Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cowboy Bebop Session #8: Waltz For Venus

The wormholes reminisce of Babylon 5.

I love the wormhole graphics used when ships arrive through the hyperdrive gates. Pretty nifty. A trip en route to Venus indicates floating plants utilized for terra-forming may cause a potentially fatal sickness if left untreated. Spike and Faye are aboard the ship when a handful of hijackers decide to strong arm the passengers with gunfire, but for what?

Here we go with Cowboy Bebop, Session #8, Waltz For Venus. Spike turns in his bounty and via a computer, kind of like a bank machine, collects his big pay out. A young man from the plane tries to swipe Spike's money, but ends up wanting to tag along with him. Spike shows the boy and us his instinctive skill for self-defense. Some cronies show up to go after the boy. He quickly hands a bag of goodies off to Spike and tells him to meet him at the cathedral later as he makes a break.
*
The boy's name is Roco Bonnaro and there is a bounty on his head. Everyone is after Grey Ash. It's a plant that helps counteract and cure Venus sickness. It's also a very rare plant and pricey to grow.
*
The Bebop has a kind of lived-in feel to it. The living quarters setup reminds me of Serenity from the series Firefly. Though, thus far, the Bebop isn't nearly as rich in detail.
*
Spike heads off to investigate Roco's whereabouts. Spike finds a girl who has lost her sight as a result of the sickness. It's Roco's sister. They share some tea together and she senses something "beautiful" in Spike. He tells her, "I'm afraid that I lost that a long time ago." There is certainly a jaded quality to Spike just like Captain Mal Reynolds of Firefly. What is up with all of these similarities?
*
Meanwhile, Faye is off bounty-hunting on her won. She's a pretty good shot with a gun to boot.
Roco is given a brutal physical beating as the gang of cronies seeks out the plant Roco gave to Spike.
*
There's a touch of man lovin' thrown in for good measure as Faye interrupts some male on male action in her search for Piccaroo.
*
Spike finds Roco and the jig is up. He knows he's wanted and a bounty is on his head. Spike cuts to the chase knowing his sister Stella needs the plant for her health to improve. The gangsters show up and an action sequence ensues. Faye arrives in her vessel and breaks up the party. Jet also shows up. Roco is jumped, but remembers his Spike training and plants the thug to the ground. In his joy we are thrown off guard as Roco is shot through the chest from behind dropping the living plant as its glass case shatters. It dies almost instantly as it becomes exposed to the atmosphere. Like the plant the boy too withers lifeless and dies.

video
*
Spike visits Stella who is going to regain her sight. She learns her brother is dead. Sadly, she never saw what he looked like. Spike assures her he was exactly what she thought he was, "a terrific guy." Aw, Spike. As Spike walks outdoors the spores of a plant drift sweetly through the air. It is the terra-forming plant that is at once beautiful, but potentially deadly and it is all around him.
*
Nothing particularly Earth-shattering here. I can't say Cowboy Bebop is keeping my attention like I had first thought it might. It isn't quite as engaging as I had imagined. It certainly hasn't been particularly exciting to write about and certainly not nearly as challenging as the quality science-fiction out there that keeps the mental gears turning. These short episodes have their moments, but nothing compares to the best of Babylon 5 or Firefly. I'm not feeling the same level of passion for the series as most in science fiction that I've enjoyed and perhaps that is coming across. It is what it is. Still, more to come I suppose.

Waltz Away Venus: C+

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tom Baker: Death & Me [Part II]

As I continued reading Doctor Who Magazine #412 I was struck how interesting the article was. I knew when I got this issue I was going to get very little input from the great, classic Tom Baker concerning Doctor Who. I knew it was going to be more or less Tom Baker waxing poetic about life. I was never more wrong about how I would receive it, as I enjoyed his thoughts on life immensely. I tip my cap to interviewer Jason Arnopp who managed to ask the brief questions and let Tom Baker just roll with it. He never gets in the way of the man's actual thoughts and lets him, well, be interviewed. I really enjoyed it for that reason. Well done.

As for the great hereafter, Tom had a few additional thoughts of interest.

