A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 371 – Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie – March 6th, 2011

I should preface this review by stating that Cowboy Bebop is by far one of my favorite television shows ever made. It is the coolest of cool, with fun and interesting characters and plots that manage to combine humor, melancholy, philosophy and action. And this movie follows suit. But the series (and thus the movie) is a very specific style of noir crossed with Western with a jazz/funk soundtrack and if that’s not your thing, you might as well step back. But it is my thing, so I love it all. Every bit of it.

I feel as though I’m going to have to do a mini-review of the series itself to really review this movie. But that’s how it is, I think, when a movie gets made from an established series. Similar to something like Firefly and Serenity, while you could watch this movie on its own and get a decent feel for the characters and the world even if you’d never seen the show, you’re better off with more background. It gives it all a richer feel. The movie introduces the characters well enough, but there are things you know from the series that give some moments and interactions a bit more depth.

For example: Spike Spiegel is the main character. He’s a lanky and laid back bounty hunter with wild hair. He and his partner, Jet Black, have been working together for a while and along the way they’ve picked up the compulsive gambler, Faye Valentine and hacker prodigy Edward Hong Wau Pepulu Tivruski 4th (Ed, for short, and also Ed is a girl). Also, they have a dog, Ein, an unnaturally intelligent Welsh Corgi. And we meet all of them in the movie and we get to know enough about them to put them in context. Ed does her rubbery dancing around while hacking, Ein plays chess with Jet, Jet meets with an old friend from his police days, Faye mentions gambling and has a few scenes where she hunts down a bounty and Spike, being the main character, is Spike all over the place. Seriously, give Han Solo more of a sense of spirituality, better hand-to-hand moves and get him high and you’ve got Spike. But while you get all that and it’s all good, you don’t get much in the way of backstory for Spike and how he was in a gang and his former best friend is now his nemesis and you get the barest mention of the woman he loved and nothing about what happened with her and why it’s important. You don’t know that Faye’s actually super old and was in stasis and that makes lines about her being young and living forever a little more meaningful.

Then again, while it does make it richer for the characters, the backstory isn’t truly necessary for the plot. I just think it makes it more interesting. The plot centers around a terrorist named Vincent who’s using government-made nanobots to attack civilians. Of course Vincent is ex-military himself and is immune. He’s got a lot of spiritual things to say about heaven and hell and purgatory and how he’s doing this to free humanity. Spike, being something of a lost soul himself, sees something interesting in Vincent and knows that he has to be stopped. It’s nothing revolutionary, at least not if you’ve seen the series, because the series does similar things, just in shorter episodes. It’s a good plot and it’s done well and it is nice and big but the thing is, the series had done some fairly sizable plot arcs by this point. Things that spanned multiple episodes and revealed things about characters and long-term questions and plot points. This is a big plot, with plenty going on, yes. But it doesn’t reveal much about the characters so it comes off as a little less than some of the series episodes.

Still, it’s absolutely gorgeous. The animation is incredibly well done, with some nicely placed CG backgrounds. Specifically, the fight sequences are a joy to watch. They’re fast-paced and complicated but easy to follow, which is fantastic. One of the things I love about the show is Spike’s fighting style, which is almost floppy at times. I can’t imagine it’s easy to animate but it’s done so well here. Ed is similar in her movements all the time. She’s got a looseness I love (of course, I love Ed in general). And then there are all the incidental characters and settings. The movie takes place on a terraformed and heavily inhabited Mars, in one of the major cities. It’s a lot of fun to watch the people on the trains and sitting in the background because they’re always different. They seem like characters instead of background, which I adore. And then setting the stage is the music. And I saved the music for the end here on purpose, because I think it deserves a big round of applause. Yoko Kanno did the music for the series and the movie as well and she is without a doubt one of the most brilliant composers I have ever heard. Every bit of music in this movie captures just the right mood and tone. It’s expertly done and while, like the plot and animation, it doesn’t set the movie far apart from the series, it also maintains everything the series did. And the series is wonderful, so there’s really nothing at all wrong with that.

March 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

March 6, 2011

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

Back when we were reviewing the Star Trek movies we talked about a couple of them being little more than big budget feature length episodes of the television show. This is very much that sort of movie. It is, however, a very good episode of a wonderfully fun and delightful show. Seeing as how the original run of Cowboy Bebop ended in 1998 it was delightful to be able to revisit all our favorite characters in this “lost episode” three years later.

This movie clearly takes place somewhere in the center of the television show’s run. The whole team is together aboard the Bebop so it’s after they have picked up Ed but before the last three episodes when the team began to go their separate ways. For those unfamiliar with the anime this movie is part of it is the story of a group of starving bounty hunters sometime in the future who operate out of the starship Bebop. It’s a kind of space comedy western, not unlike Firefly, but with a slightly sillier feel a lot of the time. Our cast include the ultra cool ex-gangster Spike Spiegal, the ex-cop Jet Black, the compulsive gambler and loner Faye Valentine, the prepubescent genius hacker Ed and her best friend Einstein – a super intelligent corgi dog. Together they are trying on the fringes of outlaw society around Mars, to make a living. Most of the time they are barely scraping by. (It is implied that any bounties they actually collect are mostly spent on repairs for their spacecraft; they tend to get into firefights and break a lot of stuff.)

The series ended on a very sad note. You need to understand this to appreciate why this movie is such fun. This is one of those series where it comes to a very definite conclusion and there’s not really any way that the story could be continued. It’s a brave, touching, poignant, and unforgettable ending. As such there was no real hope once the series was over for any more Beebop. This was disappointing because these characters were so much fun to watch in action. The series was full of great action, silly humor, and fantastic animation. But it was over.

Until it was announced that there was going to be a new movie based on the series. A movie that plays out as though it were an episode somewhere in the middle of the series that just didn’t get released until a few years later.

