Thursday, July 22, 2010

New Haunted Mansion Movie

Our attention spans and patience are getting shorter and shorter these days, aren't they? A whole whopping 7 years ago, Disney released a movie starring Eddie Murphy based on their Haunted Mansion ride. I never saw it, because it looked pretty silly like most Eddie Murphy family movies. Critics had mostly negative things to say about it and I remember it made most people pessimistic about the possibilities of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

The success of the Pirates movies of course told us that as long as you treat these things properly, they can go extraordinarily well. Disney has apparently decided that enough time has passed to try again with the Haunted Mansion. The good news is they have no intention of making this a comedy though apparently it will still be family friendly.

As someone who has become a Disney fanatic in recent years, there is a part of me that wants to get excited about this. Guillermo del Toro, who made the wonderfully creepy Pan's Labyrinth is set to direct. That movie was family accessible, even if that monster with eyes in his hands personally gave me the willies. The ride is one that is on my "required" list everytime I visit Disney World. I prefer to ride it alone, surrounding myself with all the ghosts, the fantastic narrator, and the cool temperature. It creates such a perfect mood. I notice some new small detail every time I ride it.

The ride itself doesn't really have a story so much as it is just a guided tour through the mansion. Reportedly, they'll be basing the movie off the Hatbox Ghost, a character who is a "fan favorite" despite never really appearing in the ride. This also means he doesn't really have a story, unless Disney's kept it locked up in the vaults somewhere. Color me skeptical but optimistic, which pretty much defines how I feel about most movie announcements these days.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Action Movies The Way They Should Be

This past weekend I caught up with the rest of the world and watched both Jaws and Die Hard. The latter I had seen bits and pieces of on TV throughout the years, but it was my first time viewing it all the way through, and my first time completely for Jaws. I enjoyed them both very much.

What struck me with Jaws was how simple a movie it was. I've heard before about how the animatronic shark would not work properly for them during much of the shooting and they had to improvise. Many people believe this actually helped the film quite a bit, as what you don't see is more powerful than what you do. I have to agree. The movie was all about the suspense of the situation and kept me on the edge of my seat. The times when the shark is visible it can look really fake and cheesy, but with everything going on at the time I didn't care. I got so wrapped up in the characters and what was going to happen to them. There's a reason this movie launched the summer blockbuster.

For Die Hard I went into it expecting a big dumb action movie. What I got was a suspenseful, twisting plot and character development. While the villains are shallow stereotypes, Alan Rickman makes it so enjoyable you don't care. John McClane, his wife, and Sgt. Al Powell all grow and change. It's amazing. Sure, there's ridiculous situations that no one should realistically survive and ginormous explosions, but the story exists to be an actual story and not just something to move the action scenes along.

It's been 35 years since Jaws and almost 22 years since Die Hard was released. This year has seen a plethora of movies that remade films and TV shows from the 1980s and most of them have missed the mark of the original. Somewhere along the way from here to there we seem to have gotten lost. Studios too worried about dollar signs cranking out mindless pictures with large explosions, half naked actresses, and fart jokes with no real sign of plot or character development. All of those things have their place and can be a lot of fun.. I just don't understand where someone started thinking these were the essential parts of the film.

I think part of it is that a lot of the iconic characters of the 70s and 80s have been reduced to caricatures. In a society that seems to be fueled by nostalgia over the last 20 years, heroes like John McClane, Rambo, and Indiana Jones have all been over simplified to the point that a lot of people seem to be forgetting exactly why we fell in love with them in the first place. When even a creator seems to forget what made his characters and stories so great, it's clear what we really need are new heroes and stories. I think we're making a tinge of progress here and there. Iron Man went from a character that was mostly known in name and costume only by the general public to a character who now many people recognize and know, and it was all because we were given a movie that made him look human and interesting. There are a few directors out there who people seem willing to allow to tell original stories, Christopher Nolan being the one who is currently leading the pack. I haven't seen Inception yet but I'm excited to check it out.

