Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Eye of the Tiger

Jimi Jamison, the lead singer of Survivor, a mainstay of the eighties pop/rock scene, died yesterday of a heart attack at the age of 64.

While many who weren't there, listening to the radio or watching MTV, might believe Survivor was a one-hit wonder with their biggest hit, "Eye of the Tiger," the song of the summer of 1982 and the musical vibe of Rocky III, that just wouldn't be true. Several hits from Survivor came and went, unfortunately now unremembered, in the 1980s, like "High on You," "Burning Heart" (from Rocky IV), "I Can't Hold Back," "American Heartbeat," and "The Search Is Over."

After breaking up at the end of the decade, the band reunited four years later and continued on for quite some time. Jamison left the band, was replaced, and then returned later that same year of 2012. Survivor continues from then on with two lead singers.

Jimi was also the lead singer of Cobra before joining Survivor, and was also noted for writing the theme song of "Baywatch."

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises ~ Also known as Kaze Tachinu, written and directed by the great Hayao Miyazaki, is a masterpiece of phenomenal artisanship and brilliance, but it's also a pretty hard film to like.

While I recall hearing of Miyazaki's love of aircraft and flight, it had never occurred to me that he'd make not just a film about it, but also a fairly historical film about it - and specifically about the creation of the Japanese Zero, a plane that destroyed Pearl Harbor and plunged the United States into World War II with only the skeleton of a functional navy. As an American whose father served in the Pacific theater in WWII, I found it both hard and frightening to sit still during this movie, beautifully animated, and wonderfully presented - or not.

Released by Toho in Japan, and Disney in the United States, The Wind Rises is a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi, an aviation and engineering genius, who eventually designed what would become the dreaded Japanese Zero. This award winning film was based on Miyazaki's manga, which in turn was based on the 1937 short story by Tatsuo Hori.

While slow in places, it is a compelling tale of love, passion, dedication, and dreams, all wrapped up in a love of aviation and engineering. It's really quite brilliant and well done. I cannot decry the quality and achievement of this piece, but I am still left of two minds on it. This is a wonderfully realized film, definitely worth seeing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Black Cauldron

The Black Cauldron ~ Disney's The Black Cauldron from 1985 signaled a jump from the Don Bluth era at the company to the more accessible and successful Little Mermaid and beyond era. For a while there, they didn't know what to do with the animation department, so they did this, and it almost killed animation at Disney.

The Black Cauldron is based on the "Chronicles of Prydain" by Lloyd Alexander, loosely based, if you will, specifically on the first two books but pulling in details from the entire series. There's this fantasy weapon of mass destruction called the Black Cauldron that the big bad, the Horned King, wants. With it he can raise an army of the undead to conquer the world. And there's a pig, an oracular pig, who can find it for him. Guarding the pig is Taran, a little bit like Wart from Sword in the Stone, he's a kid and wannabe hero. King seeks pig, hilarity ensues, quests abound, companions gathered, eventually good guys win - you know the drill.

All things considered, this is not a good film. When I saw it back in the day when it was in theaters, I remember the hubbub about it being too scary and not for kids, and the outrage about how dare Disney put out such a movie. Granted, they were trying for something a bit darker, a bit edgier, but man oh man, this was over the top. By today's standards the Horned King might be too scary. He is perhaps the most frightening Disney villain ever. We are talking definitely a baddie of the effed up "The Walking Dead" zombie monster type. Yeah, I can just imagine this gave some kids nightmares.

There's some blood, some violence, and no end to disturbing images. It's more adult than usual (there are even boob jokes), and it's just not a pretty animated film. Even comic relief characters like Creeper, the villain's jester-like underling is a little scary. The animation is a cross between Don Bluth and Ralph Bakshi after a night of drunken excess. Very blurry, moody, and it seems like it's always nighttime. I think there was more daylight in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.

The best part for is one of the friends Taran makes out in the world, a sort of a weird cross between Lady (from Lady and the Tramp) and Stitch (from Lilo and Stitch) called Gurgi. His mumblings about 'munches and crunches' are addictive. You'll be doing it for days afterward. The rest of the movie is not so great however. Just when you think there are enough secondary characters in the flick, they add more. And just when you think the Horned King has gone far enough packing kids' pants with fudge, it gets scarier.

The voice cast is impressive and satisfactory. Notables include John Huston as narrator, Nigel Hawthorne, John Byner, a post-Caligula John Hurt as the Horned King himself, and if you listen close, you'll hear Witchipoo (from "H.R. Pufnstuf"), Billie Hayes, as one of the witches. She was fun.

I watched this with The Bride in anticipation of podcasting about it. I gotta say when you start riffing on a flick MST3k style just a few minutes in, it's not a good sign. The Black Cauldron is an interesting if dated time capsule of what Disney did wrong, before they did it right, worth seeing at least once. And if you want hear more of my thoughts, and The Bride's, please check out the special Black Cauldron episode of The Make Mine Magic Podcast.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

BoJack Horseman

Most Netflix TV series get a lot of publicity like "House of Cards," "Orange Is the New Black," or the recent tragic but wonderful conclusion to AMC's aborted "The Killing," but sometimes there are shows that just slide under the radar that are just as good. "BoJack Horseman" is one of them.

"BoJack Horseman" is an animated Netflix original from some of the same folks who do the Adult Swim programming on the Cartoon Network. It's about a washed up actor, who happens to be a horse, in a world full of both humans and anthropomorphic animals. The title character used to be in a wildly successful 1990s sitcom and is trying to make a comeback while having his memoirs ghost written by a rival's girlfriend.

Speaking of comebacks, it actually does remind me of HBO's brilliant "The Comeback," which is ironically coming back later this year. Aaron Paul of "Breaking Bad" is an executive producer and voices Todd, BoJack's friend/roommate/slacker/squatter. Will Arnett is in the title role, with other characters voiced by Alison Brie, Paul F. Tomkins, and Amy Sedaris.

I know the critics haven't been kind to it so far, but I love it. It's clever and fun, and hates Hollywood. And it does something that most network sitcoms don't do, it makes me laugh out loud. Give "BoJack Horseman" a shot, you might dig it too.

Monday, August 25, 2014

RIP Richard Attenborough

Award winning actor, director, and producer Richard Attenborough died yesterday. He was only a few days short of his 91st birthday.

Most people may know him from his acting roles, as in Jurassic Park, The Great Escape, Doctor Doolittle, the most recent version of Miracle on 34th Street, The Sand Pebbles, and one of my personal favorites, the original Flight of the Phoenix. But the truth, and his real talent was as the man behind such great films as Gandhi, A Chorus Line, Chaplin, and Cry Freedom.

We have lost one of the shining lights of both the British cinema and Hollywood. Lord Richard Attenborough will be missed.