The plot here will be familiar to anybody who has seen the show before. The crew are sick of instant noodles but that’s all they can afford on the little bounties they’re collecting on. When Faye is tracking down a small time hacker she happens upon a much bigger operation – what appears to be a terrorist attack on Mars using unknown biological agents. There’s a colossal bounty on the heads of those responsible and so our friends get caught up in a twisted plot that involves corruption, cover ups, unsactioned military experiments, and a terrifying super-soldier with no memory who wants to wipe out the entire population of mars. Just another day in the life of the Bebop crew, really.

Everybody gets their moment to shine. Spike kicks a lot of ass, Jet leverages his ties in the police department, Faye goes out on her own as always and risks her life for a lead, even Ed and Ein get to do some investigating. It’s like all the best bits from all the best episodes strung together into a single hour and a half.

The animation is astonishing. There are a lot of fantastic fight scenes, chases, even a space battle, and everything is full of this fluid, gorgeous animation. A lot of it is probably rotoscoped from live action footage, but there’s also a sort of heightened reality to some of it. Spike’s smooth fighting moves put me in the mind of action greats like Jackie Chan and Jet Lee. And of course there are the bizarre contortions of Ed, which are hilarious as always. (At one point Jet mentions they could probably sell her to the circus for a tidy sum.) The space battle reminds me a lot of the fantastic firefights at the conclusion of Macross Plus (with good reason since both are directed by Shinichiro Watanabe.)

As usual with Cowboy Bebop (an Macross Plus as well for that matter) the soul of the movie is the astonishing music of Yoko Kanno. Her hip, jazzy score brings everything to life and ties the movie together. I very much miss the iconic “tank” which was used for the opening theme song in the original show, but what this music lacks in familiarity it more than makes up for in vibrancy.

What can I say? I love Cowboy Bebop. I love the music and the animation and the characters and the humor and the entire strangely anachronistic future world of it. This may not be my favorite episode of the entire series (that would be Toys in the Attic) but it’s close. Top five at the very least. Once again I’m glad of our movie project because I hadn’t seen this in a couple years and it’s nice to have an excuse to watch it again.

March 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 370 – Jabberwocky

Jabberwocky – March 5th, 2011

I don’t know if I was quite in the right frame of mind to watch this tonight. Then again, I don’t know if it’s quite possible to ever be in the right frame of mind to watch this. It’s an oddity of a movie, full of bizarre elements that are never quite fleshed out. Oh, I like the concept and it’s very obviously a Gilliam movie. But it’s also very obviously an early Gilliam movie and well, it has some flaws. I might have had the same reaction to it regardless, but I do not recommend watching this while muzzy and headachey from a not-quite-long-enough nap. It doesn’t help in the least.

Ostensibly, this movie is based on the poem Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. And yes, the poem does provide a basic framework. There is a fearsome beast and as Alice says, it’s clear somebody killed something. But, well, the poem doesn’t really have much in the way of a cohesive and coherent story, does it? That’s rather the point of it. It’s nonsense verse, presented in an imaginary world and read in a mirror. Therefore it’s perfect for Gilliam. Really, it’s the perfect sort of thing for the guy who did the animation for Monty Python. Bizarre imaginary creature? Nonsense? Bring it on! Unfortunately, I think he ended up with too many ideas and not enough editing.

The movie follows the story of Dennis, an apprentice cooper whose father renounces him because Dennis is obsessed with efficiency and bookkeeping, not his craft. Dennis loves a young lady named Griselda whose family make dried fish, but her family doesn’t think he’s worth much of anything. So off Dennis goes from their tiny village to a big city where the king lives. He gets in scrape after scrape, bumbling his way around the city. Meanwhile, the king has started a tournament to pick a champion who will go and defeat the beast that’s terrorizing the surrounding countryside. Eventually Dennis ends up acting as squire for the winning knight (the Red Herring Knight, who won a game of hide-and-seek) and defeating the monster himself after a bunch of fighting and another knight and some bandits. And back he goes to the city and he ends up marrying the princess because that’s how this sort of story is supposed to end. Except he wanted to marry Griselda and since he defeated the monster her family decided he was worth paying attention to. But who cares, cause they don’t end up together.

There’s a strange mix of serious and humorous here. The monster itself is rather frightening. It’s not really cartoonish and it leaves flayed corpses when it attacks. Gruesome flayed corpses. Michael Palin is sort of hard to see as anything but goofy and a few other parts are played purely for laughs. But other parts aren’t. Or they’re played as a sort of middle ground, where you know there’s some humor there but it’s not enough. There’s a lot of what feels like stuff that didn’t make it into the world Monty Python and the Holy Grail was set in. And then there’s some strange stuff that feels like it should have gotten more time and created a firmer and deeper story, but doesn’t. It’s like Gilliam was determined not to make a movie full of sketches, but couldn’t really manage to fully express what he wanted to do otherwise.

There’s an attempt at some deeper plot going on, with the king’s council trying to keep the citizens down by having the monster terrorize them, but well, it’s a weak attempt at best and not followed through well enough. It gets mentioned once, and then once again, and both mentions feel like minor conversations when clearly they’re not. The castle is in horrible disrepair, with towers falling down and the throne room full of debris and dust. It’s just sort of the way things are. No explanation. No sense of it meaning anything. In the grander scheme of the movie it feels like just another Gilliam sort of thing, not something with a point. And that’s sort of how a lot of the movie felt to me. Things were done. Sometimes funny, sometimes just odd. And when those things were done half the time they felt like they fit into the world and half the time they were just there. In the movie. Taking up screen time. It’s a muddled sort of movie, messy and uneven, but if you want to see Gilliam having some fun unfettered by coherence or expectation, this is the movie for it.

March 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment