release of this one :)

Happily Never After Indeed My Reviews 19 APR 2007

happilyneverafterreviewLast night I did something I haven’t done in a long long time I went to watch a movie by myself. As always with me, the last minute thing meant I just rocked up at the movies and selected the title that started soonest. Unfortunately for me, I’ve already seen the only two I’m really interested in, namely 300 and Ghost Rider. So I settled on Happily Never After. Touted as being from the same producers of Shrek and Shrek 2, I happily assumed that they were basically trying to clone the success story of Shrek by producing a cookie cutter copy. Well, at least they got the clone part right I guess.

What an atrociously written story. Apart from Patrick Warburton’s great piece of voice-acting, the movie is left to wallow in the land of bad scripting, forced humour and terrible voice casting. Whoever cast Freddie Prince Jr. should be fired. His voice is just not suited to the job of voice-acting, never mind the fitting character at all. That said, the movie would have been much better off hiring far less stellar stars for the voices and rather investing more of the budget in the script writer department. The premise for the story isn’t that bad, its just the execution that lets it down so. The complexity of the storywriting/characters means this movie isn’t really right for the kids market there’s not much in it for them, but at the same time it is so poorly written that it doesn’t suit the adult market either. It basically doesn’t know what it is or what it is meant to achieve. This is probably best summed up by the fact that there were six people in the cinema for the 20:00 screening and half way through two people got up and left.

At least the movie looked nice, but to be honest, there is nothing ground breaking about that type of CG any more, basically anyone and their gran can do it by now. The soundtrack is pretty poor as well, just to add insult to injury.

To sum it up, you can safely ignore this one and wait for the Shrek 3 release, which judging by its trailer looks worth the wait. Honestly, the producers that sunk their money into this one must be kicking themselves.

Ghost Rider My Reviews 10 APR 2007

ghost riderSo we decided to give Ghost Rider a shot over the weekend. Now, I’ve always been a fan of the comic, especially when Salvador Laroca was doing the pencils on the book. So when Marvel’s latest comic book hero to film star landed on our shores, I pretty much had to go see what they’ve done with the old chap.

Now not being one of Nicholas Cages greatest fans ever, I was already cringing at the fact that I’d have to be seeing old Snake Eyes in all the non-CG shots. That said, I was pleasantly surprised how well Cage pulled this one off. I genuinely enjoyed his portrayal of old flame head. He was goofy, he was serious, and he was fairly likeable, all rolled into one. Eva Mendes made an appearance as the love affair in the movie, and though I don’t know too much about her, I cant really say bad things about her. And although it isn’t necessarily a bad thing for her fans, I really do wonder if she knows how to do up the top button on any one of her outfits.

Live action aside, this movie was always going to be made or broken on the strength of its CG scenes. And in this regard it didn’t disappoint. The CG was pretty awesome. Very nice overlays, backgrounds and special effects make Ghost Rider a feast on the eyes. Super-powered villains, hot bikes and whipping chains all look and feel good in this one. The soundtrack was okay. Probably. I can’t say it really stuck in my head so I can’t really remember if it was any good at all.

All this praise aside though, the movie really comes out feeling ordinary. I cant really talk badly about it, nor can I rave about it. It was a perfectly ordinary (some would say boring) super hero yarn. A definite must for fans of the character, but for most people this is one movie they can safely skip over.