"Every now and again, we're shattered by the sense of loss at losing a friend, or a lover. It brings it home doesn't it?" He added "I don't know if the readers of Doctor Who Magazine want to read too much about death..."

Trust me doctor, we understand.

He closed. "There's no doubt about it. As I get older, I'm much more resigned to my age. There's nothing I can do about it, so I just have to take it, and try to be cheerful about it. All my life I;ve tried to be cheerful."

Amen Tom. There's plenty to be cheerful about. The Sci-Fi Fanatic is right there with you, but about that part about resignation.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tom Baker: Death & Me

I'll let you in on a little secret. Of course, sharing this with you all won't be all that big a secret. It's not exactly science fiction. No, in fact, it's definitely not science fiction. You see, the concept of death, dying, taking that last breath is a bit of an odd obsession of mine. The sheer thought of stepping into the next life and leaving this great blue planet is a rather frightening prospect. Some of you may have picked up on it given my tributes to those who have passed on previously.

Mind you, many will tell me, "you're still such a puppy." Granted, now that I think about it, I don't hear that quite as often as I used to. All of this plays into my fear of dying. I have a thing with hearts too. The One To Be Pitied often plays on that fear with great glee. If I see anything with hearts beating or surgery on hearts, human, monkey, what have you, my heart generally starts beating faster. Actually, the evil One To Be Pitied will often just say "monkey hearts, monkey hearts" when I'm most vulnerable just to see me get antsy and start clasping my chest. She's a funny one when it comes to torture.

Well, I was reading an article just today. As you know another obsession is science fiction. Doctor Who Magazine #412 is on shelves. It features an article with one of my childhood idols, Tom Baker. It's part two of their interview with the living legend. Well, in this second installment Baker sort of waxes on about life and his general surroundings. There really isn't much in the way of Doctor Who to the interview. The man is now 75 years old and he's not feeling overly obligated to attend funerals and I cannot say that I blame him at all. It's just not the man's style. Here is a little segment from the interview that sort of spoke to me.

I suspect I will have to catalogue these thoughts as I continue to age. It happens to all of us.

"The whole of life is a question of loss, isn't it? I met a boy in a paper shop the other day. He was only about 16, and looked rather frail. We were talking and he said, 'The thing is Mr. Baker, I don't want to grow old.' And he was only 16! But yes, everything is loss. The loss of childhood, the loss of youth, the loss of parents, the loss of... you know, hair! The loss of teeth. Everything is loss, and everything that's precious is loss. Finally, we don't own anything, do we, because we're defeated by death. We just have things. We don't own them, because we have to leave them, because we're on our way somewhere- to oblivion! It's a great terror isn't it?"

Um, yes Tom, it is. Okay, that poor 16 year old is done for. Anyway, now that you're thoroughly depressed, perhaps I'm not alone. At least Tom Baker, formerly the good Doctor, is with me, at least for a little while longer.


On a lighter note, Tom Baker purchased an old headstone and ran across a chisler at his gravesite and asked the man a favor. "I said, 'Hello!', and he said, "Christ! Doctor Who?' I said, 'Yes, I'm Doctor Who'. He was a great fan, and I asked if he wanted to make 30 quid. He said, 'Not half!' I told him I wanted him to put on the gravestone, in big lovely letters, 'Tom Baker, 1934 -'. I didn't want him to put the second date, as I wasn't sure of it yet."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cowboy Bebop Session #7: Heavy Metal Queen

The Swordfish is a rather nifty craft.
*
Befitting of its title, our latest session opens with the sounds of heavy metal. Cowboy Bebop often proves itself as much an aural experience as a visual one. The 5.1 Remixes are sensational in surround and the colors do appear vibrant. Prepare to dock aboard Cowboy Bebop, Session #7, Heavy Metal Queen.

