Archive for the 'Movie Reviews' Category

20
Apr
18

The Honey in My Closet

*****

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Gawaru wa yo!  [I’m going to change.  Or, so it is translated into English subtitles.]

Ever since 1997, I’ve been a bit consumed by the concept of Cutey Honey. [And, if I’ve said it before here, you’ll just have to put up with me. I go through these periods of indulging an episode or two. I’m about to go through my history with the character(s) and my interest in creating a new series, at length, so get comfortable and prepare to read if you are curious to know.]

There is just something about this gorgeous, loving android and her magical ability to change her appearance while battling a variety of monsters, some just as lovely as her, that enchants me (while some of the monsters she faces and some of the language in the series rattle me). If you are familiar with the recent Teen Titans cartoons, Cutey Honey is like Starfire with more brains and a wardrobe that seems limitless. The artists are generally good with retaining the loving energy and heart-shaped imagery that are associated with the character, similar to how Spider-Man/Peter Parker can say something in an aside and have a form of the hero’s webbing or mask appear behind him. And, no, if you think it’s about the “boobs,” you’re wrong. It takes more than that for such a character to last as long as she has, even if you’ve never taken notice of her. If given the chance, I have a few ideas for giving her a decent, solid story that would satisfy more fans and get her out of the perverse closet.

 

Originally a Go Nagai manga (black and white comic book series) and then 1970s anime, Cutey Honey (or Cutie Honey, depending upon the series) is a female android, created by a scientist named Dr. Kisaragi who lost a daughter (Honey) and who made the automaton in her image, programmed to blend in with the human population and protect them from the evils corrupting their world, including armies led by characters known as Panther Zora, Dolmeck and Sister Jill.  The android has the special ability of changing her appearance rather frequently, replacing damaged clothes, skin and hair with materials drawn from the air by the “airborne element fixing device” which the enemy pursues incessantly when she interferes.  Honey acquires strength from those she befriends/loves which ultimately helps her overcome adversity and repel the darkness.

The concept has had a number of incarnations over the years though it has never earned the American fame of similar characters like Inspector Gadget and Mega Man; instead, she remains like a closet craze, enduring solely by the interest of her fans who put up with the cheeky, flirtatious incidents that continue to unfold in the life of this breathtaking beautiful warrior. I think, if the conceptions were not so littered with “fan service” and had a strong, consistent and understood plot line/origin story, Cutey Honey WOULD be as popular as Wonder Woman. And, if you want a “cleaner” heroine story with a similar flair, you can check out The Adventures of Lady Bug (currently part of ClickTV) and any number of anime that feature similar “magical girl” heroines without the flashes of nudity and exaggerating breasts.

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Breaking down my problems with (various incarnations of) the concept:

1) JAPANESE GIRLS ARE NOT BLONDE (NOR REDHEADS). First of all, this is a Japanese character with BLONDE hair when she doesn’t adopt another color, including RED for her warrior form.  [Though I’ve seen images of the older series in which she has dark hair?  See the image on the right in the above cluster.]   Last I checked, there are no blonde Japanese girls. And, while I get this is an anime staple and typically associated with “ascended” and/or “pure” characters (like the empowered individuals of Dragon Ball Z fame), why can’t Honey Kisaragi be a native Japanese girl with BLACK or, at least, dark brown hair? Or, why can’t Honey be from a different country and retain that lovely blonde hair she flashes? Even if Honey adopted other hair colors and styles to simply complement the outfits she donned (like some Lady Gaga or Katy Perry), her civilian form would not have such a strikingly bright head of blonde hair unless she had lost her hair and wore a wig all of the time; and a dye-job just doesn’t say “purity” as well as a naturally colored head of hair.

2) WORLD DOMINATION DOESN’T STAY WITHIN A SINGLE CITY. The stories take place in some vague city which is consistently the focus of some evil force bent on taking over the world. [Okay, so far, this is nothing new and, thus, boring. Even in The Adventures of Ladybug, everything seems to unfold strictly in Paris, France. Why can’t these world-conquering villains make appearances in various parts of the world and have the protagonist travel there “on a mission” or something similar? Or, why can’t there be some greater reason for attacking only one city?]

3) THE ON-GOING DEBATE OVER “FAN SERVICE.” I just want it to stop. For whatever reason, the concept was given a certain measure of “sex appeal” by consistently using Honey’s assets as a distraction and, occasionally, a comedic touch to her trials with defeating the forces of darkness. From what I’ve seen, there are the occasional instances that push the envelope a bit (at least, for my personal tastes) and probably, rightfully, bother some people enough to say something about them.

If it was up to me, I’d take out some of the more lewd and “S and M” bits and limit the “fan service” to embarrassing and/or compromising moments in which Honey’s assets are exposed and/or involved in some sort of accident. Keep these instances more subtle and suggestive (less “in-your-face”). For example, if she loses her top, she covers herself while flushing witnesses tumble like dominoes around her; no need to be explicit with the nudity, have men bleeding from their noses or include any form of (whipping, tentacle, rape, etc.) torture. [‘No need to remove her assets because they ARE part of her charm; just like people associate Wonder Woman with being shapely versus some pencil-thin warrior maiden with one or no breasts.]

And, it’s because of this “fan service” debate that the story gets pushed into the closet…yet it endures and keeps being re-invented like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which have had…how many series now? Yeah. How many times can we tell the origin story of that group? Apparently, plenty. And, each new incarnation isn’t really all that disappointing…just, occasionally, a bit different. We know the history behind the characters even though April changes from a TV reporter to some girl who was an alien experiment and develops telekinetic/psychic powers. Which brings me to my next point.

4) LACKING CONSISTENCY AND CLARITY OF CONCEPT. Maybe it’s just my own difficulty with following the story; maybe it’s a matter of cultural differences? But, I have a hard time understanding why certain characters change from series to series though a continuity of some sort is suggested, as if all incarnations form a single story.

Well, as with the Legend of Zelda video games, that’s not what I see. While tweaking the origin story may refresh interest, it would really help if more was explained sooner than later. [This is also why I am not too fond of re-inventing the Marvel Comics universe as recent cartoons have done, turning characters you might know and love for fitting together one way suddenly becoming very different people with different relations to the protagonist. Yet, I guess, this opens the doors for more people finding a version they like.]