The internet is overloaded with people complaining about the mindless films, but Hollywood is still making them. This is because people keep paying to go see them. Even a movie that the average person seems to agree is downright awful is making money at the box office. If people would stop settling for this drivel then maybe we could run Michael Bay and Brett Ratner straight out of the business. Wouldn't that be lovely?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Horror Wimp/Horror Lover

I never considered myself a horror fan. I think it has to do with me being such a 'fraidy cat as a kid. Remember that movie Little Monsters? There's a scene early on where one of the monsters pushes in the eyeball of either a kid or another monster. I can't remember which anymore, I just remember being scared that someone would do that to me. The shrunken head guy in the waiting room in Beetlejuice forced me to turn the movie off. I don't remember how far in we got in The Witches, I just know we never finished it and it gave me nightmares for weeks afterward. I don't think I was able to look directly at Large Marge until I was in my 20s, and my brother and I ritualistically watched Peewee's Big Adventure during most of our childhood. I spent a lot of time as a kid burying myself under the covers so the monsters couldn't get me and running down hallways because I thought I saw something. Who am I kidding, this happened as recently as after I saw I Am Legend.. I was totally convinced I was going to find those vamps/zombies huddled in every dark room of my house waiting to kill me.

The strange thing is that while visual representations of horror always had this effect on me, reading it was a whole different issue. It started with Christopher Pike books when I was in 6th or 7th grade. After awhile though, I got tired of them, as they all seemed to have the same pattern: innocent girl has a crush on a boy and wants to sleep with him. Boy ends up being some type of monster who tries to kill her, her family and her friends. My friends were reading R. L Stine books, but they all just looked so thin that I figured they had to be below my reading level. Then The Stand miniseries came out. I was crushing pretty hard on Corin Nemec at that point so I just had to watch it. I loved it and immediately wanted to read the book. My dad was a big reader of all of Stephen King's books, so we had a copy and I asked him if I could read it. I loved that even more than the mini-series since it was so much more in depth. To the kids at school I was now the weirdo who read 800+ page books, but I didn't care.

We had this used book store in town that let you trade in a book or two for another one. I would read through a King book then bring it back to the store and get the next one. If there was a movie that was made from the book, I would go to the store and rent it, but most of the time I was so disappointed at how not like the book they were, I'm not sure why I bothered. I absolutely refused to see the movie version of The Lawnmower Man because it was so obvious they had just taken the title with the excuse to use King's name and nothing else. I loved that short story so much that they really tapped into my geek rage with that one. (I highly recommend picking up Night Shift, not just for that one but because I think King's short stories are some of his best work.)

I was able to justify watching those movies because I figured that for the most part I already knew what was going to happen, so it would all be ok. I would have to go into the horror section to get these movies, and I remember glancing at all the various covers, usually full of skeletons or blood, and being petrified of the movies that lay inside. Does anyone know of a movie that had a skeleton cheerleader on the cover? I can't remember the name anymore, I just remember always seeing that and being freaked out. Another one I remember distinctly was the old Dead Alive cover. I don't know what it is that made me so scared of skeletons as a kid, but they featured a lot in nightmares along with an ET like creature with really long skinny legs.

I've been watching a lot of movies lately, particularly older movies since a lot of what's out right now is so derivative and I'd much rather see something original. I make my picks based on what I find on the internet. North by Northwest got mentioned in a few different places, so I rented it and loved it. Most recently, for whatever reason, it keeps being horror films. I've watched both the original Dracula and Frankenstein, as well as Night of the Living Dead and Nightmare on Elm Street over the last couple of months. I really enjoyed every one of these movies. While I didn't really expect the old Universal monsters to scare me, I was surprised that there was nothing in NOTLD or NOES that scared me at all. It probably would have as a kid, but now I just found them to be creepy and fun. Really fun. So fun that I'm going to watch all the NOES movies, even though I know a good portion of them are considered horrible by most fans. (Don't try to talk me out of this. People tried to tell me to not bother with Alien 3 or Resurrection, and I insisted on watching those anyway because I'm a completist.) I also figure I need to start checking out all the other slasher films, and I definitely want to watch the original Wolf Man...

