Tuesday, April 08, 2008

I haven't posted films reviews in quite a while, so let me start off with some animation.

Sony Pictures has released "Blood +," an anime series which has been seen on the "Adult Swim" programming block of Cartoon Network.

Japanese animation or anime is much more adventurous than American animation in its willingness to use the medium to tell a variety of stories. The problem with anime is that like any other type of popular culture there is a large percentage that relies on clich s or on the conventions set by truly innovative productions.

Anime is filled with school girl heroines, hideous monsters and overly intricate plotlines that are like soap operas, as well as visual and animation devices that are used over and over.

I'm happy to say that while "Blood +" has a school girl heroine, hideous monsters and an intricate plot, its writing is compelling, the animation strives for a kind of realism other productions never achieve, and I was definitely hooked.

"Blood +" is about Saya, who at first resembles any other teenage Japanese school girl. The difference is that Saya is suffering from amnesia and her adoptive father has kept the story of her past from her. What she doesn't know but is to find out is that she is the one person capable of destroying vampire-like creatures known as "chiroptera."

Although there is plenty of blood-letting, "Blood +" seems to avoid many of the primary pitfalls of anime: the reliance on conventions in order to avoid having to do something different.

Sony has released the first five half-hour episodes onto one disc, "Blood + Volume One," and the entire 26 episode first season in a six-disc boxed set that comes complete with a T-shirt and a mini-comic adopting the story into manga Japanese comic book style.

There are no extras on the stand-alone volume, but in the boxed set , one of the six discs is all interviews with the series' creators.

Be aware that if you buy the stand-alone disc, those five shows are all repeated in the boxed set.

Animation fans who would like to try something different, should seek out "Blood +."

For more information, log onto www.sonypictures.com.

Bee Movie: A Very Jerry 2-Disc Edition

Entertainment writers have been spewing stories about the "Seinfeld" curse now for several years, and the box office success of Jerry Seinfeld's follow-up vehicle, "Bee Movie," certainly showed he was under the same dark cloud as some of his co-stars.

The film will be out on DVD shortly and if you're a fan of the film, the two-disc edition will give you all the "Bee" stuff you could possibly want.

The film is about Barry Benson, a bee who is challenging the status quo of the hive. While other bees know what they want to do, Barry doesn't and this eventually leads him to a friendship with a human (played by Renee Zellweger). This friendship and the realization humans exploit bees for honey leads to a class action suit against the human race brought on behalf of bees.

I have to admit that in an animated kids' movie I never thought the concept of a lawsuit for exploitation would be a plot point, but then there's a lot in this film that is more for adults than for children.

I took my nephew Douglas to the film when it was in theaters and although he liked it, he didn't laugh once. I did laugh several times, but we had far different reactions to "The Simpsons Movie:" a stream of belly laughs.

Seinfeld co-wrote the film and stars as Barry. I think it's fascinating to see him develop a property that is as about as far away from his hit television series as he could get.

I liked the film. It's pleasant and despite the class action lawsuit and genocide sub-plots, it's generally enjoyable. I just didn't find it as funny as many other recent animated offerings.

The extras in this two-disc set reveal a little of how the film was made. Seinfeld did not want to leave his New York City home so Dreamworks set up an office with a two-way television/computer system so Seinfeld could meet and collaborate with the production crew on the west coast.

There is one obnoxious featurette that is merely a commercial for HP computers, which were used in the making of the film.

The extras also have two deleted scenes and five alternative endings. It's interesting to see that Seinfeld and his directors were obviously unsure on how to end the picture and kept re-working the scene.

If you liked the movie or are a Seinfeld fan, this two-disc set is a honey. I'm very sorry, but I resisted the bee puns until the very end.

Okay, now some non-animated features.

The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun

This Danish documentary tells less than what I would liked to have learned about an eccentric Dane and his wish to turn a castle into a monastery, but the film is still interesting viewing.

Filmmaker Pernille Rose Gr nkj r followed around Mr. Vig, a man in his eighties, for five years, recording his efforts to establish a Russian Orthodox monastery in the small castle he owned.

Although we learn much about Vig, he is still quite a puzzle. Although he looks frail, he seems to take pleasure in physical labor. He has an obsession with noses, has never been in love, and can recount there has only been one person he has truly admired his father.

He doesn't seem very religious at this point in his life, but clearly the study of religion has been important to him and he has decided that if he could establish a monastery at his run-down estate he will have created a lasting monument to himself.