A character named VT boards a space station with his fluffy grey cat. The voice actor was poorly chosen for this character. The voice was a little too young and less steroid-riddled than the VT part appeared. One of the bar/eateries is crawling with bounty hunters awaiting the arrival of a guy named Decker [a nod to Blade Runner perhaps?].
*
Meanwhile, Faye is waiting for Decker at a place called Woody's. She slides her little body over upon his arrival and plants her pistol under his chin. She's a smooth operator and unafraid of using her sex appeal as a weapon. We need to hear Pat Benetar's Sex As A Weapon to a montage of Faye. A weaselly fellow runs for the door after Faye tells him to phone the police. She's got the big, brawny Decker only it turns out the weaselly fellow with glasses WAS Decker. She's got the wrong guy.
*
Back at the bar, VT is smashing heads. Spike is attempting to place a raw egg in his drink when it lands on his crotch after being bumped by a stooge in the brawl. Spike assists in cleaning up the rest of the bounty ruffians. VT's not crazy about bounty hunters as he tells Spike.

Faye goes after Decker but loses him as well as her ship after a mini-bomb hits her.
*
Now, I'm completely surprised when VT mentions he/she was married and had a husband. This might explain the voice issue problem I was having with the character. It looks like casting the actor was spot on for the purposes of the story. I stand before you red-faced. VT learns Spike is a bounty hunter and disrespects him. Elsewhere, the "Something Brothers" [the gang Spike beat to a pulp] spray paint his Swordfish. So VT, the heavy metal queen, is kind of a space trucker and gives Spike and Faye a hitch along with their trashed space vessels.
*
VT back on her own spots Decker and goes after him. Spike radios VT and tells her to stay away from Decker because he's carrying high explosives. Decker throws one of his explosive viles at her and the corridors begin to collapse inside the meteor-like mining station. Decker is killed and VT survives.
*
Spike and Faye arrive in their newly repaired ships [by Jet] and need to get her and themselves out of there. Sealed off in the mining satellite with no way out, Faye attempts to get some nitro from Decker's crashed ship while VT turns up the volume on the metal. They blow a hole and escape in a nick of time.
*
There's a nifty action sequence with Spike using his gun to propel himself from point to point. Enjoy even if it is out of this world.

video
*
He finds evidence of VT's name, Victoria. She was the wife of a famous, but now deceased bounty hunter. In the end we learn why she rejects the bounty hunter lifestyle, because her and her husband were hunters and now he is gone. It may not be the most exciting reason or even surprising reason, but it's a reason and it is fairly logical.
*
Heavy Metal Queen: B

Cast: Spike/ Jet/ Faye/ Ein

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

9

My son, the boy wonder, had been eager to go the movies recently. After our last visit to see the noisy, raucous, juvenile, obnoxious, tedious, shallow, boring, unimaginative and overly painful Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen I was not particularly excited or in a hurry to go back.

Enter 9.
*
I had seen some trailers and was mildly intrigued by this one. I even showed the trailer to my son months ago and it apparently stayed with him because he had been asking to see 9 for some time.
*
So I relented and took him despite a barrage of mixed or middling reviews on the film. I'm really not much of a fan of Director Tim Burton's work. He was a producer on the film. He tries way too hard to be weird and while I respect his intensity and his unique vision in film making I'm generally put off by his dark and often pointless works.
*
Writer/ Director Shane Acker clearly has a relationship with him, and there are Burton elements to 9, but this is Acker's work entirely.
*
9 is a dark picture centered on a post apocalyptic world wrought by mechanized war. There are essentially nine characters [sans mechanical monsters and some of those are terrific] of differing size created lovingly of burlap sack, lenses, wood and copper among other parts and pieces. They are endowed with the soul of their creator. It is a haunting, beautiful picture on many levels. The action is there and I could have done with less of it and more of the character interaction. Those moments are the most mesmerizing to me. They are often sweet and sincere and I would have enjoyed more of it. Acker keeps things focused on the world in which these creatures inhabit. Their wee lives are fully realized and you are drawn into the dazzling visuals that surround them. There are extraordinary details in crushed cans, broken airplanes and shattered glass. You name it.
*
Acker maintains a a kind of morality play as lead character 9 represents us all within his story. He leads a band of reluctant heroes [reminiscent of Samurai Seven] attempting to save what is left to save in their little bodies and the world in which they live.