If there is no intended continuity, then I will just have to accept this and sort out who everyone is and how they fit together in each version. [I’ve survived every version of TMNT to air on local TV. I have seen the movies and recent reboot but truly only liked the original Inspector Gadget series. I like both the original and the new Duck Tales. I have tolerated various (not all) versions of Mega Man and even grew to like the “Network” concept/series a bit. I flinched yet gave Iron Man a chance when he became the creation of a younger inventor who shared the technology with his teenage? friends (in an incarnation not related to or part of the more accepted “Marvel universe”). I turned a blind eye when someone decided to give Link earrings in one or more of the Legend of Zelda games. I can decide which Cutey Honey I do and do not like so much.]

This is more of a personal complaint, but I had a small fit when Mikey had his nunchakas replaced with a grappling hook-ish weapon in the TMNT series/franchise (because the latter was less likely to result in harming anyone?). I have had similar reservations when I see Honey’s weapons take on new and/or different abilities. At some point, I begin to feel like I’m watching one of those kid fights in which “no backsies” or “infinity” solves everything. Part of what makes Honey enduring is working with her limitations. When you start making her weapons limitless, you start looking like those other characters that keep upgrading themselves. I understand the reasoning or what might lead to such changes. But, it does get tiresome/repetitive. [Does anyone complain that Wonder Woman consistently relies on her strength, lasso, bracelets and tiara? Do those items ever really change?]

And, the outfit Honey Kisaragi wears consistently as her civilian attire, personally, looked great in the 1990s version, with the pink and white combo. The original yellow-orange dress was rather flat. And, the blue and white dress with that weird curving design somehow painted around it…that just doesn’t sit right with me (though the shade of blue and white work nicely together). [Maybe compromise and replace the pink portions of the 90s outfit with that blue color…or the orange of that original dress? Or, here’s a novel idea, DON’T LIMIT THE MAIN CHARACTER TO ONE EVERYDAY OUTFIT. Hmm? Maybe she has an actual closet of choices.]

———————————–

MY PERSONAL HISTORY WITH CUTEY HONEY

My first taste was the short-lived 1990s OVA mini-series. I had watched a trailer for the concept at the start of another anime video I had purchased. And, within thirty seconds or so, I was hooked. I was red-faced. I was overwhelmed. Never had I seen such quality artistry given such flair, appealing to my personal interests in superwomen with alter egos and fashion design. Yet, all the trailer really showed were a few costumes and that magical melting of materials that sold the package. I had no idea who exactly she was or what she was fighting other than a few creepy characters that made brief appearances. I wasn’t even sure she was just one woman. I began purchasing and cautiously watching the mini-series on VHS.

 

 

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Because of this initial exposure to the character, I’ve compared all other incarnations to it and found each a bit lacking in quality.

I’ve seen images from the original 1970s cartoon and even purchased a DVD collection, recently, but have yet to watch any episodes. I can see how I might have taken to it in its original form back then, but, looking at the old cartoons now, the original seems a bit dated and awkwardly cartoonish, like my childhood days of watching shows like Fangface and Teen Rod. The artistry is primitive in comparison (to the 90s OVAs) though the 60s/70s fashion sense isn’t all bad and, as cartoon concepts go, it was groundbreaking for the time. While there may have been other robot stories coming into existence, how many involved a female android with such a crafty system of producing costumes and weaponry?

Then there was “Cutey Honey Flash” which came around the turn of the century and involved a slightly different protagonist with a second “Honey” who adopted a blue costume and hair. I have yet to see more than a few images of this version, as well, but I have not been entirely drawn to the exceptionally slender and “starry-eyed” artistic style of that series, either, which seems to be the first to result in the creation of dolls.

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Cutey Honey F (Flash)

Next came a live-action movie (and a lunch box) which honestly is a sad Power Rangers-ish joke compared to the animated series. While I could see how a superhuman android designed by a human scientist might be dumber than a “smartphone”–and that might make a good angle for future stories about robots built by mankind if it hasn’t already been used to death–seeing Honey as a dumb blonde (with a really bad dye-job given to an actress with naturally dark hair), fumbling through her day and night jobs, ruined my enthusiasm for the character. Had she done a better job of pretending to be dumb in public while reserving a more serious, intelligent persona for her heroics, I might have given the film more credit. [Of course, I would have picked a different actress, too, who would sensibly fit the color scheme. See my list of flaws with the concept.]

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My thoughts, exactly, Eriko Sato.  Huh?  What are you doing looking like that?

[I recall how Blondie, the famous wife of the old comics character Dagwood, was portrayed as a sort of dumb blonde who wasn’t as dumb as you’d expect from the name, and how Marilyn Monroe might have been a bit air-headed at times from appearances but often enough proved she had more wits under the surface.]

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Movie Natsuko on the left.  Kisaragi disguised as policewoman on the right.

While the new Natsuko lacked something in terms of personality, making the acting appear rather poor, she was a refreshing alternative to what I’ve seen of her and had a somewhat believable friendly, somewhat more than friendly relationship budding with Honey. Given a better script and acting, this might have turned into something great for future “chapters.” [Natsuko could be like “Chief” in Inspector Gadget but have moments of intimacy in private with the robotic hero(ine) while maintaining a more professional persona when in public or around other agents/officers.]

I thought that movie might be the end of her (at least, for a while). But, like Godzilla, she rises, again, sooner than you might expect.

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I discovered an animated series (or mini-series?) in which Natsuko reprises her movie role as the stern yet charming government agent working alongside Honey (whenever they run into each other, at least). I’ve only watched bits of it, so far, so I can’t speak for the whole story or character design. The animation is decent yet more comical–like the original Inspector Gadget–when compared to the first version I saw (the 1990s mini-series). It’s not as dated as the original nor as “starry-eyed” as the “Flash” or “F” series. It feels fairly “fresh” and has a certain 60s live-action Batman feel to it with a touch of Tank Girl’s relationship with Jet.

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And, before I can even get back to looking at more of what I just mentioned, I discover an even newer series. [Or, mini-…just what are each of these incarnations supposed to be? Trials of something bigger that just don’t quite make it for whatever reason? Fan fiction?]

