Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Want an army of ninjas? Train the girls yourself.

So let's say it's 1561 and you're in Japan. This is the Sengoku Period; also known as the "Warring States Period". It pretty much does what it says on the tin. Your husband gets murdered, so you're passed off into the custody of your brother-in-law (thanks early influence of Neo Confucianism). Do you:

A) Die of grief, because I guess that could happen to ladies, at least before 1800 or so
B) Get thee to a nunnery
C) Train a fleet of expert female ninjas (kunoichi) to do your deadly bidding

If you guessed C, then congratulations, you are Mochizuki Chiyome, widow of warlord Moritoki, ready to risk (other people's) life and limbs in support of the great Takeda daimyo.

Out of the goodness of her great humanitarian heart, Chiyome started a school in Nazu for penniless (mostly orphaned) girls. This wasn't unheard of; many widows liked to fill their time with good works, so orphans were a perfect place to start. Chiyome also liked orphans, but mostly because it was easier to brainwash them into believing that she was their lord and master.

Miko, aka female shrine attendants, were ubiquitous in Japan. They could go anywhere without suspicion. So who better to spread rumors and wreak havoc? Chiyome simultaneously trained her girls in solemn religious rituals, infiltration, and assassination.

Chiyome's school for the red arts was so successful that her web of kunoichi eventually covered two whole provinces. And she was smart enough to follow the One Rule of Crime: don't blab. Nobody found out about her exploits until after not only her death, but the death of her brother-in-law the general.

So just to remind you.

Not a ninja:

Not a ninja:

Not a ninja:

A ninja:

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Disney Sequelester - Atlantis: Milo's Return

Before we dive our arms up to the elbows in the guts of this movie (you're welcome for that lovely and accurate visual), let me tell you a story, my darlings. It's a story of loss and hope and redemption and a really really crappy movie.

Last week B and I went on vacation, away to a lovely little cabin in the woods.

Not that cabin.
At one point he suggested, "Why don't we watch that Atlantis sequel you need to see?", because thankfully B likes watching me make fun of things (and yes, I MST3K these things while I watch. Even if I'm alone. Also while I'm in movie theaters. I'm popular). Which, thank God right, because it would suck if B didn't think I'm funny since I think I'm HILARIOUS.

Off to Netflix Instant. We turned on the movie. We sat.

B: "You know, I kind of liked the first movie."
Me: "You are a worthless human being."
B: "Thanks sweetheart, I... woah, what happened to the animation?"
Me: "I think they budgeted it out. Wait, what's happening? Where are we? Why is there a kraken? These sailors weren't in the original movie."
B: "You can tell the difference between characters?"
Me: "Oh look, it's the narrator, riding her lava jetski. And explaining things. She's explaining things A LOT."

Me: "She's still talking."
Me: "She's still talking."
Me: "She's still talking."
B: "This is almost an interesting set-up. I mean, we're starting off down in Atlantis with everything going well..."
Me: "...they're finally using their lifetime supply of blue Day-Glo..."
B: " I have no idea how they're going to get Milo's crew down here. Maybe World War I breaks out and they need help? Or they discover something terrible about to happen to Atlantis?" Or -"
Me: "Or they got bored so they plowed fifteen miles underwater to get dinner and see how he's doing."

No, really. This is the plot. "Plot".
Ten minutes later, I finally said, "Okay enough, we're on vacation. I'll watch this torture alone," and B threw a parade.

Atlantis 2: Milo's Return is not a movie, okay? And I'm not just saying that because it's horribly done and makes no sense (although those are also a factor). Notice how there's this long Animorphs-style "Last week on" spiel at the beginning, and the "plot" actually consists of three completely separate stories? Huh, it's almost like they cancelled a TV show called "Team Atlantis" and just smooshed the ditched episodes together into a "movie". BUT THAT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN, RIGHT?

You may notice that this is not a very visual-heavy review. That's because I couldn't be arsed to take constant screencaps. If this movie won't try, neither will I.

Let me sum up the plots for you. They go in order as follows:

Be afraid.
1. There's a kraken.
2. If you mess with mystical Indian bullcrap, coyotes will turn you into a ghost. I'm so not kidding.
3. By far the most interesting in theory if not in practice, an old dude thinks that he's Odin and kidnaps Angelina Jolantis for.... profit? Actually, he wants to destroy the world, which is a motive that always makes me think the villain isn't very bright. Since the villain is generally in the world, that probably isn't going to work out.

The ending, much like the beginning, has absolutely nothing to do with those three stories, thus rendering everything... what's the phrase I'm looking for... ah, yes, ENTIRELY POINTLESS.

Kida, who is technically a Disney princess but never shows up on greeting cards, decides that her entire life is a hollow sham of a lie, aka "let us share our light with the world"! And then brings Atlantis up to the surface through the power of "shut up she can".

And how does the known world react to this mind-blowing revelation,
occurring in the same year as World War I? Uhhh...
This movie took a "more is more" approach to screenwriters.
This travesty of a... thing on my screen... harks back to the original movie, which in my opinion is one of Disney's biggest misses of all time. Atlantis: The Lost Empire was a passion project of Don Hahn, and it came out at a time when studios were looking at epic adventure stories as the next vampires [see: Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (Dreamworks), Titan AE (Fox Animation), Treasure Planet (also Disney)].

