Reviews: New Anime REDLINE & FIRST SQUAD: THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
Written by Scott Katz
Sunday, 15 January 2012 22:51
Anime fans are in for a treat as two signficant new films make their debut on Tuesday, January 17. From Manga Entertainment comes Redlineand First Squad: The Moment of Truth. Both films are exciting, fun, eye-popping spectacles, but each could not be more different from the other.
Redline comes to us from Madhouse, the animation studio whose crazed, over-the-top style has won accolades from fans all over the world. Some of Madhouse's previous efforts include television series and feature films such as Black Lagoon, Death Note, Demon City Shinjuku, Paprika, Record of Lodoss War, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and literally scores more. American audiences have seen their work in The Animatrix, Batman: Gotham Knight, Hulk Vs., and the new Marvel Anime series currently airing on G4. If you're an anime fan, the name Madhouse on a project automatically makes it must-see viewing.
Set in the far future, Redline tells the story of the biggest, baddest, most cutthroat racing event in the galaxy. Only adrenaline junkies with a death wish even consider trying to qualify for the competition, which is held once every five years. At the center of the swirling chaos, we find JP, our lanky, leather-jacketed young hero with a pompadour that is akin to Elvis' cranked up to 100. One of his main rivals is the sweet-natured, but headstrong female racer Sonoshee. Romance blossoms on the track, but the murderous cyborg rulers of Roboworld, where the Redline event is being held without their permission, threatens to crash this coupling before it can cross the finish line.
In a way, Redline is a throwback to the old ways of animation. It's completely and gorgeously hand drawn – over 100,000 individual drawings make up this film, which runs a generous 1 hour and 42 minutes – about a half hour longer than most anime films. The result of this seven year effort is immensely pleasing and the racing sequences provoke genuine giddy thrills. This is not a film which takes itself seriously at all, so don't you dare try to. It's admittedly barely there story has about the depth of a Fast and the Furious flick so the mandate is "look, don't think." But since this is Madhouse, there is more than plenty to look at and admire. The studio, whcih has a drool-worthy back catalog of influential hit movies and television series is at the top of its game here. Its long, arduous effort to get this film done has paid off handsomely. Redline is a triumph of traditional animation techniques (albiet supplemented by some computer effects and enhancements), and is what Speed Racer wishes it could have been.
102 minutes, Blu-Ray $29.99, DVD $24.98
FIRST SQUAD: THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
75 minutes, Blu-Ray $29.99, DVD $24.98
Click images above to watch the TRAILERS!
Studio 4°C, which animated the other film under review, First Squad: The Moment of Truth, also has an impressive catalog of projects, and, in fact, contributed sequences to The Animatrix and Batman: Gotham Knight just as Madhouse did. Anime fans have also seen their work in feature films such as Steamboy, Spriggan, and Tekkon Kinkreet. Among their current work is the popular ThunderCats revival series currently airing on Cartoon Network. With a pedigree of this high quality, it comes as no surprise that their latest feature effort, First Squad: The Moment of Truth is a legitimate triumph of animation and solid storytelling with neither getting the short shrift. Because Redline is a balls-to-the-wall gonzo roller coaster ride full of sound and fury, it does keep you at an emotional arms' length. In contrast, the often quieter, more contemplative tone of First Squad successfully draws you in and forces you to pay attention to the characters and to care about what they care about.
First Squad: The Moment of Truth centers around Nadia, a girl who cannot remember her past, but who can foretell the future. The story takes place in 1942 as the Nazi forces, who have already conquered much of Europe, have their sights set on Russia. General Wolf, an SS officer, uses supernatural forces to raise from the dead an army of 12th century Teutonic Knights to aid him in his conquest against the Red Army. In Russia, Nadia is taken to a secret facility in order to make contact with other teenagers who had special gifts and were part of an elite unit killed by the Nazis. Nadia enters the land of the dead to convince her former comrades to come back with her to continue the fight against General Wolf and his supernatural army.
The battle scenes are equisitely staged and the snow-filled environment of the Russian front is convincingly rendered. As is common among anime aimed at an older audience, the story is non-linear in its progression, and its action moves without warning back and forth through time in order to set things up and then fill in the backstory. An additional element that is rather unique to animated films is the inclusion of live action actors playing war veterans, historians, and psychologists being intercut into the flow of the narrative at various points and commenting on the story as if it were historical fact. This gives the film a faux-documentary style, which has proven polarizing to the audiences that have seen it. For our part, we really enjoyed it and felt it added a sense of depth and importance to the film. One caveat, however, is that it seems the necessary subtitles for the live action sequences only show up when the Russian soundtrack with English subtitles is selected. However, all the animated sequences, which make up the lion's share of the film, are dubbed nicely into English. We would have appreciated having English subtitles burned into the live action bits so that the audience wouldn't have to choose between English and Russian dialogue.