There is a singular moment in the film by which little 9 [of big burlap britches] makes a choice, a terrible decision to do something that sets a chain of horrific events in motion that drive the film to its climactic, fateful end. It's these kinds of moments that give you pause and make you think and wonder why? There is a richness to the work for it. I like the moment very much. It illustrates in it that there are no easy choices. Life is filled with risks and chances and 9 refuses to crush his curiosity and desire for learning in order to play it safe or secure like 1. He made a choice. He rolled the dice and it may not have been the wisest of decisions, but 9 is responsible enough to see it through and shoulders the error of his decision. There are many lessons to be learned here. It's not an easy film and delves into such questions of life to elevate the material outside of the mindless drivel that populates the summer movie feast.
*
And what about the creator, the scientist, who gave life to the nine? What do we know about him? One could say not very much. Still, could it be that Acker gave life to this creator trough the nine? Could it be the nine represent different aspects of the creator? I would go so far as to say they represent different aspects of us all. Culled together we are quite complex. Nine in many ways is the hero and in his selfless final act the scientist gave his life for him in the hopes of salvaging what remained of the planet. It's an interesting possibility.
*
As entertainment 9 is an exciting and intense tale about our fragility in taking good ideas too far. The characters represent aspects of ourselves from the gentle to the headstrong, stubborn and harsh to the forgiving. I loved it for its originality mixed with new ways to deliver old ideas. I also loved that Tim Burton didn't write or direct it as some of the heart might have been missing from the end results. It's a shame a layered, varied, more interesting and thoughtful film like this couldn't reach the larger audience that a film like Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen manages to seduce so mindlessly every time.
*
As we walked away from the theatre we each talked of our favorite characters. I loved 9 and 5. My son was a 9 and 5 guy too. 7 was another we both agreed played a pivotal role. What about the characters in Transformers? Who cares? The other thing- 9 truly stays with you. I'm still reflecting back on it two days later. I found my defense shields were up for the Transformers audio and visual assault and I quickly erased the horrors of that attack from my memory. 9 is not a perfect film, but its a damn sight better than most and the visuals welcome rather than offend the mind. There is something special about the work and you might find it in there as well. Like an artist, Acker has lovingly put his heart and soul into his little creations on film. I had no intention to write about it, but felt compelled to do so.
*
9: B+

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Poll & Other Odds And Ends

I must be one of those guys who is a sucker for a good poll. I love polls especially science fiction polls. It would appear I may be in the minority there. Still, we did receive three votes. HA! Sounds so funny. The winners of our poll made for a three way tie in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Firefly and Farscape. These were the three people most desired to see here on the blog. In second place was Star Trek: The Original Series and Battlestar Galactica, the new version.

It would appear I need to get cracking on one of the aforementioned series. Having said that, I have not forgotten the final two episodes of Babylon 5. I have reached out to a few second hand sellers and have received no replies. I will try again.

Also, while on the subject of the new Battlestar Galactica, I did finish watching that series. The effects were simply amazing for television, a far stretch better than your standard throwaway SyFy film. I have to admit that the series started very strong for me and waned out as it closed with Season Four. I also felt character development never hit its stride. The action was tremendous and the energy and look of the series sensational, but character development stalled on many points. I was also left scratching my noggin on a few key plot points? Kara Thrace was the harbinger of death or so we were told several times. There were many points created along the way that went unanswered in the final analysis. I'm not looking for a clean wrap up, but I'd like to see it conclude with some sense of logic. I felt the final season ended awkwardly and I still have many questions that I can't quite connect. I may revisit that series some day and analyze it in full here. I liked moments along the way in Season Four. I even liked certain aspects of the Series Finale, but it appeared a bit lazy.

Finally, if the Sci Fi Channel is now SyFy will there newsstand magazine Sci Fi become SyFy too? I sure hope not. If that happens the magazine will look as silly as the channel. By the way, the news arm, Sci Fi Wire, used to be terrific. It sucks now. It has spiralled into nothing more than a gossip and opinion site. It's complete garbage and I miss the old site. I'm not jumping the gun either. I've given it some time to get used to the format and I am not wrong. It's complete shite!

