Friday, January 21, 2011

Geek Mythology – Evangelion 2.0

Before I get into the meat of this review, first I need to drop a disclaimer.

I am a huge fan of the original nineties anime Neon Genesis Evangelion!

So, when the opportunity to review the second installment of the four-part Evangelion theatrical reboot, landed in my inbox, I scrambled for my inhaler before realizing that I’m not asthmatic.

For those of you who don’t know what Neon Genesis Evangelion is, let me explain:

Before kids in the West sipped Boba drinks, dressed in what can only be described as “Nintendo goth”, and thought it was cool to smile big and throw up peace signs with one hand, they were rather na├»ve to the cultural phenomenon in Japan; the phenomenon of manga and anime. This started to change in the eighties and nineties. Films like Katsuhiro Otomo’s epic Akira (based on his manga of the same name) and the film works of the master, Hayao Miyazaki, such as Nausicaa of the valley of the wind and Castle in the sky, started to turn heads in the West, culminating in the cultural invasion in the early 2000’s. Even with the continually growing success of Japanese manga and anime in the West, it pales in comparison to the following in its home country. And one of its biggest names is Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Neon Genesis Evangelion was created as a TV series and manga respectively, but it’s the twenty-six episode TV show that spawned a huge, loyal following. Created by Hideaki Anno, the show follows Shinji Ikari, a 14 year-old boy in Neo Tokyo-3, who is thrust into becoming a pilot of a giant mecha called an Eva unit. Along with several other 14 year-old pilots, Shinji Ikari is saddled with the fate of the civilization that remains after Third Impact, an apocalyptic event that wiped out half of humanity. With his Eva unit, Shinji battles against enemies called Angels, while playing a role in plans that are kept secret from him. The show was full of religious themes whilst staying far away from allegory. But, while the main story appeared to be a giant robot story with religious iconography, for me the show was always a clever ruse of large battle sequences that cleverly hid the more philosophical and psychological aspect of adolescences and the trappings of the human mind. The show constantly wars with itself for its identity and makes it seem like wonderfully planned forethought. This is never more present than in the last two episodes of the show where Anno does away with the physical story and, instead allows the last two, pinnacle chapters to play out completely in the mind of young Shinji Ikari, who finds acceptance of himself from this internal evaluation, showing the importance of understanding why you do what you do. Many fans of the show were so outraged by this that Anno went back and made a movie length version of the last two episodes showing the external, physical conclusion to the story, entitled End of Evangelion. To understand how big this kind of a move was, it would be like if the creators of LOST ended the show without showing any of the events on the island. Bloggers would have had a fit! Personally I felt this decision was right, as I was always more interested in Anno’s surreal editing style that came with the characters more private, inner scenes. And making the final, explosive exterior story as a theatrical release allowed Anno to stretch his limited TV budget to a more monetary and time allowing one, creating the best looking and consequently more engrossing and cinematic work, fitting the final installment. At this time Anno also experimented with editing the whole show into a single movie and releasing it as Death and Rebirth.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Festival Screening: Boy Wonder

“Superhero movies are hot.”

It’s something, I guarantee you, has been slipping from the lips of Hollywood execs since Bryan Singer launched the X-Men film franchise based on Stan Lee’s narrative comment on the changing civil rights landscape that polarized much of the American sixties.

I also guarantee you that this simple statement isn’t ended with the tag-on , “… right now.”

The reason? Comics are constantly being produced. Big, iconic characters such as Spider-man and Batmanare constantly changing to match the time they are read in. And new properties such as Robert Kirkman’sWalking Dead are causing Hollywood industry insiders to constantly peruse the comic shelves for new intellectual properties to jump on and buy up for development in the future. All this and Hollywood has come to seemingly rely on the relationship comic book properties have with the “summer blockbuster”.

But, while it is financially advantageous for superheroes and other comic book staples to be linked so closely to the “summer blockbuster”, it also brings its fair share of drawbacks. The big one being lack-luster, committee developed films that are more closely related to Director Michael Bay’s (Transformers, Pearl Harbor) somewhat hollow filmmaking sensibilities, than say Steven Spielberg’s Jaws that almost single-handedly created the term. This is a sad fact that hasn’t changed even with Marvel’s major move to buy back many of its licenses and control its characters big screen versions, with some serious hit or miss outcomes. Iron Man worked for Jon Favreau, but Edward Norton’s Hulk had such a high degree of rumored meddling from Marvel Studios that it caused Norton to throw his hands up and end his involvement with the company once the film wrapped, and a resulting film that didn’t wow anyone. There are exceptions to the rule, most notably Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man(discounting the third and final installment which was an unmitigated mess), and the cake topper, Christopher Nolan’s Batman, with the second installment being arguably one of the best films made this century!

But, as we look to this year’s coming attractions in the spandex department, the question remains, do we have anything to look forward to, or are we looking at a year of expensive polished turds? Let’s sound them off shall we; Marvel finishes much of its Avengers movie prequels with Captain America: The First Avenger and the Kenneth Branagh helmed Thor. Fox has their reboot/prequel X-Men: First Class, directed by Kick-Ass (which fell short of its printed origin) director, Matthew Vaughn. On the DC side of things, less is more seems to be the motto based on purely film count, as they focus their attention on one movie in which they CG clothe Ryan Reynolds as The Green Lantern and think that this will be enough to hold DC fans until The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. Add to this the indie press alternative called Cowboys and Aliens with Iron Man’s Jon Favreau at the helm and starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, and you’ve got your 2011 major comic conversion line-up.

There is some potential in this line-up, but nothing that gleams like the Spider-man reboot or final NolanBatman film slated for 2012. So what could be lurking in the shadows to jump these high-budget, spandex Ballets (I’m English, look it up)? A blonde, skinny, ripped kid, dressed in a black hoodie and who listens to Bach!

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