Friday, June 8

They're Baaaaack...

After a pretty long hiatus, Ghost Hunters are back on air with new episodes. The latest episode- the 7th installment of the 3rd Season- has TAPS (The Atlanta Paranormal Society) continuing their Ireland tour with a visit to some creepy ruins supposedly being inhabited by faeries, and then to a London pub built on the location of a former prison. The ruins proved the more fruitful venue, with eerie figures showing up on the thermal cameras and even what appeared to be a sinister, spooky face manifesting on video.

The next episode looks to be a mix of gasps and laughs as TAPS takes on a place called the Hellfire Caves, as well as what may be a creepy wax museum. I don't expect these episodes to hit local cable until there are more episodes out- but at the very least, there will be 12 episodes to be shown starting this June for the rest of 2007, and the popular series is already set to continue in 2008. Lotsa scary fun to look forward to. Whoopie!

Thursday, June 7

Retro Film Review: Land of Faraway

For not much reason, I began remembering recently this movie that I watched years ago when I was a kid. It was entitled Land of Faraway. Back then, DVDs (and VCDs/CDs, even) were nowhere around, and movies were available on betamax tapes for rent in shops or neighborhood merchants. I wasn't expecting much from the tape- I mean, the title was kinda blah- but the movie got me interested soon after I plucked it into the player.
Land of Faraway, AKA Mio in the Land of Faraway, is a European-produced storybook fantasy, based on a novel. It is all about the adventures of a young boy named Bosse, a seemingly ordinary kid living with his adoptive parents in a dreary home. One day, in a fit of anger, his surrogate parent remarks at how his father was a good-for-nothing drunk... something that Bosse vehemently objects to, despite him not really knowing his real dad.

Then, one day, while walking along, Bosse encounters, of all things, a floating, giant bearded and disembodied head (!) which informs him that he is going home to his true home, to his true father, in the Land of Faraway. So, faster than you can say 'Faraway', Bosse hangs onto the long beard and is whisked off to a magical land. There, he soon meets another boy, Jum-Jum, who becomes his best friend, and of course, his father, the King of Faraway. He also finds out that his real name isn't Bosse, but Mio. How's that for a complete change?

Now, you'd think that Bosse/Mio would be totally happy after that... but then, that would make for a pretty boring story. Soon after arriving in Faraway, Mio notices with a bit of alarm the size and massiveness of Faraway's castle gate. As Jum-Jum explains, it's needed so the King can sleep at night. Faraway is, unfortunately, a kingdom under siege, from an EVIL Knight named Kato. This blackguard has kidnapped many of Faraway's children, and is holding them captive in his castle. Eventually, Mio takes it upon himself to gather the courage (and the enchanted items) needed to free the captive children, confront Kato and defeat the stone-hearted knave once and for all.

As fantasy films go, Land of Faraway isn't too high on the whimsy- it's pretty straight and matter-of-factly told, a bit heavy-handedly at that. Since it's based on a novel, there's quite a bit of narration with lines that sound straight from the book. The way Mio and Jum-Jum go about defeating Kato also plays like everything's preordained, with an enchanted item matching every situation down to an invisible cloak for thwarting seven-times-seventy guards, and a magical sword for plunging into Kato's stone heart. The production is no LOTR, either, but at the time, it didn't really matter.

These days, what's really surprising for me aside from my remembering this film, are the names of the actors in the film which I never really remembered. Well, Kato the evil Knight was played by none other than Christopher Lee. Meanwhile, Mio's sidekick Jum-Jum was performed by... The Batman himself, Christian Bale. Wild, man.

The Land of Faraway wasn't really a great fantasy film, but for some reason I remember it to this day. I guess it was clever in some ways, magical in some others, with enchantment and a dreamy feeling making up for less-than-spectacular production/special effects and a European dub. It's one of the films that make up my childhood, so at the very least, it's something that I am glad that I was able to experience. Far better than the original Critters, I'd say. Heh.

Wednesday, June 6

The Saga Continues

Spoilers Ahead.

I finally watched the whole first season of Heroes, and what can I say? I love it. Yeah, the show isn't perfect, there are flaws and stuff aplenty that I find hokey or hard to swallow but in the end, it was a show that I could watch episode after episode after episode without batting an eye or slowing a beat. That makes it a winner in my book.

My favorite characters: Hiro Nakamura is one, of course, since he's a little fat guy with glasses who still pretty much is THE Hero in a series about Heroes. Peter Petrelli is bad-ass and he's got a great power (although why he can't control the exploding thing is a big flaw) which makes him the only real match to the series' main baddie, Sylar... who is by the way also another one of my favorite Heroes 'cause he's smart, bad-ass and deliciously evil and genuinely scary since he tends to kill everyone who gets in his way. Then there's Mr. Bennet aka "Horn-rimmed Glasses Man", who probably goes through the best character changes and developments in the series from hated villain to formidable anti-hero/good guy. Noah's little girl, Claire also rubs me the right way not only being cute but having the guts and morals of a true hero.

I'm not too hot with Nathan Petrelli (since you can never really tell if he's good or wishy-washy) and the super-powered family of Nikki and D.L. As for Matt Parkman, seeing him in his 'dark' version turned me off to him, his former run on Alias notwithstanding.

Best Moments: Still, the first time Nathan really cuts out flying. The part where Claire wakes up on the autopsy table. Mohinder getting the drop on Sylar. Future Hiro making his debut.