In Cutie Honey Universe, Honey is a student at some school shared by Natsuko (who is a very youthful and somewhat naïve alternative to the previous incarnation and–I am assuming without seeing any episodes–closer to the character from the original 70s series). But, Honey also is linked to some sort of city police force and runs off to fight the forces of Sister Jill who quickly takes on a new twist by becoming a police chief who is killing off her own army of “panthers” and is apparently sly enough to keep her two identities separate though she has less of a disguise than Honey, looking more like Clark Kent/Superman who hid behind a slightly different hairdo, suit and a pair of eyeglasses. [How dumb do we have to be not to notice the chief resembling Jill?]

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The more youthful and naïve Cutie Honey Universe Natsuko

I’ve watched the first two episodes (as of writing this article). And, while I like the throwback to the 70s style (namely the rather Charlie’s Angels wardrobe and posing of “Breast Claw”) and the same fresh animation that I saw in the previous incarnation–with some new “techno-flair” thrown in during the battle scenes–I am once again bothered by Honey Kisaragi’s “uniform” (not the school one), the abuse some characters face and warrior (Cutie) Honey’s wide array of new weaponry which still seems a bit like the creators are working toward an insanely endless number of abilities which could overwhelm the enduring spirit of the character.

I noticed they also cut back on the foul language and nudity by having Honey change within a sort of bubble (reminding me a bit of the “Network” Mega Man). And, that’s okay…but it does mess with the head a bit when you come to expect the artistic quality of that 1990s mini-series (which, seriously, seems hard to top though the language, blood and nudity pushed the envelope a bit). [It was just so moody, organic and three-dimensional which is saying something when you realize how much 3D animation is computer generated and metallic-looking these days. You could feel the fabrics forming around the heroine instead of watching pixels come together like some video game. Not to mention the video-game-like text that appears (backwards?) when Honey calls upon one of her abilities/weapons.]

The second episode makes an effort to reprise the origin story, which helps.  And, the way Jill claims her “Claws” with roses is decently done.  But, this battle dimension that the show uses makes the whole thing feel more like Mega Man Network than the warrior of love defending the city in the raw, destructive way she was portrayed in the 90s.  [I am guessing this dimension idea was inspired by the battle with Yasho/Yasha in ep. 6 of the “Shin” OVAs (direct to video releases), in which a sort of illusionary field falls over the city, restoring an old park full of mannequins which are then brought to life to fight.  When the fight ends, the illusion falls, and the city is restored, minus the casualties.]  And, there is no explanation for how Honey goes from knowing nothing about herself–even that she’s an android–to suddenly having the ability to pull out an arsenal of weapons to fight enemies she is meeting for the first time.  The new theme music isn’t terrible though loyal fans of the previous series don’t approve of much change.  It’s the poorly cut cinematics of the intro and closing that, to me, seem more rushed and in need of improvement.  There is potential in both, but they need to hone it.

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IN SUMMATION: MY NEW PACKAGING/OUTLOOK ON A FUTURE CUTEY HONEY (SERIES/MOVIE):

1) RECLAIM THE OVERALL APPEARANCE OF THE 1990s MINI-SERIES, giving Honey that same weighted athleticism, feathery hair and mature figure with all of its shading, dimensions and that pink and white outfit, keeping the moody settings, as well, but reducing or limiting the amount of nudity and other “fan service” (including no lengthy and/or oddly placed abusive scenes with whips and tortured cries) to more suggestive instances that still tease viewers but aren’t explicit enough to provoke them into freezing the video frame-by-frame.

I’d also go so far as to say the concept of the drug/capsule distribution could be retained because there was something underhanded about it that seemed to relate to the on-going drug businesses we hear about and had infinite possibilities for variation.

And, while the nudity may have been a bit much, there was something so genuinely satisfying–even occasionally lacking–in how organically those looks Honey had came together and blew apart versus just giving viewers some quick flash of light and/or changing “room,” which also made the character/artistry unique.

2) REPRISE THE 1970s ORIGIN STORY ABOUT HER CREATION (AND FATHER)–if it’s still valued–or create a new one that sticks and is explained soon enough to educate new viewers as well as those of us who’ve seen more of this character story. Do not just play out events and randomly insert bits of a new explanation for why things are the way they are over a lengthy period of time. Maybe start the new series/movie with that backstory…even though that can delay the enjoyment of the new plot. [Or, if nothing else, should a new movie be made and eventually released on some format like DVD, include the origin story as a bonus feature on the disc to inform new viewers.]

3) RETAIN PANTHER ZORA, SISTER JILL AND, MAYBE EVEN, DOLMECK AS MAJOR VILLAINS, along with the assortment of nameless henchmen (which sort of look like Carmen Sandiego’s nameless gang from the DIC 90s cartoon series of that franchise) and a mixed crop of “panthers” (which might go by a different, more general name) from the various series. But, if you reprise these roles, be sure to give sensible explanation for their (re)creation/existence, especially if we are to believe they were ever destroyed. [Perhaps, they come from and return to seeds when they are defeated, able to regenerate in some distant future time if given the proper “fertilizer?”] I’d suggest having the three primary villains either be related or hatched from the same “pod” of some dark origin, possibly a “force of destructive nature” in contrast to “the light of creation.” It might be difficult to conceive all three working together at once unless they have a collective mind, sort of like the Borg of Star Trek fame or those multi-faced judges you see in cartoons like the original Transformers. Maybe they stay in contact but each try taking over different parts of the world? You know, somewhere other than Cosplay City or whatever you call it.

4) OTHER THAN THE ABILITY TO CHANGE APPEARANCES (WITH THE DESIRED COLLAR/DEVICE), LIMIT HONEY’S ARRAY OF WEAPONRY TO HER SWORD, ARMOR MODE** AND BOOMERANG AND EXPLAIN THEIR ORIGIN. Heck, you could even cut her down to just the sword, and I’d likely be okay with it because her only other assets would be the ability to disguise herself and whatever strength is built into her robotic body. Although, can someone explain from where she draws the sword? At the moment, I cannot remember if it comes out of her leg in the 90s mini-series. Even with that magical collar of hers, there’s never an instance where she produces a weapon by drawing matter from her surroundings into her hand; the weapons just seem to appear when she twirls around. While I sort of like the new “shield” or “block” technique she uses in the latest stories…and that DOES complement her having a sword, I suppose…I think she could get by just as well using her wits and whatever is handy (as shields). If the Hulk or some other superhuman character can deflect an attack with a car or street sign, so can she. If you up her array of weapons, it’s just never going to end, and older fans may go mad (not in a good way).

