I had only two days of uni this week which meant I was practically on a five-day weekend. And what did I do during that five-day weekend? I signed up as a volunteer for SYN radio, caught up with a few animated films and got a job! Hooray for that! Talk about productivity, right?
My training with SYN radio begins in late November and I look forward to going on air and presenting material. Presenters get the chance to propose their own show and I'd love to pitch a movie-discussion based show much like the podcasts that SlashFilm produce on their website. Here's hoping that this experience will be both beneficial and fun!
I think this upcoming week will be my second last week of university study for the year. And from there I have to re-enrol and pick new subjects (this is gonna be horrible... I don't want to be forced to study Jane Austen or anything like that).
"Breaking Bad" just wrapped up its fourth season and if you're not watching this show I implore you to do so right now! "Breaking Bad" is without a doubt the best television show on TV right now, possibly one of the best TV shows ever created! Real talk, guys. Ugh, the season four finale killed me emotionally and I am absolutely at a loss as to where things will go from here. Everyone involved with the show do an outstanding job of providing quality television week in and week out. Do not deprive yourself of this amazing television series and go watch it now!
Speaking of television, anyone keeping up with "American Horror Story" at the moment? It premiered on FX in America two weeks ago and it's very interesting. I mean, the hook for me to watch it was basically because it was horror stretched out into a television series, which makes for an interesting concept for me anyway. The promos for the show had me curious and while I'm not entirely disappointed by it so far, it has been a little underwhelming. I do think there's a lot of potential and the two episodes we have so far do show signs of promise and intrigue. For my full thoughts on the series so far, head on over to my Tumblr post about the show.
I love the show's opening credits. It's simple and effective and is one of my favourite opening titles of any television show.
WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING
This week was animation week. I sat myself down and watched a couple of recent animated feature films that I have been meaning to catch up. In addition to these recent titles, I also endeavoured to watch a cult classic anime title for the first time as well. Below are my thoughts.
Prior to having seen "How to Train Your Dragon", there was a lot of positive buzz for the film that had been floating around for more than year now regarding the film - some of that buzz even going as far as to say that "Toy Story 3" stole the Oscar from it. I might not share that exact same sentiment nor do I disagree with it - I think "How to Train Your Dragon" is a fantastic film that may have very well won the Oscar had it not been for such stiff competition that year. But let's not focus on the politics of awards and focus on the film itself which surprised me a lot more than I thought it would.
The film thrusts you straight into the action, no opening credits or even a title - the audience is immediately introduced to our unlikely hero, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), who provides a wealthy amount of exposition about himself and the war between the Vikings and the dragons amidst the chaos of battle. In this short opening sequence, we see all the main characters and conflicts are immediately presented which, by film's end, the viewer hope will be resolved. And from there the story begins to unravel - Hiccup wants desperately to prove his worth as a Viking and dreams of capturing and slaying a Night Fury, the most dangerous of all the dragons. He luckily shoots one down but can't bring himself to kill it and instead begins to befriend him and even domesticates the wild creature. It's essentially a story about a boy his pet dog, except the dog is a fire-breathing black dragon which Hiccup names Toothless. The story can fall into the realm of predictability but you won't care about this or what happens next because the film delivers spectacles and thrills on an emotional level that remind you of the pure joys of cinema.
Much has been said about how this film was able to use 3D and, much to my chagrin, I was unable to actually see this film in 3D. Those who saw the film in 3D during its original theatrical run must have been treated to something spectacular though because, even without the 3D, the jaw-dropping visuals of the film are something to marvel over. The characters and visual scenery all beautifully rendered and the scenes where Hiccup and Toothless are flying are absolutely magical. When seen in 3D, the film has been said to have pretty much provided audiences with a sensation of flight during these scenes and it's not hard to see why. And if the 3D, whether it's a post-conversion or filmed entirely on a 3D camera, adds to the level of immersion and depth with the story and its characters then by all means use it and use it well! We all know that 3D is gimmicky but it can work - "Avatar" made it work even if it was, in the end, a giant advertisement for filmmakers to get behind 3D technology and for investors to start buying into the market (which worked, by the way). Audiences know better and we generally do not enjoy having to wear oversized 3D glasses to watch a movie but if you can make it as magical and awe-inspiring as this film, then kudos to you.
But I digress, back to the film in question. In addition to the amazing visuals is the film's overwhelmingly marvelous score. My, what a score. Again, I was completely thrown off by just how damn good the score was and how well implemented it was all throughout the film. I did not expect such a quality score at all. It's a soaring and epic score that commands our attention, keeps the story afloat and alert and helps to hold together the inspiring magic of the film.
"How To Train Your Dragon" succeeds in being a wild crowd pleaser with a fairly simple story that's set on a massive stage. It's a family film with a lot of potency behind it - about as much potency as "Toy Story 3" - with characters you genuinely care about. Not a single minute of the film is wasted. You will fall in love with Toothless as much as Hiccup does. You will cheer when Hiccup and Toothless fly for the first time and at the same time feel fear when things begin to go wrong. It's everything you'd want out of an adventure film like this and more so. It surpassed all of my expectations and probably those of Dreamworks Animation as well. They finally have film worthy enough to rival the films of Pixar and the critical response and box-office receipts around the world are proof of this.