There's something incredibly exciting about discovering you like something that you originally thought you never could. There are hundreds of films now just sitting out there waiting for me to enjoy them. The silly thing is I've been avoiding them way too long. I've always loved dystopian novels for the way they show a society gone wrong, often taken to it's most extreme conclusion. Most horror stories tend to do the same thing - they play with our fears of the unknown and the consequences of people's actions taken to extreme lengths. Whether I realized it or not, I've been a horror fan all along.

Any opinions on which movies I need to watch ASAP are greatly welcomed.. just realize I'm probably never going to watch The Human Centipede or Cannibal Holocaust. My imagination may not be as scared as it used to be, but my stomach still has its limits.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Want to play a good Back to the Future game?

I've been filling out surveys on the internet for a few years now. Some of them pay me in money and others in gift cards, but to be honest I like filling them out regardless. It's particularly great when they're related to something I actually care about, like letting movie companies know that their recent deal to hold back rental releases 28 days is not going to make me buy their movies.

Right before E3, it was announced that Telltale Games had purchased the rights to make a Back to the Future game. I was immediately wary of the idea, wondering just how they could possibly get it right. They're a good company and I enjoy what they've done with the Strong Bad and Monkey Island games they've put out, but Back to the Future? Could they really do it without losing what was so great about those movies?

Well, now you have the option to make your voice heard and give them a chance to not screw it up. Follow the link to take the survey on their site. Who knows, you might even win the $1000 drawing they're offering. I found it really fun to take myself. What nerd doesn't love rating their favorite parts/characters/action sequences of one of the best trilogies out there?

I suppose at the very least, you won't be dodging guys holding window glass or getting thrown into the wall by guys in muscle shirts anymore. Right?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Castle of Cagliostro Dub Wars

I've mentioned my love for this movie and how it's a large part of my introduction to both anime and Hayao Miyazaki films in my Ponyo review, so I will do my best not to rehash that here. Suffice to say that this is one of the most loved films from my adolescent years, and I highly recommend it to everyone who loves animation and light hearted adventure.

This film was made and released in Japan in 1979, but didn't find it's way to American audiences until 1991. The theatrical release was apparently subtitled, but when released on video, a dub was done by Streamline Pictures. This is the version which I originally saw and rented multiple times from the video store. In 2000 the rights to the film were purchased by Manga Entertainment and an all new dub was recorded. Originally, this was the only copy of the film I was able to own as the Streamline version was long out of print by the time I wanted a copy. I searched Ebay frequently for the older version, but it never came up. I went to forums and livejournal communities asking if anyone had a copy of the original dub that they would perhaps make a copy of for me and I would gladly pay the expense involved. The only responses I ever seemed to get were "the new dub is better anyway" even when I explained that I wanted the old one for nostalgic reasons.

About a month ago I found out that the Streamline dub was in fact out there once again albeit in the Australian and UK releases only. International copyrights being what they are, Manga Entertainment lost the rights to distribute the film there and now Madman Entertainment has it. They decided to use the original dub on their DVD release. After doing a bit of research that assured me I would be able to watch a Region 4 DVD on my computer thanks to VLC Media Player, I gladly paid the price for the DVD and Australian air mail in order to get my hands on the movie I had fallen so much in love with back when I was young.

In the years since first seeing this movie, I went digging for other Lupin III. I've read the first few manga collections, seen the TV series that aired on Adult Swim a while back, as well as most of the theatrical release films and direct to video releases. So I feel at this point that I have a pretty good knowledge of who the characters are and what they're all about. Castle of Cagliostro is a bit different than most Lupin III films. Both Lupin and his rival/love interest Fujiko are much less deviant in this film than they are in other movies. From what I've seen, however, the other characters are much closer to their normal roles.

