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Archive for the ‘author Bob Clark’ Category

By Bob Clark

In this past month, the Blu Ray of Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo saw its release in Japan, continuing the burgeoning Rebuild cycle of Hideaki Anno’s magnum opus in a manner that has already won droves of accolades and hypertensive horror, based on little more than happening to exist. That’s par for the course with all things Eva, naturally, but it’s something even more underlined for fans of the series who live outside of Japan, as there’s always something of a prolonged waiting period for any given release to reach our shores, in an official capacity or otherwise. It seemed to take forever for even the shoddiest of pirate camrip footage to leak its way out onto the net, and even longer for that material to be paired with semi-coherent subtitles forged by fans attempting to translate the poor audio found on the tapes smuggled in from moviegoers willing to risk the sanctity of their cell-phones for the cause of international fandom. I’ve never been a fan of pirating material myself, even though it’s become almost a necessary evil in the anime world, as most of the best modern releases barely see the light of day over here, and are now only beginning to be given even online streaming distributions worth a damn on sites like Crunchyroll.

Still, given the poor quality of the camrips I never really considered looking at them to begin with, but now with the advent of the movie’s Blu Ray release, the situation is a little more difficult. Not only does this HD release mean an exponentially higher quality of torrents will soon be flooding the web, if not already, but it means there’s now a completely legit official way to watch the film by purchasing the disc itself, given that Japan and the United States share a Blu Ray region. Granted, you’d probably want to wait until the inevitable release of a disc from Hong Kong, both for the fact that it would include English subtitles and be a great deal cheaper (I did the same thing myself when purchasing a copy of Miyazaki’s classic Castle in the Sky when I got too fed up with the poorly scripted “dubtitles” on the current Disney discs), but even without a translation it’s terribly tempting to be able to watch the movie at long last. After all, it’s not like comprehending the dialogue is necessary to enjoying the Eva experience, or even understanding the largescale plot convulsions or intimate character hysterics– all the emotions are right up there on the screen already, etched into the faces and myriad battles. I’m feeling that temptation, but trying to keep from giving in. Because no matter how convenient it would be to purchase and watch Eva 3.0 in the comfort of my own home, that’s not where it was meant to be seen, and no matter how long it takes, I’m determined to witness it for the first time on the big screen.

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By Bob Clark

For the past thirty-odd years or so, we’ve seen a great many directors rise to feature filmmaking through the gruelling creative workshops of making commercials and music-videos, and a couple of these directors have even been good. The obvious examples that spring to mind are Ridley Scott and David Fincher, guys who cut their teeth on television and special-effects in background roles before rising to the lead position on ads for computers and luxury cars and shorts for MTV, the necessary quick editing and flashy imagery of those bite-sized units of visual information becoming vital instruments in their gradual assimilation into theatrical cinema, both of them becoming pioneering figures of world-building and digital filmmaking. As directors, they benefited greatly from the periods they rose up in– Scott coming to prominence in the 70’s and 80’s when so many of the polished production genre and period pictures he gravitated to were still fairly novel and open to interpretation (Alien and Blade Runner have both proven at least as influential to the longstanding trends in science-fiction as any big or small-screen franchise with the word “star” in its title), and Fincher coming of cinematic age in the strange confluence of independent and studio-driven hard-R sensationalism of the 90’s (it’s hard to imagine as willfully antagonistic of audience expectations as Se7en even being conceived of, let alone greenlit, in the gore-drenched, but thematically rote horror cinema of today).

We’ve seen more migrate from the short forms on the small screen since then, the ones with the highest profiles mostly coming up with middling results– in many cases it’s sad to observe that oftentimes a director’s best work might be a mere commercial (Michael Bay’s Got Milk? ad) or music-video (Madonna’s Bedtime Stories, courtesy of Mark Romaneck). And though most of these directors have climbed into the major leagues during the same era as Fincher, they’ve achieved more of their successes during subsequent periods in which studios have shown less and less courage and imagination in the projects they push through the system– it’s truly depressing when you can look at projects as creatively barren and philosophically offensive as Armageddon or Bad Boys and see them as relative high-water marks in the overall career of a filmmaker which includes The Island and three Transformers movies (and counting). A sad truth for any director looking to work in high end productions is that much of their output is not truly going to be representative of their talent or personal choices as a whole, but instead will also at least partly be reflective of the commercial landscape that they come to bear in (one of the reasons the Movie Brats were able to get away with as much as they did in the 70’s is thanks to studios being bought by corporate types who didn’t yet know how movies really got made, and therefore didn’t know to get in the way). As such, it’s necessary to look at a director like Joseph Kosinski and be mindful of his position as a filmmaker in the second decade of the 21st century, especially when looking at his sophomore effort, Oblivion.