**In regards to the armor mode, let’s keep it closer to an Iron Man suit of armor and less like a lady knight with her chest exposed, even partially (as it appeared in the 90s version). Here’s a concept, what if the intended origin of Cutey Honey was some sort of valiant lady knight of light who had armor, a sword and a shield? Then, she COULD call upon one or all of those as her accessories (or her warrior costume), and there would be a story to them, similar to She-Ra’s sword and its history with Etheria. The armor wouldn’t even have to be an actual suit of armor; maybe her classic red and blue costume could be fortified to repel attacks like the armor and strengthen her punches/kicks with some sort of “accelerator” internal energy source.

5) EITHER GIVE HONEY’S CIVILIAN FORM DARK HAIR OR CHANGE HER NATIONALITY. Especially if you’re going to make another live-action movie. Or, the actors should all wear wigs of crazy, unnatural colors, so there are characters with hair that’s blue, green, pink, etc. Ditch the dye-jobs that just don’t work.

6) RETAIN NATSUKO, CHOKEI AND/OR THE MALE REPORTER/COP CHARACTER AS CLOSE FRIENDS AND ENSURE AT LEAST ONE HAS AN INTIMATE AND FAIRLY PRIVATE RELATIONSHIP WITH HONEY. Decide whether Honey is bisexual (because she genuinely wants to love everyone) or heterosexual (for obvious reasons) and do not tease at every angle about the relationships she keeps. Granted, by not having her become genuinely involved with any character, it is left to our imaginations what they might do together if circumstances were different. But, it is repetitive torture to see a character sigh or speak of a desire to be more with Honey and never have that. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. If there is a serious, intimate relationship with one or more of the above characters (because she might share intimate moments with each of them, discreetly), it doesn’t have to be very apparent. It might just be mentioned under the breaths of the characters between interactions with others.

[For example, Natsuko mentions what she enjoyed about Honey’s company the previous night, and Honey mutters something about meeting up again to reprise those roles another time just before the two women meet with some police or government official who wishes to speak with them for whatever reason. We know they are intimately linked without seeing them doing anything together. And, if there is no intimacy with a particular male character, for another example, who claims an interest in Honey, she might clarify her indifference with a playful excuse to do something else with her time (rather than date the guy).]

The reporter/cop is clearly mature enough to have that job and adult notions. Though, you could turn him into a kid, I suppose, getting photos for a school newspaper/magazine. As for Natsuko and Chokkei, they could be portrayed a number of ways, depending upon how old they are. I only give this any thought because of how Natsuko has changed in the various versions; and I was rather partial to her late-teen persona in the 1990s version which reminded me a bit of the original cartoon April O’Neil.

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So, maybe Natsuko is a girlfriend of Chokkei who is not quite so young that he can’t have a reasonably legal relationship with Honey, and Natsuko occasionally gets “jealous” of Chokkei’s apparent feelings for Honey not unlike Lum and Shinobu would get about Ataru chasing other women in Urusei Yatsura. Or, Natsuko is a mature neighbor/roommate of Honey’s while Chokkei lives in a nearby house/building and regularly runs into the two women who have an intimate relationship while keeping Chokkei at a friendly distance, trying not to hurt his feelings. Maybe Honey and Chokkei have a genuine relationship they keep discreet; maybe he knows her secret(s) and still interacts with Natsuko, a coworker, classmate or neighbor who can be a bit nosy and maybe take photos…like a reporter (hmm?), working in that angle, sort of combining characters. Or, maybe, Chokkei is lucky enough to have a respectable threesome situation, sharing his time with both Honey and Natsuko who understand each other and how a guy like Chokkei could not choose.

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Now, after saying all of that…and I wrote quite a bit on the subject, I am making this ultimatum. Either I get the chance to work on a future Cutey Honey project and make these adjustments (and any other adjustments) that suit a wider audience (not “mainstreaming” the concept or radically changing major components in a desperate effort to draw a new crowd and offend the older fans) and please me personally to my core…or I will go forth on my own and do one or two things.

1) Write my own Cutey Honey fan fiction (and maybe find a way to create a movie and/or cartoon) that suits my interests.

And/Or,

2) Create a similar story with an original cast of characters which may resemble or tip its hat to Cutey Honey but move in its own direction toward something more sustainable. And, if it surpasses Cutey Honey in longevity and/or fame, it’s just a shame I couldn’t do more to keep the spirit of Cutey Honey alive (as silly as the name might sound to some unfamiliar with the concept).

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And, like I said about what happened after the (first) live-action movie, this character rises from the ashes, AGAIN!  I just discovered a new 2016? 2017? film titled Cutey Honey -Tears- which I just finished viewing.  From the trailers and first ten minutes, it looks like a vast improvement on the previous film!  There have been a few changes I am concerned about at the moment (not including the radically new costume).  And, I’m not sure where they are going with the villainess and the reporter? cop? agent?  Whatever Hayami is in this version.  [For the moment, he’s a reporter.]  I’d be a lil more than just shocked if a wealthy businesswoman lifted me off the ground.  Yet, the film looks and feels essentially like what I’ve been aiming at for Honey’s character.  I’m somewhat excited to see where this goes.  Again, these incarnations pop up under my radar!

Cutey Honey -Tears-

Okay.  So, in short, I give the film 3.5 out of 5 stars.  Possibly 3 stars.  The biggest failings are the fight scenes, but there are also a few odd moments, “traditional” Cutey/Cutie Honey slips (moments when things appear or disappear without explanation) and some poor subtitle translations/grammar.  The actors could have benefited from some choreography lessons.  [Try watching Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in Iron Man 2, for example.]