The only problem? Every single one of these movies was a colossal failure at the box office. Titan AE actually shut down Fox Animation for good, and the response to Sinbad led to the legendary Katzenberg declaring,"I think the idea of a traditional story being told using traditional animation is likely a thing of the past." (He was a just a TOUCH bitter about that $125M loss.)

Of these movies, the original Atlantis actually did the best at the box office with a modest return, while Treasure Planet was a box office disaster in spite of its unanimous critical praise and nomination for Best Picture.

This was the only thing in the entire blasted movie that made me laugh.
Clearly they really researched how ships work, right?
This is a trend that carries over to live-action as well: when was the last time that a big, sweeping adventure movie did well? In recent memory we've had Sahara, Prince of Persia, John Carter... None of which have done well. Hmm.

Going back to animated features, the last Disney movie that could even tentatively be called an "adventure story" in a traditional sense was Tarzan. But even that had a very narrow focus on the growth of Tarzan as a person, rather than him punching apes and lions in the jungle. Much like, say... almost every Pixar movie?

It's an undeniable fact that audience tastes do shift over time. Just look at the writing my Twitterer-in-crime Jurisfiction has to fend with. A sample of an 1850s book she's sporking over on her (hilarious) blog:  “Your lot is wretched, old man . . . if you live a few years longer, that period must be passed in solitude and cheerlessness:—if you suddenly fall ill you must die the lingering death of famine . . . and ere the peasants of that hamlet, or some passing traveler, might discover that the inmate of this hut had breathed his last, the wolves from the forest would have entered and mangled your corpse.” Circa now, the best-known book in the world utilizes the description "Oh my" about eight thousand times (and isn't that just a lovely thought).

Just like audiences will no longer tolerate 500 pages of "I was paid by the word", it seems that audience tastes now demand a clear focus on the growth of a protagonist. It's not enough to simply advertise "A dude is going to go a place and do COOL SHIT". You have to say "A dude is going to a place and doing stuff and LEARNING AND GROWING AS A PERSON."

Meanwhile, I've got to decide whether Lion King 1 1/2 counts as a sequel.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Disney Sequelester - 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure

HELLO AGAIN MY COMPADRES. Did you miss me terribly? There there, try not to cry, you'll soak the carpet.

Sure to please all twelve fans who
managed to stay awake through
the original!
Welcome to 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure. I think that title is grammatically questionable. As is the movie.

This movie, you guys. This movie gave me more problems reviewing than any other sequel thus far. Partially it's because of the content - I don't think that 101 Dalmatians is a particularly good or interesting movie. It made a lot of money but also garnered a fair number of negative reviews, partially for having a beyond stupid plot but mostly for being boring as tar.

I was deeply afraid that the sequel would follow tradition and somehow be even more boring than the original, but to my surprise, it actually wasn't. Well - kind of. You'll see.

All the dalmatians (apparently there's 105 now, but I guess that title wasn't good enough) are living happily in London with Cruella DeVille and her henchminions safely behind bars.

Okay, that definitely violates the health code.
Oh hey look, it's the exposition fairy.

"Are you playing or packing? We're going to the Dalmatian Plantation in the morning!" Yes, one of the many plantations in England. I don't think this movie knows what a plantation is.

Pretty much the ONLY thing 101 Dalmatians had going for it (other than Cruella obvi) was a cleverly done atmosphere, and here... Yeah, not so much. They give the puppies these weird Rupert accents...

Only my fellow British readers are gonna
get this joke
... and have them say "wizard" and "blimey" every other word like Ron Weasley, but otherwise there's no cohesive tone like the first movie had.

The one thing that this movie does understand is theme, which it will demonstrate over and over again by having Patch look sad and say things like "Dad, do you think I'm one of a kind or just one of a hundred and one?". Since I can't tell Patch apart from any of the other puppies despite the fact that their design choice to make him stand out was to give him a black eye, I'm gonna go ahead and guess he's just one of a hundred and one(five).

Then Perdita says this inexcusable thing: "Best of all we'll be miles and miles away from that evil, ugly monster Cruella."
Excuse me, bitch is FABULOUS.
Speaking of, Cruella's out on parole and looking for meaning in her life. And she happens upon... KLAUS. He's an abstract artist with an outraaaaaaaageous FRAINCH accent. As ye do.

"Your passion for my work both repels and attracts."
When Klaus learns that Cruella is unhappy he says, "Tell me what cloud dares cast a shadow upon the flower," so I'm content knowing that he's treating my girl right.

Meanwhile, Patch was too busy watching his favorite show and got left behind on moving day. Thunderbolt can't save you now, Patch!

Yeah, nice parenting guys. Also, nice blending. That looks totally natural.
There's a tryout for a spot on the Wonderdog show (of course there is), so Patch happily ambles over to that. Thunderbolt turns out to be a big fake who's totally full of himself. Basically Patch does a crappy job and everyone laughs at him while these ladies fangirl.