Have a lovely day.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cowboy Bebop Session #6: Sympathy For The Devil

I swear I could look longingly at this amazing specimen of a woman all day long. She's absolutely hands down a smokin' hottie and she's not even bloody real! How I love Faye, let me count the ways.

Cowboy Bebop has that whole bad ass, sexy-cool thing going for it. The more I listen to the music and see those seductive opening credits, the more I think love the score by Yoko Kanno. Here we are with Cowboy Bebop, Session #6, Sympathy For The Devil. Could it possibly top Session #5? I somehow doubt it.

The mood is certainly there with the harmonica-laden blues. Spike is dreaming in flashback of some weird experiment while on the hunt for their next bounty, Giraffe. Faye continues to bust Ein's balls as she peels back a can of his food and eats it. Those two really have a very combative realtionship thus far. Anyway, Giraffe is killed by a wheelchair-bound fellow named Zebra who is accompanied by a harmonica-playing young prodigy named Wen. Giraffe falls from a window and Spike brings the swordfish underneath with some pretty fancy flying. Yeah right, not likely to happen.
*
Spike hears the man's final dying words along the lines of 'Help him.' He hands Spike a gem stone of some kind. Apparently Zebra and Giraffe were part of of the Self-Defense Volunteer Squad. The two were involved in some kind of doublecross.
*
Why is it characters in anime always wear the same outfits day after day? Well, I suppose one could argue the casts in Stargate, Babylon 5, Doctor Who or Star Trek didn't do much better.
*
Spike follows the young boy and the man called Zebra into an abandoned building. The boy is a dead shot and stuns Spike knocking the gun from his hand. In reality, you see, the kid is actually much older than his body would suggest. His parents died years ago in a freak space accident when a hyperspace gate blew. The incident caused the boy to stop aging. Now the little freak uses people to be his surrogate parents. Giraffe wanted Spike to help Zebra.
*
Terrific cel art for the action to unfold.
The boy runs and Spike fires several rounds. At first I thought it was a little odd Spike wasn't hitting his target, that was until he hit him square between the eyes and into the forehead. SPLAT! Only the wee devil child just won't seem to die.
*
Spike takes the gem and places it on the tip of a bullet to be shot directly into the child. He hits him square once again where he ages instantly and dies of old age. Spike, in a sense, has given the boy freedom rescuing him from his eternal imprisonment or as the title suggests, sympathy for the devil himself. It's easy to be a prodigy child when you live forever and never age.
*
The devil is in the details.
This one was weird. It had an Akira vibe to it. All in all, it was a bit bizarre for my taste. I do like the final moments when the boy is "at ease." He asks Spike "do you understand?" Spike attempts to blow into the harmonica, but pushes nothing but air and indicates he understands "as if." My feeling was that Spike couldn't understand why anyone wouldn't take such a gift, the gift of immortality and let go. Great ending to an okay story.

video
*
Sympathy For The Devil: B-

Cast: Spike/ Jet/ Faye/ Ein

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cowboy Bebop Session #5: Ballad Of Fallen Angels

This is one complete, bad ass man of action! Watch out!

