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Eigo de shabera-night (2001)
Cute show combining interviews and English lessons--for the hosts
I've seen a few episodes of the show from tapes my mother made while she was in Japan, and it's fairly cute. Apparently, the show's premise is that the hosts and hostesses learn English by conducting English-language interviews with American/English celebrities. They're clearly unnerved by the task before them (and at the idea of goofing in front of famous faces, not to mention the entire country) but manage to pull off intelligent questions and answers, and their grammar, usage, and confidence improves with every episode. Apparently one of the hosts started out as a complete muddle, but now he's passably good--which says something for the 'throw yourself in' approach to learning languages. What I'm impressed with is their ability to draw such big names as Dakota Fanning, Haley Joel Osment, Hayden Christiansen, and George Lucas (this was during a special Star Wars themed series).
Meitantei Conan (1996)
Being a fan of the comic book series from way back before the anime version came out, I was really excited to see it on DVD. For one thing, it features intelligent plots, decent characters, and no ridiculous sci-fi/fantasy themes -- aside from the premise and the cool gadgets, anyway. The mysteries are well-formed, and that is an important thing in mystery genre. <p>And, thank goodness, the women dress and behave like real people instead of like the teen-boy-fantasy bimbos in the crummy anime that usually shows up in the English-speaking world. <p>Excuse me. Back to the review. <p>The story is as follows: 16 year-old high school student Shinichi Kudou is a world-class detective. He models his deductive technique on that of his idol, Sherlock Holmes, frequently assisting the police with baffling murder cases. One day while on a date, he spots and follows two suspicious-looking men. They capture him, and, wary of shooting him in public, force-feed him an experimental poison before departing. Instead of killing him, the poison shrinks Shinichi to the size of a child. <p>Panicked, he runs to Agasa, an old and trusted friend of the family, who is also an inventor. With this friend's aid, he works his way into his girlfriend Ran's house under the alias of Conan Edogawa (Conan from Arthur Conan Doyle, Edogawa from a Japanese suspense writer). Ran's father is also a detective, and Shinichi hopes that by tagging along on his cases, he might eventually pick up clues to the bad guys' whereabouts. Agasa warns Conan not to tell anyone else who he really is. The bad guys are also looking for him (since there were no reports of Shinichi's body being found, and they're not the kind to let a thing like that go), and anyone who knows anything at all about his real identity will be in serious danger. <p>In the meantime, the detective father is a bumbling, girl-hungry idiot, and Conan soon gets into a routine of solving the father's cases for him without looking like he's doing it. To allay suspicion, he also enrolls in first grade at a local elementary school. He reluctantly makes friends with his classmates and he and they also have their own share of adventures.
<p>Because I've read the series, I was mostly curious to know how the voices would come out, how the producers would set up each plot, and if they would be able to transfer the suspense, drama, and comedy of book form to the TV screen. All in all, the production and the voice acting is excellent. The producers stick closely to major storylines, and character interaction and development is key to most of them. The TV version loses some of the intensity of the original series. It makes sense, however, as the books are geared more toward teens and adults, and the anime more toward children. <p>I have only two objections to the series. One regards the extra episodes which were obviously written to fill out each season. They don't occur in the books, and for good reason. One, in which Conan and his classmates have to outwit a bunch of robbers after getting stuck in a department store after closing hours, is pretty good. But most are terribly farfetched. The series does much better when sticking with the original story arc. <p>(On a more practical note, marketing for the Meitantei Conan anime in Japan is directed mostly at children. Perhaps the producers felt more episodes with Conan's grade-school friends would appeal to the target audience. They could still have come up with better ideas, though.)</p> <p>Another objection is the subtitles. They are TERRIBLE. Not only is dialogue badly translated, but it is also badly spelled. Whole lines are left out altogether -- and a lot of them are important to making the story make sense! It's frustrating to see an otherwise perfectly good, well-written series get such sloppy translation. <p>All in all, this is a good series. Extra snaps to the series for making Ran a karate champion (if you see the show, you'll see what I mean). If you have a fairly good understanding of Japanese, I recommend watching without the subtitles. It's much much better that way.
The Haunted Mansion (2003)
I've just seen Haunted Mansion (yes, it's still playing where I'm from) and I can't believe how much potential it had -- and wasted! Being a fan of gothic horror stories, of adventure, and of period romance (yeah, weird combination, I know, and I like family films and animated features too, so there), I've been longing for years now to see a film that could combine the lot, and do it well. After <i>Pirates of the Caribbean</i> surprised us all by being really good, I thought Disney might be turning around its live-action department. So I really looked forward to <i>The Haunted Mansion</i>.