This is how all women look to Robert Pattinson.
After the try-outs end, however, Thunderbolt's sidekick delivers some alarming news: They're going to kill off Thunderbolt and replace him! Oh noez! But the sidekick has a cunning plan - if Thunderbolt does some heroics in real life, maybe they'll decide to keep him after all!

Yeah, the sidekick's evil, surprise!
Thunderbolt is, somehow, a shockingly fun character. In spite of the "heroic actor who's actually an actor and the kid is disappointed" trope being done a MILLIONBILLION times before, the character is dumb and self-interested enough to not be obviously amazing from the start, but still retains some charm. And there's some fun parts when he goes looking for someone to rescue and realizes people aren't watching him be heroic. "What's the matter with you English people? Are you all having tea? How am I supposed to get my job back if you're all having tea?!"

The spot art isn't cutting it for Cruella's fix.

Although nice nod to installation art.
Oh c'mon now you're just f@#ing with me.
When Cruella proves impossible to satisfy with his art, Klaus expresses something I feel often.

My top girl Cruella decides to take matters into her own hands, as one does. She busts Horace and Jasper out of jail and captures all the puppies due to storytelling too lazy for me to handle.

She tracks down all the mongrels and delivers them to a hilariously excited Klaus. "A gift? For ME?!?! ... How very Christmas morning wiz ze twinkle lights of you."

But it turns out in a surprise twist that Klaus freakin' loves him some puppies, WITH the skin on them. And not in a Hannibal way either. He refuses to kill them, so Cruella must satisfy her desires in other ways.

Does it surprise anyone that Cruella is into some kinky shit?
Nah, she just ties him up and tries to kill all the puppies herself. But not before inexplicably leaving the room so the dogs have loads of time to escape. "Take a nap... Zen fire ze missiles!!!!!" Screenwriters, I am pointing at my eyes and pointing at you.


Patch comes running in with Thunderbolt to help save his siblings. Initially he gets caught and gets all mad at Thunderbolt for not being a real hero, but then he recovers and busts them all out. He almost gets caught by Cruella at the last second, but prevails, hurray!

I can only hope this is the last thing I see before I die.
Oh yeah and Thunderbolt somehow finds out his sidekick is evil and Thunderbolt and Klaus share some kind of weird eyebrow connection. I don't know.

This movie is a good example of something we all know: Disney loooooooves its villains. And with good reason - Disney has a lot of fabulous, memorable villains. But they often come at a price, and that price is really boring protagonists. At its best, Disney is capable of creating flawed and memorable heroes like Simba, Aladdin, and Basil of Baker Street (yes I know it was a book first, you still have to get it across in film though). But at its laziest, Disney makes flawless, perfect heroes that cater to oversensitive parents but make for boring watching and terrible storytelling.

If your characters are already perfect, there's no need for them to go from point A to point B. Sure, Patch feels like he needs to stand out, but we the audience already see that he's a morally good and strong willed character, and therefore we know that he doesn't actually need to change, which invalidates the whole journey.

101 Dalmatians 2 at once demonstrates the best and the worst of the sequel fare. There's some truly inventive characters and well-written dialogue, but there's also abysmally poor storytelling that reeks of "We already got our advance so screw it".

Next week...

Monday, October 14, 2013

Never Let It Be Said That I Don't Sincerely Love My Vocation

Remember one of my favorite Disney sequels, Pocahontas II? The review went a little like this:

Of course Pocahontas wigs out and gets thrown in jail. It's up to John Rolfe to save her!

0 points for efficiency, but as ever, full marks for style.
Thankfully, John Smith is around to help.

This is Utta's face when they show up at the prison.
Just so you know.
"All this time you were alive... Why didn't you write to me?"
Uhh, because you can't read English?
The movie makes a fantastic use of its ten-or-so minutes before they have to resolve the plot to really establish the differences between the two leading men.

And then there's Utta.

Also Utta can run over exploding bridges because Utta is the man.

In a love triangle between John Smith and John Rolfe, I
pick Utta.

Little did I know, Team Disney heard my secret prayers. They made a product that could only have been devised from the most arcane alchemy, out of my hopes and dreams and a pinch of stardust. They made... this.

P.S. Work has been crazed but 101 Dalmations 2 (because Disney knows what its public clamors for, amirite?) is coming soon.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Conversation at Family Dinner, Regarding Lord Byron and Miley Cyrus

Mom: How did Miley Cyrus get so famous, anyway? People have their heads up their butts these days.
Me: Probably the same way people have been getting famous since Lord Byron, Mom. Cults of personality aren't some sort of new phenomena.
Dad: Did Byron twerk?
Me: I'm ignoring that. Lord Byron's best accomplishment was his daughter.
Husband: What did she do?
Dad: Twerk.
Me: I hate you. Anyway, Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer algorithm, before computers even existed.
Mom: In the 1800s? How'd she get into that field?
Me: Byron had this bad habit of cheating with EVERY WOMAN EVER and Ada's mom hated him so much that she only let Ada study science and math, not English or poetry. I assume she would have been pretty good at that too, since she was a freaking math genius.
Husband: A woman in science in the 1800s... okay, so who stole her work?
Mom: Miley Cyrus!