The Moscow patriarchate agrees to send Sister Amvrosija to evaluate the castle and to work out the details with Vig. A positive but no-nonsense woman, she and Vig almost instantly begin clashing.

One realizes that when confronted with the possibility of seeing his dreams realized, Vig begins having cold feet. The Russian nun will have none of that and pushes forward to put an agreement in place and to repair the castle.

I really would have wanted to know more about Vig how he obtained the castle, what was his profession, how did he support himself at the time of the filming but we aren't given that information. It would have made the story much richer.

Even with these flaws, the film is well worth watching for folks who want to see a very unusual story.

For more information, visit www.themonasterymovie.com.

The Kite Runner

Based on the book of the same name, "The Kite Runner" is a movie that while not depicting a true story rings very true.

The movie tells the story of Amir, a boy whose growing up is marked by a horrible act of abuse on his best friend, his inability to face that act and his departure from his native Afghanistan to the United States.

While this part of the story is compelling enough, it is what happens to Amir as young man that elevates the story to something above most dramas. Amir receives a phone call from a family friend telling him to come home, as "there is a way to be good again."

Amir discovers Hassan, his childhood friend, has been killed by the Taliban and sets out on a quest to rescue Hassan's son who still is in Kabul.

I can't give you more details, as there are several surprises.

This film is part immigrant story, part current affairs and part self-discovery for the central character of Amir. The performances by an international cast of relative unknowns are superb with Homayoun Ershadi standing out as Amir's father.

This is a great movie and one that is worth seeking out. Be warned, though, much of the film is sub-titled, but I hope that won't put you off watching this film.

For more information, go to www.kiterunnermovie.com.

The Tudors, First Season

This Showtime series, now on DVD, has a lot going for it. A loosey-goosey depiction of the life and loves of King Henry VIII, the show probably will give historians hives as it does play fast and loose with many of the details of the monarch's life.

Where it does probably succeed English history professors are encouraged to write in and tell me if I'm right is the capriciousness and the bloody politics of Henry's reign.

Oh yes, that and the fact that he was, in today's parlance, a dog.

My problem is that while the shows can boast of great settings, costumes and performances as well as well-written scripts, it cheapens itself when the story turns to Henry's bedroom antic. What was once a historical drama now is soft-core porn.

These sequences are so gratuitous that one could clip them from the film and no one would know the difference.

So while I can give a recommendation to the show in general, I have to add a big warning for scenes you really don't want your kids to see.

For more information, log onto www.sho.com/tudors.

Southland Tales

I've never seen "Donnie Darko," the cult film by writer and director Richard Kelly, but I've received many recommendations about it. That's why I decided to waste two hours of my life and watch his second film.

That was a big mistake, but I watch these things so you don't have to!

A darkly comic, satiric science fiction film with bold political themes, "Southland Tales" is one of those films that has so much potentially going for it that its failure is even more spectacular.

Kelly had come up with a plan: the film would be preceded by a series of graphic novels and the narrative would be concluded with the film itself. Perhaps the film makes more sense if you read the comics, but as a rule it should stand on its own.

The trouble is the story simply makes little sense and the film veers from something serious to something stupid. It opens with a nuclear attack on the United States, begins a story about the aftermath, World War III and the suspension of many civil liberties and then descends into a low comedy look at a group of far leftists trying to upset an election.

Kelly assembled quite a cast headed by Dwayne Johnson and includes Sarah Michelle Gellar, Justin Timberlake and a whole bunch of comic performers in straight roles (Jon Lovitz, Seann William Scott, Will Sasso, Cheri Oteri and Amy Poehler).

There's a lot of talent wasted in this film that just can't tell a story.

Yes, there are extras, but I was so disgusted by this self-important farce, I couldn't make myself watch them. The film was punishment enough.

For more information, log onto www.southlandtales.com.

Mulberry Street

My fellow horror movie fan Mark Masztal and I discovered this film when it played as part of the After Dark Horror Film Festival. After sitting though a really terrible film "Lake Dead" we had little hope for this film that depicts New York City in the midst of a hideous epidemic.

Boy, were we wrong. "Mulberry Street" is an expertly made film that packs in the jolts at the same time it establishes realistic characters. Director Jim Mickle, who co-wrote the screenplay with Nick Damici, clearly understands what is lacking in so many so-called horror films today and gives us a scary story with a very humanistic core.

The premise, like many good fright films, sounds ridiculous humans bit by rats are turning into rat-like creatures themselves. The execution is another thing. This film works on every level.

Want a good scare and a good film? Check out "Mulberry Street."

For more information, go to www.mulberrystreetmovie.com.
© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

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