Each of these wonderful films could easily be spun off into an ongoing television anime series or at least a series of movies. In fact, First Squad ends so abruptly and with such a sense that there is more story to be told, that we hope there are sequels waiting for us down the line to pick up where things left off. For different reasons, we've been won over by each of these films and would like to visit their worlds again.
As far as the transfer quality is concerned, each boasts crystal clear video and powerful Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio in their Blu-Ray versions (DVD audio is Dolby Digital 5.1). Video quality is outstanding given that there are many difficult and intricate animated sequences in both films. There are no special features on First Squad, while Redline boasts over 90 minutes worth including a Perfect Guide to Redline, a Quick Guide to Redline (both featuring behind-the-scenes interviews with the actors, writer, and director), and the Redline 2006 trailer. Each of these movies is priced to own, and we can wholeheartedly recommend both.
Derivative to the max, the live action flick Tekkenarrives in stores July 19, distributed by Anchor Bay Films and Manga Entertainment. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Tekken is based on Namco's arcade video game that debuted in 1994. The story of the movie trots out many – if not most – of the tropes of post-apocalyptic genre fiction: world destroyed by war, corporations rise to ultimate power and control everything and everyone with an iron grip, arena-style death matches played out for the masses to keep them docile, hero out to avenge killing of his family, throbbing techno soundtrack, etc. etc.
Tekken adds nothing new to these clichés nor does it portray them in an interesting manner. We are told by the characters what is about to happen, and then it happens with no twist to the formula. Lead hero Jin is among a motley band of fighters who are paired up in cage matches with the ultimate goal of becoming the winner of the Iron Fist tournament that is sponsored by the world's most powerful corporation, the titular Tekken.
As Jin is repeatedly pummeled to the point of almost certain death, a well-placed flashback of his childhood training sessions with his tigermom – who offers such Yoda-like pearls of wisdom as "Defeat is a choice!" – gives him the reserve of strength he needs to win the battle – until the next battle when the same thing happens all over again. Finally, Jin faces off with the main villain of the piece who, to use another Star Wars analogy, turns out to be his father. Does Jin defeat him, win the day, and give hope to the masses that they can one day be free of the jackbooted tyranny of the Tekken corporation? What do you think?
There really are no big stars in the movie, but perhaps the most recognizable name would be Ian Anthony Dale, one of the leads of the recently-canceled NBC series The Event. Dale is cast as the main bad guy Kazuya Mishima, father to our hero Jin Kazama, portrayed in a competent yet by-the-numbers
Feature run time: 91 minutes
Formats: DVD $26.98 MSRP
Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital copy combo $39.99
Available July 19, 2011
performance by Jon Foo. Kelly Overton rounds out the main cast as mixed martial arts fighter Christie Monteiro, a hot babe in a belly shirt who befriends Jin and serves as a friend and requisite girl hostage as the story demands.
With the script never rising above formulaic tripe, Tekken will likely only be of interest to fans of the video game or action genre fans. On that level, Tekken is worth a rental as its brisk 90-minute run time glides by quickly and its fight sequences do deliver some kinetic kick. Still, with a $35 million budget, much, much more could have been done in terms of deepening the script and staging more variety in the action sequences to lift Tekken out of the confines of its genre.
As for the DVD itself, both the regular format DVD and the Blu-Ray version are crisp, clean prints, which is to be expected on a film of such recent vintage. Audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and delivers a satisfying roundhouse kick to the profuse gunfire and many punches, chops, and well, roundhouse kicks contained within. Extras include a 50-minute behind-the-scenes feature, "Stunt Stars," detailing the stunts and spotlighting the people who performed them. Tekken is available now in both standard DVD and Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital copy combo packages.
Review: DEAD SPACE: AFTERMATH
Written by Scott Katz
Monday, 24 January 2011 09:51
In 2008, Electronic Arts released their video game, Dead Space to awaiting gamers. Simultaneously, they released a direct-to-video animated movie that served as a prequel to the story featured in the game. This film was called Dead Space: Downfall, and was jointly developed by EA and animation studio Film Roman (The Simpsons, King of the Hill). The story in the first Dead Space animated film concerned itself with a mining spaceship called the USG Ishimura and the troubles and horrors its crew encountered while on a mission on the planet Aegis VII as they fought against the alien Necromorphs. The ending of the first film segued into the beginning of the first video game.
