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Archive for the ‘Action Scenes’ Category

Two reasons to rerun this article this year– both the second anniversary of the devastating crises in Japan that began March 11, 2011, and a rare American television broadcast of Hideaki Anno’s magnum opus in the form of  Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone. The film will be showing on Cartoon Network this Sunday at 1am during its Toonami block. Anyone in the States with basic cable, there’s no excuse to miss it. Not even Church in the morning.

By Bob Clark

After the recent devastations of earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear meltdown struck Japan, there were many comparisons made to the nation’s many imagined instances of various science-fiction disasters, from Godzilla rampaging through the streets of Tokyo to the apocalyptic wasteland of Neo-Tokyo from Katsuhuiro Otomo’s Akira. These, and so many other one-note similes, were rather tasteless ones, to my mind. They ignored not only the root-inspiration for all those horrifying kaiju and anime calamities in the usage of American atomic weapons on the civilian towns of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and furthermore ignored the untold losses of life and livelihood presented by the new disasters, ones which continue to threaten the safety and security of an entire nation that already knows all too well the cost of nuclear fall-out, with the largest and potentially most deadly radiation event since the days of Chernobyl. However, in the midst of all these pop-cultural associations, there has been one that rings true, when an energy-conservation effort to help the besieged TEPCO power plant was unofficially dubbed “Operation Yashima”, quickly spreading as an internet-meme and gaining popular support throughout Japan as a rallying-cause to help solve the nationwide crisis through personal sacrifice for the good of everyone.

But what is “Operation Yashima”, and what does it have to do with cinema or science-fiction? In short, it represents the climax of the first six-episode arc of Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of the modern classics of contemporary Japanese animation, in which the entire electrical supply of Japan is used to destroy a monstrous alien invader bent on destroying mankind. Channeled into a high-powered positron cannon built by the Strategic Self-Defense Force, used as an immense sniper-rifle by the clandestine United Nations organization NERV, the requisitioned power is the only hope of beating the bizarre attacker, known as an “Angel”, but requires a nationwide outage for the duration of the assault. As the operation begins, the lights go out throughout the entire country, putting everyone in the same position, huddling together and waiting in the dark for news of victory or defeat. By the end of the battle there will be immense destruction, both in the wakes of the surreal attack and NERV’s epically desperate attempts to fend it off, but our attention as viewers will not be to the catastrophic fields of destruction or the untold millions of lives hanging in the balance throughout Japan, much less billions throughout a world that is already suffering from a near-apocalyptic contact with the Angels fifteen years ago.

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By Bob Clark

When Blackwater Worldwide changed their organization’s name to Xe Services, in 2009, and eventually Academi, in 2011, their intention was to remove themselves from the public spotlight for all of the negative attention they’d garnered in the past decade as the first name in private military companies. With mercenary soldiers serving as contractors in conflicts on the behalf of governments and corporations stretched around the world, they secured themselves a reputation for being an efficient and professional group of exacting army servicemen, with jobs ranging from bodyguarding and other protective duties to full assault missions in the burgeoning, horizonless scope of the modern War on Terror. With better pay than their state-run equivalents (one might say competitors), it wasn’t unheard of for army regulars from different nations leaving their units behind to join as professional soldiers in the private sector, especially since they’d likely be serving in exactly the same conflicts once they were deployed. But while Blackwater managed to project an attractive image of themselves as a valuable part of the evolving shape of warfare, they weren’t able to escape the newfound scrutiny that roughed-up glamorous image attracted, and once their record for causing and covering up suspicious deaths (including those of their own contractors) and all manner of criminal activity on the fields of war, they began assigning themselves as many nommes de guerre as it would take to regain some measure of anonymity.

Still, while the public at large may not know the difference between “Xe” and a long forgotten item from the periodic table poster hanging in their high school teacher’s classroom (to say nothing of what they’d think of “Academi”– some kind of charter school, perhaps), the name “Blackwater” has since managed to go down in the annals of cultural memory as one of the buzzwords for the confluence of private industry and the war on terror in modern days, a carry-all catch phrase that summarizes the corporatization of warfare and the running for profit of human lives lost and fought for on third-world stages across the globe. In films, television and video-games for the past decade and more we’ve seen the PMC become one of the prime sources for easy-to-hate villains, and though they may come with different names like Jericho‘s “Ravenwood” or Metal Gear Solid‘s “Outer Heaven”, they’re all closely modeled shadows of the original Blackwater pattern. That name still evokes the threatening, yet not necessarily hostile image that the corporate founders of the company no doubt chose it for, that poetic combination of positive and negative aspects that would make it sound attractive to governments and private firms seeking their security services, while backing it up with just the right amount of dread to imply that they could get the job done. One imagines they’re the same reasons that George R.R. Martin had when titling the body of water that serves as location and gives name to one of the major episodes of his Song of Ice and Fire books, and as adapted for the HBO program Game of Thrones becomes one of the stand-out moments of the show– the Battle of Blackwater Bay.