Two clans make amends. One leaves. Their ship explodes. A group enters slaying everyone left inside including a man named Mao Yenra. Before the last man standing dies he indicates "The Syndicates can't survive like this any longer. This endless bloodletting is tearing us all apart." Any chance for peace is decimated. His final gasp of words, "If Spike were here you would never have done this." This is indeed one of the most exciting starts to Cowboy Bebop yet. It also serves up a bit more in the way of character development. Here we are with Cowboy Bebop, Session #5, Ballad Of Fallen Angels.
*
Thus far, Cowboy Bebop has been good if not great. The first session and introductory episode was the best to date in my opinion. It caught my attention and the story had me engaged. I was hooked. Since then it has been so-so to good. Perhaps there has been much to establish. I'm hopeful things will improve.
*
The next bounty for the murders of these Syndicate leaders is in play. Jet no like. Spike has a lead. I suspect it has something to do with his prior affiliation with the group. Jet senses Spike is hiding something. Spike throws the idea of 'secrets' back in his face when he asks him what happened to his arm. Jet Black has a mechanical arm.
*
The team interaction is beginning to take form as well as the bickering. Faye definitely wants to be part of their action. Jet is clearly annoyed by her antics. He leaves the communications area and Faye intercepts a bounty and off she goes in her spaceship. Jet is a master at decryption, or so he says, and takes a look at the target later with Ein looking on.
*
Meanwhile, Spike visits a store clerk named Annie who is aghast to see him still alive. Spike was supposed to be dead. He allegedly died three years ago. Annie, short for Anastasia, may have been Mao Yenra's daughter. Mao was the one killed earlier. A photo of Mao with a young girl and boy is viewed. The girl is Annie and the boy appears to be Vicious. I suspect he was their father I think. Deduction would suspect the mother must not have been Japanese or they were adopted.
*
Elsewhere, in the theatre, Faye looks for him, but finds armed men awaiting her arrival. She is seated in Yenra's viewing box next to a bloodied Yenra and a man named Vicious. Ya think? Fair name.
*
Back on the Bebop, Spike is loading up heavy artillery in his plan to avenge Mao. Jet doesn't like it one bit and tries to dissuade him by telling him he lost his arm for being too gung-ho. "My past is catching up to me," admits Spike. He needs to do this. They receive a transmission from Faye requesting their help. Spike tells her he might come. It's possible. He's a buster.
*
"When angels are forced out of heaven, they become devils," mutters Vicious. Spike and Vicious meet in an abandoned cathedral. The whole vibe is very The Crow. There's a cheesy, anime guitar-rock song playing over the sequence and the singing is a bit on the annoying side as I listen to the dialogue between Vicious and Spike. It turns out Mao took Vicious in and gave him everything he had and the thanks he received was death by his very hands. Tragic. Vicious was adopted it appears and he killed his own father. In what turns out to be a stunning sequence, a gun and grenade battle ensues. It begins when Spike sees Faye held at gunpoint. We find out for the first time here what a terrific shot Spike is. With one bullet to the head the scumbag is taken out. The battle begins. Faye escapes and alerts Jet who is pruning his Japanese Bonsai plant.
*
Faye does look damn good in a red dress.
The fight between Spike and Vicious ends in a draw with a Japanese Katana sword on Spike's shoulder and a gun aimed at the shoulder of Vicious. Spike fires, Vicious stabs. Blood spills and Spike is pushed out of the cathedral window leaving behind a grenade for Vicious. This is a mesmerizing sequence that must be seen to be fully appreciated. It is pure art as far as animation goes. It's a genuinely beautiful edit of images and music. It's also ironically so given lives are at stake amidst the abundant violence.
*
As Spike falls, we are given to flashbacks of Vicious and Spike who clearly worked together once side by side. The sweet melody of children's voices populate the speakers as Spike's fall seems like an eternity. The track is called Green Bird and it is a perfect fit to the sequence. In fact, as we see splices of Spike's past [one entwined with Vicious], including his former love Julia I believe, roses, violence, eye close-ups, etc... we literally forget about the grenade as it explodes above. Is Vicious killed? We just don't know, but we suspect this cat has a few lives left.

video
*
A Spike's eye view cam literally sees a badly injured Spike waiver and fall to the ground bloodied before the feet of a beautiful blond woman. Later he awakens in her home where he is soothed by her singing voice and asks her to continue. It is a dream. The coloration of the cels would indicate it to be the case.
*
Earlier I mentioned Faye may be the most beautiful animated woman ya ever did see. Julia may be even hotter. It's just too close to call.
Spike awakens for real three days later to the humming voice of Faye. Spike is fully bandaged from head to toe and immobile. He whispers to Faye about her singing and says she sings off key. She belts him with a pillow and Jet smiles. All is right with life on the BeBop. All is right with this episode. Ballad Of Fallen Angels is poetry within the world of anime. This episode in particular shines and stands on its own as a singular piece of cinema. I was looking for improvement and this a powerful entry in the series. It is a stunning ballet of violence and it is gorgeous. A work that requires repeat viewing.
*
Ballad Of Fallen Angels: A
*
Characters: Spike/ Jet/ Faye/ Ein/ Vicious/ Julia