"Akira" is the film that brought Japanese animation to the forefront of Western audiences' attention. Now that's not to say that something like "Astro Boy" didn't do that earlier, however, "Akira" was important as it, along with films like "Ghost in the Shell" and "Ninja Scroll" provided audiences with a side of animation not previously exposed in the West with animation being used as a means of serious, adult storytelling. There are some liberties that animation can achieve that live-action films can't, such as the grotesque ways in which characters can be depicted as well as being able to fulfill our imaginations and not limit them. For that, "Akira" exists soley as an animated feature film and I would imagine that a live-action adaptation of it would be very difficult to produce.
The film takes after World War 3 in the metropolis of Neo-Tokyo, a neon-filled city of decadence where motorcycle gangs, student protesters, corrupt bureaucrats and the military are among the common sights to take in at this troubled city. A mix between "Blade Runner" and "Mad Max", we follow Tetsuo, a motorcycle gang member who is abducted by the military after his exposure to a frail-looking psychic child causes him to channel similar abilities of his own. Meanwhile, Kaneda, Tetsuo's best friend, seeks to release him from captivity only to further pull Tetsuo one step further into hell.
There's a lot to take in with "Akira" as it is a rather bizarre and highly stylised piece of work. The dystopian cyberpunk world of "Akira" has clearly gone on to become influential in films like "The Matrix" but other than that, it's almost hard to see just how else "Akira" has become an influence. The problem with this probably lies with the anime market as it is today which is just populated with many different series and films. It's hard to gauge just how big "Akira" is meant to be watching it now but that isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it - I just couldn't understand why "Akira" was supposed to be as huge as it was. Overrated? Probably. Or maybe I just didn't get it?
Although I will say that the film does have a rather profound nature about it when it came to the destruction of Neo Tokyo. I mean, this is coming from a country that has been ravaged by destruction not just by natural disasters but with war as well (Japan of course being the only country to suffer the effects of the nuclear atomic bomb). In addition to this bizarre yet profound muse on destruction, the film is very dark and grim with subject matter that sure leaves you feeling overwhelmed by film's end. I know I was in a state of disarray after finishing the film, trying to recollect my thoughts as to what I just saw.
But who, or what, is Akira? It's hard to put into words what "Akira" (the film) is although this is something that film challenges you to answer all throughout. I personally found this concept of Akira to be a metaphor for the capacity for darkness and destruction that we all possess - similar to "Apocalypse Now" in that regard.
------------I feel like a bit of a authoritative figure when it comes to Disney, having begun my time as an ACMI volunteer with the "Dreams Come True" Disney Exhbition. "Tangled", Disney's 50th animated film sees a return to form for Disney, returning to telling fairy tales in the way we're familiar with - not with an appropriated modern setting like "The Princess and the Frog" - but within the somewhat medieval touch of classics such as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" or "Sleeping Beauty".
We're all familiar with the story of Rapunzel, but this isn't the same Rapunzel you grew up with. In this alternate retelling, Rapunzel, having spent her entire life within the confines of Mother Gothel's tower, wishes for nothing more than to see the glowing lanterns and experience the outside world. With the help of a dashing rogue, Flynn Rider, who stumbles across her tower after a thieving mishap in the woods, she soon discovers the world for the first time and learns of her true identity. This alternate retelling gives Gothel and actual reason to hold Rapunzel captive as Rapunzel's hair has mystical healing abilities which, in the case of Gothel, help to keep her staying forever young.
I'm pleased to say that this film is classic Disney that's been filtered through the contemporary 21st century style of American animated storytelling. That last part is important because the heart and humour of the film is reminiscent to the majority of the mass distributed animations from America today yet is still able to evoke that timeless Disney charm that we all know and love. Rapunzel has a lot more of an assertive sass to her character and instead of a regal prince, we have a charmingly smug rogue who comes to the aid of our princess.
Some may lament Disney's choice to abandon the hand drawn aesthetic for this film but the computer generated imagery of this film help to add much more personality to the characters. The animation department do a marvelous job of rendering them and giving them all unique little quirks when they talk or emote (eg. Rapunzel using her hair to emote is genius).
Of course it's not just the animated department who should get kudos here as the voicework in this film is delightful (as they are in all these films mentioned here). Sometimes casting actors to do voicework sounds awkward and stilted on screen but here Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi do an outstanding job of bringing these characters to life and giving them each a huge personality.
I think "Tangled" is great and that Disney have really picked up their game with this and it's great to see them go back to doing what worked for them so many years ago. "Tangled" is able to take a well known fairy tale and add enough of a contemporary spin to it that it wouldn't alienate audiences from the style in which it's trying to achieve. I really enjoyed the film and thought that it's a great family film that also works as a lovely coming-of-age story.
TIDBITS OF FILM NEWS
Not much by way of film news this week other than this one trailer for "The Avengers" which is pretty cool. Can't believe this is actually happening though... I mean this is all started, or at least was planned, way back in 2008! Time flies, right?
And that's it today guys. Sorry for the lack of photos again. My friend didn't upload his party photos so I'm not gonna press him for them. Anyways, time to end things.