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By Bob Clark

The films of Danny Boyle always seem to represent an almost perfect condition for me as a filmgoer, each of them offering something of a genuine pleasant surprise, without exception. I was never terribly aware of little modern gems like Sunshine or 28 Days Later before they came into theaters, even though they both hit squarely in my favorite mode of science-fiction, but that only meant that I never had to build up any of the hopes and excitement whose tendency to be met with histrionic disappointment seems to be a hallmark of this current generation of cinephiles. Perhaps one of the reasons that Boyle’s films can avoid this particular hype-boobytrap is because of his position as a consumate genre chameleon, turning on a dime from horrors and thrillers to rom-coms and true-life stories, always looking for fresh narrative material to mine his particular cockeyed directorial vision. And as oddball and strained as his aesthetics can sometimes feel (The Beach feels particularly calibrated to alienate any segment of the audience at any given moment, though perhaps that’s by design, inheriting Leonardo DiCaprio fresh off his heartthrob death on Titanic), he’s usually been able to unite the disparate parts of his chosen scripts and unusual visual sensations to create movies that beg for skepticism just as hard as they try to then win it over.

The unlikely awards-sensation of Slumdog Millionaire may represent his greatest, yet at the same time most dubious success yet– a movie that thrives on old-school movie charm and modernist realism and panache, yet in a way that over time only goes to underline the deeply troubling third-world exploitation both dwelled upon by the film’s story and sadly represented in the behind-the-scenes drama of its making (were those kids ever paid?). Even 127 Hours was able to win me over with its visual ingenuity and dramatic focus, even in spite of featuring a central performance from one of my least favorite actors of this generation (in fact, no– I think I can safely say James Franco is definitively the bottom of the barrel for me). If nothing he’s done has managed to match the sensational one-two punch of material, cast and visual dynamism that Trainspotting representing, the very least one can say of Boyle is that he’s never stopped trying as hard as any one director can (or several of them at once, for that matter) to pour all of his creative resources and faculties into each project. Putting his all into every project can sometimes lead to uneven results– even personal favorites like Sunshine and 28 Days Later are full of script problems that Boyle is never able to quite fix on the set, and indeed sometimes seem exacerbated by his unrestrained visual style– but there’s something psychologically appealing about a filmmaker running free of any kind of censoring quality-control, and it’s easy to see how the hypnosis-thriller story of Trance could appeal to that “all in” sensibility.

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By Bob Clark

It’s almost peculiar to see just how much emotional investment there is paid to a franchise of cartoons, comics and now movies that have, for all intents and purposes, been based on a line of cheap action-figures from the 1980’s, but there you have it. To be sure there’s no shortage of big blockbusters for film and television that capitalize on the merchandizing potential of their stories and characters as a way of boosting sales– Star Wars, My Neighbor Totoro and Neon Genesis Evangelion might not’ve existed on public awareness if it weren’t for how “toyetic” they could become (the last one having heavily sexualized fetish-objects branded in its image that nearly wound up driving the series’ creator nuts). It’s not even terribly surprising nowadays to see the tail start wagging the dog and see the toys and merchandise be created before the multi-media franchising– in truth it’s something we’ve seen happen at least since the 80’s, with the Transformers line and other Japanese-imports. But there’s something even more bizarre with the myriad of creative turns that some franchises have taken over the decades,  primarily for how they sometimes exceed the boundaries of mere generational nostalgia. What stands out about GI Joe, for instance, is just how seriously it can be taken.

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By Bob Clark

This weekend marks the closing of this New York International Children’s Film Festival, which has been one of his highest profile years yet, with releases in multiple theaters throughout the city, from the IFC Center all the way to Lincoln Center. Over the past several years the festival has become one of the best, if not only places to check out recent releases of international animation in Manhattan on a regular basis, with new works from Europe sharing ample screentime with established anime voices like Mamoru Hosada, Makoto Shinkai and the storied house of Studio Ghibli. And though it can be more than a little disheartening to mull over the fact that even in the art-house circuit the only animated works that receive any real attention or release are bound to be ones targeting the youngest of viewers (it’s an uphill climb to even get a teen-oriented movie like Evangelion a stateside release), the contrast that can be seen here between the lush, mature work from around the glob and the crass, polished-plastic output of Pixar and the like in the United States couldn’t be clearer. Between this and the other myriad retrospectives and new releases gracing New York screens I was only able to check out three of the films, but they stand out as easy contenders for some of the best animation to reach our shores this year, though not without a few points to clarify.

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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

It’s depressing at times to think of how many films by my favorite directors I’ve been exposed to primarily on television. There are obvious cases like films by Lucas & Spielberg, or any other mainstream releases that came out well before I was born, but those are easy to shrug off. Likewise there are films like Blade Runner or Pulp Fiction which may have seen prominent theatrical releases or rereleases during my lifetime, but early enough in my childhood that being introduced to them on the big screen would’ve been out of the question. Even some of the more niche works I’m fond of like Heaven’s Gate or any given anime feature I’m able to accept seeing for the first time on television, due to the fact that there just weren’t any other options at the time to check them out– yes, Cimino’s magnum opus may be enjoying a big-screen revival nowadays, and it’s become more and more common for classic films of the Ghibli canon to find art-house exhibitions, but one can’t always be patient enough to wait for a classic, sometimes forgotten masterpiece to play in the proverbial theaters near you. This is one of the great advantages of the home-video generation of film consumption, the option of curate one’s own cinematic vocabulary through VHS and DVD, instead of relying upon the personal whims of local theater programmers. It’s an empowering way to digest a heavier volume of content, but what one loses in the context of the reductive home television experience as opposed to the expansive theatrical one can’t be underestimated, especially with one of the great widescreen gambits of that premier experimenter of the cinema, Jean-Luc Godard.

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