Disappointing Moments/Iffy Parts: Why can't we see the final battle between Alternate Sylar and Peter??? The solution to the Bomb threat was pretty... just there. Why couldn't Peter fly off on his own? There were like, at least two other people there who could shoot Peter if it was really needed. Or, why can't someone just clock him like Invisible Guy did in an earlier episode? Oh well.

For the most part, Heroes was a engaging, addictive watch. I can't wait to see how they advance the stories of the various heroes (I am glad that they are apparently going to continue the stories of the surviving heroes in the next season) and introduce new characters into the mix. No word yet on when Season 2: Generations starts, or when the one-shot Heroes: Origins will begin, but I'll surely be keeping my eyes (and browsers) peeled. YATA!
There Shall Be Only One

I got my hands on a copy of Highlander: Search for Vengeance, the anime version of the long-running franchise of sword-swinging immortals out to decapitate all other challengers in the bid to win 'the Prize'. This latest movie and first animated incarnation of the adventures of the MacLeods is megged by the acclaimed Yoshiaki Kawajiri, whose previous works include the seminal Ninja Scroll and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, while writing credits go to writer David Abramowitz, who wrote the scripts for a ton of Highlander shows. The feature film is being produced by Studio Madhouse, which pretty much gives Vengeance the same look and visual style of Kawajiri's past works.

The story isn't the most original- the protagonist, Colin MacLeod, is searching for Marcus Octavius, the immortal who slew his beloved centuries ago. Colin's hunt takes him throughout many periods of history, from World War II up to the near-future setting of Vengeance's present, where the world has been ravaged by both environmental and man-made disasters. The final battle will be fought in Marcus Octavius' fortress, once the city of New York. Will Colin lend his aid to the beleaguered freedom fighters battling the immortal dictator's oppressive reign, or will he simply seek to satisfy the hatred burning in his soul? Well... probably both actually. This movie really shouldn't hold too many surprises.

Reviews have already given some ideas of how Vengeance fares- the time-spanning chase has been the Highlander story from day one, so it doesn't really tread into any new territory. Also, it isn't as gory or violent or sexually-explicit as Ninja Scroll was, nor are the character designs as engaging or interesting. At the very least though, the animation looks good and there should be a fair bit of action and sexy sparrings onscreen. I'll try to give this an earnest watch as soon as I can so I can give my own two cents into the mix.

Sunday, June 3

Spice Girl

Satoshi Kon's latest psychothriller anime.

Dreams are amazing, aren't they? One night you're surrounded by familiar faces and presences in your underwear... another night, you're being chased by a monster while running on a treadmill. On one level, they're inexplicable and unfathomable, yet on another it seems that the secrets to living life may actually be hidden in the nuances and images of our subconscious. But who can tell for sure?

Well, in the speculative world of Paprika, anime director Satoshi Kon's latest animated opus, dreams have finally been laid wide open thanks to a device known as the DC Mini. Created by the massively overweight and child-like genius Dr. Kosaku Tokita, the DCM allows one to see, enter and even interact with the dreams of patients, potentially opening the door to finding cures for various mental illnesses. At the forefront of this research is the beautiful yet seemingly cold and driven Dr. Atsuko Chiba (voiced by anime seiyuu icon Megumi Hayashibara), through her secret alter-ego; an adventurous, fun-loving red-headed teenaged dreamwalker named Paprika.

But when several samples of the DCM are stolen, the dark side of dream interaction is revealed as an unknown party begins tampering with dreams, sending people into a spiralling path of madness and even death. To protect their work and the waking world, Atsuko, Paprika and their colleagues fight to discover the villain behind this growing nightmare.
Fans of Satoshi Kon's work will feel right at home with Paprika- it contains much of what has come with his work before... beautiful female protagonists who are both tough yet vulnerable, gritty cops doggedly on the trail of their suspects, psychotic situations and dark humor and of course, wonderful animation and a complex story. Paprika certainly has tons of issues- such as the kinship between the internet and dreams, the morality of science and dream interaction and even the challenge posed on women in the modern/future workplace. Yet even with all that, it's also quite possible to just enjoy Paprika on a base level- it's a gorgeous work of animation with some seriously insane visuals.

The characters are a mix of the usual suspects and surprising cast choices- Atsuko is your beautiful yet cold heroine, counterbalanced by the bubbly and adventurous Paprika. Detective Konakawa, a hardened cop and patient of Paprika, seems to be the same gritty cop character often seen in Kon's other works. Then there's Dr. Shima, the usual wise, wizened old man often seen in anime in general. The most surprising new character is Dr. Kosaku Tokita- you don't usually see weight-challenged people as protagonists in anime aside from just for humor (Simpsons and The Family Guy come to mind when talking cartoon fat guys)- but Kon treats his overweight hero with as much dignity as he does the occasional fat joke. AND he gets the girl in the end.

Paprika isn't perfect- there are quite a few stretches of quiet and jargon that will probably bore those looking for instant gratification. Paprika for all her competence is as much damsel as heroine. But at the very least, with the wild imagery and animations on display, I can at least say that the film is a fair shot into showing the formless, ever-changing landscape of dreams- which is never an easy subject to tackle.
In terms of content, this is certainly not a kid's film- both because of the complexity of the subject and several instances of disturbing imagery and some nudity. Kids may enjoy some of the colorful animations and sequences, but the long talking sequences may get them drifting away into dreamland quite easily. For the anime enthusiast and fans of a great anime director's works, this is yet another dream come true.