On the plus side, Takahiro Miura is a GREAT Seiji Hayami (even if his haircut is a bit crude, not stylish like the cartoon character).  He brings so much to the film; my heart went with him throughout the film.  Mariya Nishiuchi (Honey Kisaragi) is cute, for sure, not the ideal Honey but closer to a Japanese character than the previous Honey incarnations.  She has a wicked, enchanting smile and can just as well give you sick chills when she scowls.  Nicole Ishida is one scary, scrawny villainess, Lady Jiru.

This isn’t anywhere close to the classic Cutie Honey, not very colorful or flirty.  There is nothing supernatural about the enemy; no Panther Zora reincarnated surprises or capsule/rose transformations.  The henchmen are reduced to a drone army and one gun-toting assistant.  Honey’s fighting costume is “toned down” from the original and skimpy on flair, including the tiny hearts which I think could have been bigger.

But, what lacks is replaced with a raw, gritty story that hits home with environmentalists.  This is a sort of wake-up call to hasty garbage management, air pollution and what can happen if we put computers in charge of everything.

The movie touches nicely on the origin story.  Yet, there is no explanation for how Honey learns to change, how she acquired the ability (other than mention of the “condenser”).  The special effects used for the changes are decent if not impressive.  But, the changes themselves are not very impressive.  [And, though the weapons might not be crucial, Honey seemed a bit naked without her sword.]

Thankfully, there is a moment during the rather emotional ending in which we are given a glimmer of hope (for a sequel).  But, it doesn’t make much sense after what just happened.  [Unless I am misunderstanding what just happened, including how Honey/Hitomi wins the fight against Lady Jiru after Seiji enters the room with a laser gun.]

Overall, it’s watchable and worth a second look.  Yet, I see room for improvement and have ideas for how to achieve it.

 

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20
Mar
18

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Movie Review

****

Jack Black, Kevin Hart, the lovely Karen Gillan and Dwayne Johnson get in touch with their inner children as they play video game avatar (character) versions of four troubled teens escaping punishment at school in a new spin on the original concept of the 1995 Robin Williams film, Jumanji:  Welcome to the Jungle.  The humor is a bit juvenile, but these ARE kids, after all.  Kids will laugh at the nonsensical violence.  Teens will snort and scoff at the impressions of their age group.  And, adults who remember 1995 and who enjoy console video games will enjoy a few references to the original film as well as the video game nature of the new film.

The story begins with a solitary teen finding the original board game on the beach (where it washed ashore at the end of the first film).  When he tosses this aside (because “no one plays board games anymore”), the game evolves itself and sucks the foolish young man into a cursed console.  Four students, figuring out who they are and where they belong, learn how to work together in some surprising ways and solve the mystery of a neighbor who vanished while eluding a mad treasure hunter’s goons and solving the puzzle built into the game which will ultimately allow them to return to their world.  But, if they die in the game, they cannot return to their world.

I honestly cannot complain about any actor in this film (which may be a first for me).  Each brings their own “game” and earns your interest.  However, Jack Black goes the extra mile by (no spoiler here if you’ve seen enough ads/trailers) playing a girl (in an overweight man’s body).  Karen Gillan is just fabulous (as a person).  This is not her best performance.  Yet, she gets a few “kicks” in for big laughs.  [I really enjoyed the “dance fighting.”]  Dwayne shines when he genuinely sounds like an awkward teen and, sadly, when he knocks anyone into next Tuesday.  Kevin Hart is consistently, mildly amusing in ways you’d expect from him, always pouting about his size.  [That old joke, getting older.]  But, he blends into the group nicely and goes out with a bang.

While this can be enjoyed as a rental or cable TV movie night option, don’t miss your chance to see it on the big screen as some of the visuals are best appreciated larger than life.  Overall, I give it 4 stars out of 5.  I can’t rave about it.  [It’s not the first Jurassic Park.  You know, that “old” 1993 film before Chris Pratt decided to milk the decayed corpse of a velociraptor and someone made a turducken out of a T-Rex.]  There are a few moments that made me raise an “awkward” eyebrow (not the People’s Eyebrow).  But, other than those tidbits, I’d watch this one, again.  The final few minutes strike a nice note, putting the whipped cream on the sundae.

I’ll let you decide if there’s still room for a sequel.

 

06
Mar
18

Black Panther, movie review

****

Chadwick Boseman might be the rightful heir to the throne of Wakanda, aka the Black Panther, but Michael B. Jordan, aka Killmonger, steals the show as a wounded heart and fierce rival in Black Panther, the latest Marvel Studios cash monster.  While this is being pitched as a tremendously ground-breaking film for “blacks” and women, alike, I did not find it that astounding but did find some subtle, convenient political undertones.

I’d like to start off by mentioning I have been a casual Black Panther fan since I could afford a comic book at the local discount book store.  I have three issues of the original comic book series, enough to inspire me to draw countless similar characters for comics I aspired to but never completed.  Even with such a meager collection and knowledge of the character and his enemies, I had my expectations, going into the film.

I expected a down-to-earth, tough-as-nails martial artist/street fighter, a Batman with a cat mask and certain jewelry accessories, facing a crazy dude in a reddish, skin-tight costume with a distinct face/mask design and a megaphone for one of his hands, along with another madman capable of flying like the Vulture from Spider-Man comics/cartoons.

That’s not exactly what I garnered from the ads/trailers, and, thus, was a bit concerned.  But, go figure; it’s been Disney-fied and “updated.”  I didn’t want another juvenile-humor-infused romp in which everything runs on some kind of AI or nanotechnology.  Iron Man could get away with that.  And, I get Wakanda is supposed to be more technologically developed than all other parts of Africa, and then some.  But, Black Panther has always been more of the street/jungle brawler than the wealthy “playboy”/heir to the family fortune.

On the plus side, this movie gets major points for fashion design and its soundtrack.  [Jewelry left something to be desired.]  No other Marvel movie, thus far, has kept me grooving through the whole thing like this one.  I am not much of a RnB or Hip Hop fan.  I didn’t grasp most lyrics.  But, the beats really soothed and carried me along for the ride, all the way through the credits.  Boseman and Nyong’o consistently had slick outfits; Lupita had some nice hairdos and face painting to complement her wardrobe changes.