Finally, I thought, here is the chance to satisfy my bizarre and difficult-to-quench movie cravings! Ha ha ha ha ha ha haaaaaaaa! Which made the weirdly attractive but unappealing Haunted Mansion such a disappointment. On the one hand it has superb production values, stellar computer effects, and terrific acting from the ghostly crew. And those set pieces are <i>gorgeous</i>! And on the other hand it has a thin, tortured plot which might actually be two plots colliding, uninspired acting from the live people, choppy editing, and uncertain dialogue.
Enough people have commented on Eddie Murphy's out-of-placeness that I won't go into that, except to say that those comments are only slightly justified. The movie requires that Murphy be both a gentle, loving family man and a hammy, overexuberant overworking dolt, a combination which would give even Johnny Depp pause. Murphy does what he can. The kids were actually pretty good actors -- Hollywood appears to be trying to give audiences quality acting from the children, too, these days (thank goodness), but in the movie they were almost superfluous.
One of the real problems here was Sarah, Jim's wife. She's a beautiful woman, but an awful actress. Her main and usually unchanging expression is one of soft and gentle kindness -- which is really irritating when she's supposed to be annoyed, or frightened, or, in one scene, passionately in love while possessed by another person.
The movie contains two plots which never quite gel together -- one in which the importance of family is tantamount, and a darker, deeper one in which love is the means for both tragedy and redemption. Both plots fight for dominance, but considering the highly stylized setting, it would have been better if the movie had just stuck with the latter plot.
Nathaniel Parker does an excellent job as the mysterious, lovelorn Master Gracey, and Terrence Stamp is wonderfully macabre. A movie with them and the other ghosts alone would have been terrific, but with the Evers family it's just rather sadly a very expensive movie which kids will like better than adults.
I had hoped, as I said, for a really terrific gothic-period romance-horror-adventure movie, but it seems such stories can only truly work out on paper, in short stories and novels, not in cinema. Excepting Tim Burton, of course. For the time being, I'm sticking with Sleepy Hollow, and fervently wishing somebody redoes The Haunted Mansion the right way.
Wild About Harry!
The movie starts off disappointingly slow, and Daniel Radcliffe, the boy playing the famous 'Boy Who Lived' at first delivers such an exaggerated performance that I was afraid he would turn out to be just another cardboard child actor, but then about fifteen minutes into the movie, everything picks up and I ended up having one of the best movie experiences of the year!
Though not on the same preternaturally mature acting level as Haley Joel Osment (and aside from some very melodramatically surprised expressions he pulls when he first finds out he's a wizard), Radcliffe has enough range, guts, and charm to make one astonishingly convincing Harry Potter. He projects best when Harry's upset, determined, or eager -- best, in fact, when he's just being a regular kid who just happens to know magic. I wouldn't have had Harry Potter played any other way, or by any other person!
Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are cast perfectly as Harry's best friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. Watson brings the perfect amount of eccentricity to her role as a, well, a know-it-all, and Grint pulls well-timed comical expressions that had people laughing without him even having to say anything.
The adults in the movie were perfect in their roles. Robbie Coltrane was great as the giant, loose-lipped, soft-hearted Rubeus Hagrid, Richard Harris made for a low-key Dumbledore, and Alan Rickman did an excellent job at being Snape, in spite of getting short shrift in terms of development.
The music is yet another triumph from the incomparable John Williams. It evokes the mystery, magic, whimsy, and sheer adventure of the books perfectly! Indeed, the fast-paced action scores may even have helped save some scenes from looking too dull or too fake.
The special effects are sometimes superb (for the smaller magic tricks) and sometimes disappointingly obvious (for most of the bigger ones), but it's not difficult to understand in some of the more dangerous scenes. I'd rather have a CGI Harry hurled around at breakneck speed on a renegade broomstick a thousand feet off the ground than risk killing the real thing! On the other hand, some CGI'd characters stylistically looked an awful lot like they came from the PlayStation version of Harry Potter (essentially moving more like plastic or rubber than real people). With the budget the movie had, I felt there could have been more work on the realistic look of the CGI. On the OTHER hand, Chris Columbus brought in just enough close-up live action shots and real-people stunt shots for me to overlook the fakeness.
One thing that never went wrong in the movie were the action sequences. They were absolutely stunning! Everything from Harry's dangerous search for the Sorcerer's Stone to the heart-pumping battle over the Golden Snitch was well-directed, well-shot and well-cut.
In conclusion: The movie was fabulous! Go see it! Go see it! (At LEAST once!)