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By Bob Clark

This past week has seen a fair number of developments on the American fronts concerning civil rights and prejudice in national politics, all revolving around the  discussion of broadening civil liberties for gays and lesbians. Starting with Vice President Joe Biden’s off-the-cuff comments on Meet the Press last Sunday, we’ve seen the Obama administration adopt a strikingly accepting tone for the question of granting full marriage rights to same-sex couples, a step that far exceeds the positions taken by past Democratic office-holders and candidates in the recent past, culminating in the bombshell announcement on Wednesday of the President’s full personal support for marriage equality. Many have looked at this development on purely cynical, partisan competition-minded terms– Biden’s usual hoof-in-mouth elocution stylings forcing Obama to either dispute him and risk losing the Democratic base, or match him and risk losing the rest of the country; the possible motivations of mobilizing said base of younger, more open-minded voters and, more likely, the millions upon millions of funds to be secured from liberal donors. But in my eye, it’s merely been a long-overdue definition of terms that most of us already assumed existed something like this in the first place– Obama didn’t so much come to this decision after long years of soul searching as much as he held in an opinion for a long time that was bound to be controversial, and came out of the closet about it.

Granted, as a mere personal belief as opposed to a public policy statement it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference as far as the way of the nation goes, but as a part of the larger discourse concerning gay rights and prejudice in all forms across the country, it stands as a prime example of the bully pulpit put to good use. It’s especially iconic coming from a President whose very election counters its own centuries-old tide of bigotry and reaffirms the very egalitarian ambitions that helped found the Republic to begin with, and even more especially so considering many of the recent revelations about the presumptive Republican nominee’s past as a prep-school bully who once helped hold a classmate down and cut off his hair, to boot. And as a part of the even larger cultural conversation about the increasingly hostile pattern of physical and emotional bullying in and out of  schools over matters of race, gender, sexual orientation or just plain not-fitting-in, the President’s open-arms endorsement of tolerance over the course of his first term in office and especially this past week stands as one of the defining aspects of his administration (indeed, if the Republicans have their way, it could wind up the only defining aspect that can’t be legislated or litigated into obscurity). As such, between these recent events and the higher profile that Marvel comics have had in recent weeks for obvious reasons, the time seems right to revisit one of the other major comic-book adaptations of the past ten years, and one that adheres remarkably close in spirit to a specific graphic-novel whose very essence is dedicated to the questions of prejudice and bigotry in all its forms. The film in question is Bryan Singer’s X2, and its source material the vaunted God Loves, Man Kills, from 1982.

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(1) ANH: Obi-Wan vs. Vader (2) ESB: Luke vs. Vader (3) ROTJ: Palpatine (4) TPM: Obi-Wan vs. Maul

By Bob Clark

“Have you ever encountered a Jedi Knight before, sir?”—this question is asked very early on in The Phantom Menace, as a pair of the seasoned warriors, “guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy”, begin to fight their way through a Trade Federation battleship blockading the planet Naboo. It’s an apt question for any audience of the film, especially when it was first released in 1999, twenty-two years after the release of the first Star Wars episode, and sixteen years since the last installment of the original trilogy. Even though the movies had enjoyed blockbuster success at the box-office and achieved near instant status as modern classics, ubiquitous in pop-culture, VHS and worldwide theatrical rereleases, enough time had gone by since for TPM to be the first exposure to the landmark space-opera series for an entire generation of young moviegoers. And even for everyone else, old fans who’d grown up with the original films (but wouldn’t necessarily prove fans of the new ones) and old critics alike, there was something new to experience in the way that Lucas portrayed the Jedi Knights as far more agile and powerful than anything seen in episodes prior (or rather yet-to-come, thanks to the flashback nature of the Prequel Trilogy narrative). With frenetic fencing designed by stunt coordinator Nick Gillard and crisp, polished cinematography from David Tattersall, Lucas’ work on the Jedi fighting of TPM not only sits among the strongest material from the Star Wars movies but ranks high in the canon of action-cinema in general, culminating in a contender for the greatest filmed swordfight of all time with the climactic “Duel of the Fates”. At the same time, however, it stands squarely on the shoulders of such scenes from the first three films, even those outside the centerpiece duels themselves.

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