There was a touch of a Lion King division of “brothers” which bubbled and boiled with tension nicely.  As I said at the beginning, Michael B. Jordan makes one intriguing Killmonger.  Boseman is more of a straight-forward script reader, playing his part to the letter.  But, Jordan is conflicting and conflicted, more tempting to join the dark side than Darth Vader.  He almost convinced me to root for him.

Winston Duke, as M’Baku, the monkey tribe leader, was both amusing and inspiring.  Danai Gurira (Okoye) was fierce and proud enough to play one bad-ass Storm from the X-Men.  Daniel Kaluuya (W’Kabi) and Andy Serkis (Klaue) get respectful nods, as well.

And, what would a Marvel movie be without a Stan Lee cameo?  The man is just priceless, even if his quip and character didn’t “wow” me this time.  [Can anything top the mailman in the first Fantastic Four film?]  I had completely forgotten Jack Kirby had a big hand in the original comic series.  He has been a big source of inspiration for me, as well.

The technology factor was remotely impressive but inadequately explained.  [Or, maybe I was distracted by something/someone.]  It wasn’t as bad as I expected but still rather convenient.  And, the Wakanda fleet of vehicles were mostly silly and alien-looking.  What respectable wealthy nation thinks ships shaped like grasshoppers or locusts is more sane than, say, a simple flying car/pod?  But, cool points for the “car simulator” technology and the voice command? suit that can absorb and reuse energy.

Casting was adequate.  The only weak spot, other than what I’ve already discussed about Boseman, was Martin Freeman, as a rather silly white guy on the set.  He serves one vital purpose in the whole story, and it’s not until the final big conflict.  Beyond that, he’s like that piece of luggage you wish you didn’t need to check at the airport.  [Which is a shame because I usually like Freeman’s work.]  Ironically, I suppose, he takes the “token” spot a “black” actor/actress would have in just about any “white” film.  But, I think a Korean “agent” would have been more fitting, considering Korea was a country of focus in the movie…which is rather convenient, when you consider what’s going on in world politics and the most recent Olympics.  [‘Makes you go “hmm,” doesn’t it?]

Possibly the worst aspect, next to the bug-shaped airships, was the camera work on the fight scenes, other than the big brawl near the end between two armies of warriors.  That was Lord-of-the-Rings-worthy.  But, the casino fight?  There was so much going on at break-neck speed (ha); too hard to follow with the camera.  [Of course, my seat wasn’t the best.  And, I did not anticipate such a full theater.  But, I didn’t go at my usual movie-viewing time, either.]

The movie leaves you with two little scenes during the credits which did nothing for me.  [But, I haven’t seen Civil War, yet, either.  So…]  And, there’s the question about what is really next for the Black Panther after solving juvenile delinquency…well, not quite (and after what becomes of his enemies which I shall leave you to see for yourselves).  [In fact, the condition of the theater I shared with roughly a hundred other viewers, after the movie, was deplorable.  Broken seats and food debris everywhere.  More savage than the Wakanda jungle.  Not a good impression left by a black-dominated audience.  I was the Martin Freeman in the crowd.]

Give Black Panther a try in 3D if you can spare the extra bucks.  If you wait to rent it, be sure to have a big enough screen to appreciate the visuals though they aren’t as impressive as, say, one of the Thor movies.  Many of the scenes are dark and crowded.  Don’t expect to earn “minority cred” for seeing the movie.  Again, it’s not the end-all-be-all film that’s going to boost “blacks” and women into the top one percent of the wealthy.  It’s not going to make the next Denzel or Halle.  [Although, Lupita (Nakia) was rather stimulating…but, so far, she always is (with a slight hint of arrogance in her smile).]

Buy the soundtrack and groove your way to work or school.

On a scale of 1 (lousy) to 5 (awesome), I give Black Panther a 3.5.  Take out Freeman and the bug ships, and I’d maybe bump this up to a 3.75.

And, Lupita?  Call me.  😉

03
Apr
17

White or Right, My Views on “Whitewashing”

*****
So, there’s this bad odor going around called “whitewashing.” If you are oblivious to the concept, it basically refers to…well, it has a few uses, already. One being Caucasian people being cast in roles originally set for other nationalities. And, that is what tops my peeve list at the moment. Namely, a certain typically blonde actress being cast to play a raven-haired and distinctly Asian character from a “popular” anime about a female cyborg cop.

[Note I have omitted names and titles lest giving them more specific attention only add to the theory that bad press still adds to ticket sales. For the purposes of this editorial and my own amusement, I will refer to the cast actress as “Red Role-playing Hood” and the movie as “Robocop 4: Turning Japanese.”]

Some say “Red Role-playing Hood” sells movie tickets and that this is enough justification to cast her. Others plain and simple object to her being cast in this particular role, regardless of justification.

According to an article I read, one of the artists behind the original story says the character has lost her original human name and identity, thus she could be just about anybody of any race.

If that is the case, I’d have made a different film. I’d have designed the film as a spinoff of the original story, having “Red Role-playing Hood” play a similar cyborg who looks different. Heck, the protagonist could have any body or hair color she wants if she’s not the original character. The story could have remained the same or similar with some minor changes. There’s a whole series of Resident Evil movies out there now that aren’t exactly about the original game cast, focusing on some lab creation, instead.

Another article states the actress has said she would not take a role she felt would be viewed as offensive…buuuut she IS taking the role; and some find her choice offensive, or, at least, infuriating. Myself included.

I think she, like many, will take just about any role she can get. So, if someone handed “Red Role-playing Hood” the script, I doubt she would have turned it down, considering she is open to expanding her options and likes to play odd roles that may not suit her, roles other actresses would more likely turn down to avoid being judged “weird” or being asked to play more roles like this one instead of roles in other genres they prefer. Months or years from now, one of those actresses that passed on the film will speak out at some interview for another project and admit they passed on the role while subtly praising “Red Role-playing Hood” for being an “amazing” person with whom she worked or met at an awards show.

I say the whole notion of “Red Role-playing Hood” making better ticket sales than an actual Asian, or more specifically Japanese, actress–possibly a “nobody”–is hogwash. Even if “Red Role-playing Hood” draws a certain crowd, it’s as likely the crowd comes to see HER, not the character she portrays. And, considering she looks like a clown in some green-screen body suit and wig, I feel she should NOT be playing this part.