In order to see which of these two dubs was superior, I watched both versions of the film fairly close to one another. I went about two weeks between viewings, but considering how many times I've watched the movie and the way my memory is in general I still had the Manga dub fresh in my mind as I watched the Streamline dub. Honestly? It is, for the most part, the same exact movie. Yes, the chosen words are different. Perhaps the Streamline dub was aiming more for fitting lip movements than it was with literal translation. In terms of plot points and the storyline itself, nothing is changed. The motives of the characters, the back stories, it's all pretty much the same. Whoever did the Streamline translation had no problem understanding the Japanese. I'll try to highlight some of the main differences for you.

The Wolf vs. Lupin III
The Streamline Pictures release did not have the rights to the name Lupin III (there's that crazy international copyright law again) so they refer to him as The Wolf most of the time. Jigen also calls him boss a lot more, perhaps as another way to get around the name problem. Perhaps the funny thing is they do call him Lupin once (though they pronounce it wrong) out of necessity because the animation shows his calling card with his signature on it. I suppose this name change alone is excuse enough for a new dub, since you most likely couldn't get all the actors together again to fix their lines.

In the Streamline dub she's a princess, in the Manga she is the daughter of the Archduke. Strikes me as a simplicity change more than anything else. She also comes off as slightly more desperate at the end of the movie, though in both the end is the same.. she loves Lupin and doesn't want him to leave her.

Voice Actors
In the Streamline dub Wolf is played by Bob Bergen, who gave him a slightly nasal voice. It gives him a slightly more cartoonish feel most of the time. In the Manga dub Lupin is played by David Hayter, perhaps best known for being the voice of Solid Snake. Hayter plays him with a voice fairly close to his natural speaking voice, and he's a bit more like your standard dashing hero. I have to admit I prefer David Hayter's performance here. On the other hand, Inspector Zenigata is the exact opposite. I like the way he starts off sounding very serious in the Streamline dub, and you hear him coming apart and becoming more frustrated as the movie goes on, whereas in the Manga dub he sounds a bit silly from the beginning. The accents are all really overdone in the Manga dub. Everyone at the Interpol hearing is a stereotype of their respective country, and Gustav, the Count's large bodyguard, sounds like a bad Arnold Schwarzenegger impression.

Jigen and Goemon
In the Manga dub, Jigen curses far too much. He shouts "Christ!" repeatedly at the beginning of the film, and it really just seems out of place in an otherwise light hearted family movie. Goemon is perhaps the character who suffers the most in the Streamline dub.. he's fairly quiet, and they decided that the times he did speak it would be nothing but one liners. He's generally a very serious character with a more dry sense of humor.

Knight in Shining Armor vs Thief in the Night
When Lupin first visits Clarice in her locked tower, he vows to rescue her. She thinks it is completely hopeless. He gives a brief speech begging her to trust him. In the Streamline dub, he refers to himself as her knight in shining armor, and in the Manga dub he is a thief in the night come to steal her away. While I can understand that since Lupin is known as a master thief the latter may make more sense for the character in general, the fact is that the knight in shining armor speech was what always stuck in my memory and made me fall in love with the character. It was very romantic and sweet, and the more literal translation just lacks a lot of its charm. Hearing it again after so long, my heart melted all over again. That never happens whenever I watch the Manga dub.

In the end, I think both versions have their positives and negatives and you should just pick up whichever one is being sold in your country. You could of course also just watch it with subtitles and skip this whole mess. I'm left a bit clueless as to why people think the new dub is far superior, though barring the one scene mentioned above, I'm also forced to abandon my feelings that the original was the much better version as well. In the end this is simply a fantastic animated film, and no amount of word choice or silly voices can ruin that. It's a pleasure to watch and listen to in any language!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Super Mario Bros Super Show!

If you're close enough to my age, you may have felt a tinge of excitement and nostalgia upon reading that title. We certainly all remember the "Do the Mario!" song that played over the credits, right? You probably have memories of loving this show, and maybe, like me, you waited anxiously for every Friday so that you could see the next installment of the Legend of Zelda cartoon.