[I am asking would-be film makers.] Would a character written as an African woman be cast/rewritten as a white woman in disguise, as well? And, if the character did not look one bit like Thandie N., would you still cast Thandie N. to play the part because she’s the only dark-skinned actress you could get to take the part? Or, would you go out of your way to find a more perfect match for the character? Is it really so important to put a movie out before all the pieces properly fit? Or, are you so lustful for profits and jumping at any dog that barks that you’ll rush to blow a budget on a lesser prize?

Why was the Thing shorter than the rest of the Fantastic Four in the first films, featuring Jessica A. as the Invisible Woman? Was Michael C. cast because of ticket sales, because he fit the role…or maybe because no one else wanted the role and/or the costume designers couldn’t make him appear bigger…even if they have the technology to fake such things?

I didn’t care for Charlize T. playing Aeon Flux, either. Some people you just get used to seeing with a certain hair color and look. And, throwing them into some character that is completely different without proper blending of appearance just makes the whole image a joke. I don’t want to see a parody of the original story. Thus, I don’t want to boost ticket sales for this film. I’ll give it a try another way, as the modern world provides. And, all ticket sale crap can just fly out the window. It’s bullshit that can be skewed, anyway. [And, I throw all the award show nonsense into the same pot. Such a waste of time and resources with little regard for the source material.] It boils down to what you choose to believe.

[On the flip side, Hugh J. was so compelling as Wolverine, I put up with him being taller than most other X-Men, even though the character was fairly short in the comics.  He also wasn’t a “clown” in a costume.  He was authentically crass, fierce and embittered.]

I believe this instance is a form of “whitewashing.” And, an Asian “nobody” would have befitted the role better, regardless of popularity or anticipated profits. I would pay to see better casting, to see an Asian beauty play this part. And, ever since I started watching films like “The Curse of the Golden Flower” and even “Rush Hour 2,” I think Hollywood can find a few. Or, maybe, such films should be made by people closer to the source material; and, if Americans are so lucky, the film will be dubbed into English, and they will learn to like it.

A “blockbuster” can never smell as sweet as it would with the right cast. Why do you think certain “franchises” got “reboots” so fast? If casting didn’t matter, why was there a reboot, anyway?

Years from now, people won’t look back and, when thinking of this blonde in a black Asian wig, say, “Gosh, she was so perfect for that role.” They WILL say, “Gosh, she sure made lots of movies.” The actress will be regarded like a Marilyn Monroe. And, only fans who concede to give up their cultural roots–including all Asian folks who try to look “American”–will not care who played what part and just be happy a film about that cartoon was made.

It doesn’t matter who is turning what characters into their own nationality. It’s Caucasian Americans and British folks, today. Tomorrow, it could be Mexicans or dark-skinned Africans altering Caucasian characters.

Some if not most movie makers are just too concerned with budget and ticket sales to consider the impact and value of proper casting (and story writing). I may be surprised to see a film pitched poorly play well. But, I will not be steered into accepting poor casting.

26
Jan
17

The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun, 2015/2016 Movie Review

****

Call me a cab and find a shrink. I may need some help sorting out my feelings about “The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun,” a French film starring Scottish actress Freya Mavor, and the mad people behind it. I am as much aroused and intrigued as I am puzzled and disgusted…which–from my understanding of the director’s explanation–seems on par with French cinema.

[NOTE: This film is either closely or loosely based on a novel I have not read, a novel the director claims is “insane” (though he loves it) and about a woman raised by a nun who still speaks to her as a conscience. My views are based solely on the DVD film and the interview I watched subsequently. And, I’d recommend watching both at least twice to have any chance of grasping every detail…unless you are just so damn observant that you miss nothing the first time through.]

The story seems to take place in the mid-1970s, resembling the TV series Mad Men. Dany, a tall, timid and short-sighted secretary (a 23-year-old Catholic school girl version of Donna from “That 70s Show”) is asked by her ad agency boss to type up his rough rewrite of some fifty-page “report” by the end of the day. Concealing her sexual fantasies, she is willing to tackle the task but confesses to a lack of typing speed. The boss offers her a chance to complete the work at a house shared by his wife and young daughter, provided she tells no one. Dany quickly begins to imagine him leaving his wife and child to toy with her. On top of being a daydreamer, she has a bad habit of “complicating” matters with questions which quickly get on the nerves of the boss and Anita (the wife and Dany’s former secretary school rival who may have “fooled around” with her “ages ago” which is actually a little over three years before the story begins).

When the report is finished, the boss makes one more request of his most trusted secretary. Accompanying the family to the airport, Dany is left with a teal Thunderbird and the “simple” chore of driving it back to the family’s Paris home. While the boss and his family are away, Dany decides to play, motivated by a tempting voice in her head. She takes the car south, in hopes of spending a few hours at the beach, but soon finds herself running into people who claim to have seen her earlier, a flirtatious stalker and amassing evidence that may convict her of murder. Whether or not the ending is a happy one remains debatable.

Though fairly brilliant in terms of cinematography (aside from maybe one or two poorly lit scenes), casting and music, the intentionally “trippy” and disorienting short story is not unlike something Quentin Tarantino would devise, except, thankfully, lacking his usual excess of gore. It has many of the touches I long to put in a similar movie: the fashions (though some, including the frequently featured “dress,” are a bit revealing), the moody lighting and music, the variety of camera shots, the comic book panels (without being panels), the bookish beauty with hidden sides to her personality and a backstory (though not flushed out in the movie) to explain her behavior, the scandalous/suspicious encounters, the well-devised plot of the villains played out (not perfectly) in the background, etc. There’s a somewhat magical flow to the whole product which some have said is a 95-minute music video. I prefer to think of it as a daring perfume ad (which could be ironic, considering the protagonist works for an advertising agency).

Even after two viewings, I have some questions. One, why can’t a half-dozen auto mechanics catch a man either entering or exiting a restroom at their gas station/cafe? Two, why would a religious young secretary hook up with a guy who admits to disabling her (borrowed) car and daringly climbs inside with her before she knows his name (considering she aspires to hooking up with her boss, unless both men are nothing more than a night of fun to her)? How does she stay so calm with the guy when he’s obviously dangerous in more than one scene? How does such a damsel in distress get from the wilderness to a truck stop, track down a missing car and then walk some unknown distance down a seaside road alone to find said missing car? Where were the parents of the boy at the beach? And, why would he want to climb in the car of a strange older woman when he knows something is amiss with the trunk?