I'm afraid I have some very bad news for you. Your nostalgia is lying to you. This happens a lot. I'm fairly certain it's a large part of the reason why some people still think Michael Keaton was a good Batman, why people rush out to see James Cameron movies, and why people got so upset over the Transformers movies. We have ideals in our heads of what things were like when we were kids and we except them as truth without ever going to revisit those things. It's possible that these things should never be revisited.

While browsing shows available for Netflix streaming, I experienced a feeling of glee when I saw the Super Mario Bros Super Show available. I added it to my queue immediately, and sat down to watch the first episode not long after. Oh boy. It's bad. I mean, really bad. The live action segments in particular are just absolutely horrible, and the cartoons aren't much better.

According to wikipedia, the live action segments weren't scripted. I guess that makes me feel slightly better about them, because if someone had actually written that dialogue I'd have to go on a full scale rant. The segments are cheesy, ridiculous, and go on much longer than they need to. Most of the celebrity guests who are normally decent actors come off absolutely terrible here. I always thought Winnie Cooper was one of the best parts of the Wonder Years, but here she acts as good as a random kid they pulled in off the street. I think the most amusing part is that for some reason their phone is completely covered in pizza. You would think plumbers might have a phone made out of pipes, but apparently Mario & Luigi love pizza so much that they decided to glue pieces of it to a rotary phone.

As far as the cartoon, story-wise, it's still pretty bad. The first episode has Birdo mistaking Toad for her baby who looks nothing like him. I can understand they decided to skip the whole gender bending aspect of Birdo, but we're also talking about a character who willingly throws his/her eggs at you. Why would she care about her baby? Other episodes I've watched so far are basically parodies, be it of westerns, King Arthur, etc. The kind of things cartoons do when they don't want to be even remotely original.

Bowser seems to only be referred to as "King Koopa" in the series, which makes me wonder exactly when we all started calling him Bowser. Sometimes he has Princess Toadstool captured, and sometimes she goes along with Mario, Luigi, and Toad. This show was made after Super Mario Bros 2 but before 3. You would think that maybe the princess would get something to do now and again, given that for most people I know, she was the character of choice in 2. I mean, she could float! Unless you were in a digging level, then you used Toad, right? But from what I've seen, she mostly just tags along and says "Oh no!" a lot. In all fairness I don't think this is gender bias as all the characters are treated pretty horribly.

Mario is the worst case of Italian stereotyping I've ever seen. He's constantly hungry for some form of pasta, and that's pretty much all he cares about. I now know where the idea of Luigi as a coward began. It's bothered me for awhile now wondering where that came from. In all the old games he was Mario's equal, but the latest generation seems to always portray him as a 'fraidy cat. Now I know I have this stupid show to blame. Hands down, the absolute worst is Toad. The voice chosen for him is extremely grating, and he mostly just spits out one bad joke after another. He has Mario's food obsession combined with general laziness and unwillingness to do anything. I suppose they were trying to make you relive that feeling you had when he continually told you the princess was in another castle. That's about the only reasoning I've got for it, anyway.

Did you know this show had not one, but TWO theme songs? There's the one that starts off the show, and another for when the cartoon segments begins. Both are that horrible style of rap that marketing executives seemed to think was what "the kids like" back in 1989. I think what was most amusing to me was that the cartoon theme explains how the Mario Bros ended up in Mushroom Land.. and I remember taking that as the official story of how it happened as a kid.

In all fairness, there are two things the show did right: both the music and the sound effects are pretty true to the games. When Mario stomps on someone, or touches a fire flower or star, the right sound goes off. The music is also based off the game's music, and goes so far as to play the underground theme when they are trapped in an underground prison, etc. It's a nice attention to detail that you don't often get in various interpretations. It's definitely more accurate than the movie ever was.

Sadly, I can't talk about the Legend of Zelda cartoon. Apparently it's not included in the set. I was so excited to get to the 5th episode and check it out.. and found it was just another Mario episode. Also, yes, I watched a total of 5 episodes of this show so far. So apparently, no matter how bad it gets, I still can't tear myself away from it. So if you still really love this show even now, I certainly can't say anything to you. I can't really endorse a purchase however, unless you find it for cheap and just can't resist.
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