While I can accept the nudity and sex as typical of adult films and more commonly accepted in non-American films (which is a bit surprising, considering the general impression I get of Americans being comfortable with casual sex and rape), the amount presented in the film was still more than I care to see. I also didn’t care for a young actress consistently playing with a religious necklace between her sexually daring exploits. [This may have been included to reflect the character’s childhood in the care of a nun (if the movie is sticking true to what the director says of the novel). But, viewing the film without such knowledge, I felt the necklace was unnecessary and misused. If it provided moments of conscience, I question Dany’s morals.]

The “naught bits” justify what some have said of the director. Or, at least, I assume what the director said of those who question his work is true and agree with the sentiments. He says people accuse him of “getting off” on his actresses and abusing certain camera shots. Well, despite his claims to the opposite, he DOES seem to play with women in a manner I’d say is either erotic or pornographic. He prefers the term “fetish.” His little collection of paintings and admission to designing pornographic comic books–the former displayed in his enclosed interview for the film–do not depict him as an entirely honest man, either.

Let me pause right here to address more about the interview portion of the DVD. Why is it certain (if not all) French “artists” speak with contradicting thoughts? Why is something “utterly useless” obviously valued by the person? Why is trash worth discussing at any length? Why build something just to tear it apart? And, why does the explanation for one idea spring off in some other direction that seems completely unrelated? [I have tried drumming up an example–without jotting down every word the guy says–but it just gives me a headache.] Is this simply some attempt at being modest (versus boasting)? Am I right in being puzzled? Or, is someone doing a poor job of translating the interview?

Just as I fuss and fume over some of Tarantino’s work, this little tale *directed* by Joann Sfar is a steamy pot of artistic potential. It’s not utter trash…nor is it a blissful masterpiece. But, with a little more editing, I’d be inclined to describe it as the latter. [Why do some artists poop on their creations?]

This is a DVD I’d keep on hand for reference material but would have a bit of a hard time watching regularly/casually (particularly with anyone who is not a lover). And, I’d consider working with those responsible for the camera shots/editing, provided they can cope with making some changes to their “routine.” While I might share some of the same fetishes, I would do more to keep the nudity, sex and violence blurred/veiled or–better yet–suggested (versus “in-your-face”).

[And, as I often say, if I am going to dabble in nude artwork, I’d keep such pieces private between me and my lover. It feels wrong to paint (or draw) nude and/or provocative images of someone working with me who is not (my lover). It is inexcusable to claim you are protecting actresses while displaying nude and/or scandalous images of them on publicly released material.]

“The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun” (2015/2016)
Directed by Joann Sfar
Editted by Maryline Monthieux and Christophe Pinel
Original “opera” music by Agnes Olier

18
Nov
16

No More Star Wars; I Think I’m Full

*****

“It’s the story of a young rebel being recruited to help steal the plans for the Death Star.”  Featuring Forest Whitaker and another brunette damsel in the lead role Carrie Fisher could have had; but it’s not Leia.**

Yep.  I think that about says it all.  I think I am done with the whole Star Wars craze.  Pack up my toys.  Put my plans for stormtrooper costumes away.  Burn my blueprints for any new plots.  Because they’re just going to up the budget, blow more money, make more excessive merchandise (including re-painted versions of the old merchandise in new packaging) and re-use what’s been done, anyway.  [There aren’t enough Native Americans to look at the landfill overflow and cry.]  The best any creative mind can do is post a poorly made independent film on some internet video showcase site and turn people away from what made theaters you sit with other people in great.

South Park, you got it right with your ‘member berry story.

The last “new” film made me angry.  Now I see the new one is one more Death Star story.  You end the empire only to reuse its parts, kill off my favorite rebel and throw in some stereotypical alien-looking Golem from the Lord of the Rings story as your big villain.  Now, you go back in time to tell the story of a girl doing what essentially Luke Skywalker did in Episode Four.  Way to break the gender glass ceiling.  Too bad Hillary didn’t get in office to enjoy it.  [Cool points to anyone who gets where I was going with that bit.]

In short, I am considering starting a rebellion of my own.  We can call it the Red __ (whatever number we assemble), the band of frustrated sci-fi fans who are seeing red under new leadership which smells no fresher than the old leadership.  We gotta fly our lil fighting-mad ships into that film studio HQ and blow something fierce up their womp-rat crap chutes.

Who’s with me?

 

**[I adore Felicity Jones…awlought.  However, no offense, but, Forest Whitaker–outside of his stellar role in the first Species film–seems to pick up roles in on-going franchises long after the parade has ended.  He seems to signal the final turn around the toilet bowl.]
21
Mar
16

Why Can’t Old TV Turn Into New Film?

*****

Have I asked this before?  Why IS it that shows we loved in the past cannot properly be converted to new films which respect the source material?

Why, instead, do we get Michael Bay films that blow it up and piss on people?

As I sit here watching an old episode of Inspector Gadget with a nephew, I see material ripe for a feature film with iconic costume design.  And then I remember the previous attempt at a film about the old cartoons.  It wasn’t all that great or memorable to me.  [Though I did like the gadget woman.]

What legal mumbo-jumbo prevents movie makers from properly converting older concepts into new film?  Or, why must every movie maker insist upon some measure of “artistic license” to warp what is already good and what fans liked?  We fans of the old don’t need a lot of new looks and ways of doing things.  If you must fix or change anything, just work on the bits that maybe don’t fit the present if it’s a story taking place in the present.  Or, set the story in the past.  Is that so hard?  Even a certain science fiction film series has gotten away with saying it’s from a distant galaxy a long time ago though it looks futuristic.

And, if it’s a matter of the original artists saying they don’t want the film to be made, then respect that.  If they don’t want a film, why is it okay to warp the original material enough to make a lousy one?

Anyone else care to share some thoughts on this matter?  I’m all ears…and busy fingers.




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