Now, Electronic Arts and Film Roman are back with a new video game, Dead Space 2, and a new accompanying animated film, Dead Space: Aftermath – both to be released on Tuesday January 25, 2011. In this film, which takes place in between the first video game and the second, Earth has sent the USG O'Bannon, a first responder ship, to Aegis VII on a rescue mission to investigate what happened to both the crew of the Ishimura and Isaac Clarke, the protagonist of the Dead Space video game who was on the ship USG Kellion that answered the Ishimura's distress signal.
The main story of Dead Space: Aftermath is told mostly through flashback sequences as the four surviving crew members of the O'Bannon relate their horrific experiences on Aegis VII which are told through the talents of different animation directors. This gives each segment a different look and feel, which may be appealing to some and jarring to others as the same characters can look quite different from sequence to sequence. The film also mixes traditional two dimensional animation with CGI, and the results are uneven. We know that CGI and the 3D effect it creates are all the rage today, but we felt the 2D sequences to be much better done, more fluidly animated, and more visually interesting. We would have preferred the entire film to be done in 2D.
Clocking in at 78 minutes, the film is long enough so that its story feels sufficiently developed and not rushed or cramped. Just as in the first film and video game, this second animated film leads into the second game, which take place a couple of years later. The voice cast in Dead Space: Aftermath is quite good and includes names that will delight fans of science fiction: Christopher Judge (Teal'C on Stargate SG-1), Peter Woodward (Galen on Babylon 5 and Crusade), Graham McTavish (Red Dwarf, Peter Jackson's The Hobbit), Ricardo Chavira (Carlos on Desperate Housewives), and Gwendoline Yeo (Star Wars: The Clone Wars).
BOTTOM LINE RECOMMENDATION:
FOR FANS OF THE VIDEO GAME SERIES:
FOR ANIMATION FANS & THE CURIOUS:
DVD Review: ALTITUDE Never Takes Flight
Written by US Townhall staff
Tuesday, 26 October 2010 02:01
According to director Kaare Andrews, he takes his inspiration for this film from classic television series like The Twilight Zone, and one can easily make the connection that he's likely referring to the episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" that starred William Shatner as a passenger who swears he sees some sort of monster tampering with the wings of the airplane he's nervously flying on. However, that episode, an admitted television classic, was executed with skill, suspense, and good acting (yes, by Shatner!) that kept the audience on the edge of its seats. None of that is evident in the production we are discussing here.
Clocking in at a mere 82 minutes, sans the extra long 8 minute end credits crawl, Altitudefeels about three times that. For a suspense thriller, it's astonishing how often we were looking at the clock mentally calculating just how much longer this was going to last. This movie was neither suspenseful nor thrilling.
The setup is perfunctory: a group of five obnoxious teenagers decide to go to a rock concert of some sort by flying there in a small, twin-engine plane. As bad luck would have it, just as the pilot needs to gain altitude (hence the title) to fly above some storm clouds, a loose bolt gets lodged in the "elevator" on the plane's tail preventing it from leveling off. The plane keeps climbing up-up-up with no end in sight. That's actually a pretty harrowing predicament, and by itself, might have made for a decent nailbiter, but with about an hour of running time left, where do you go from there? Well, you introduce a giant flying octopus, of course. Take note: this is where things start to get a little sketchy in the willing-suspension-of-disbelief department. There actually is a reason for the giant flying octopus – sorry, that's "reason" as sarcastic quotation marks must be included – and while this story may have made for a decent episode of an old anthology series, this EC Comics inspired tale is a series of misfires in the clumsy hands of director Andrews and his team.
Much of the fault lies at the basic script level. Beyond the barely-there plot, the characters are all unlikeable to one degree or another, and it gets to the point where you will be rooting for the octopus. Yes, teenage characters in horror or suspense movies are almost always annoying and obnoxious, but these characters go above and beyond the call of duty. The problem is that, because this movie takes place almost exclusively in the space of a narrow tube that makes up the body of the plane, there is no change of locale or passage of time that could be used to develop a story and characters – or at least give us something interesting to look at. The actors don't get to play fully fleshed out characters here, just one-dimensional character types. We have the Spunky Heroine who flies the plane (90210's Jessica Lowndes), her Troubled Friend who has a secret crush on her (Degrassi's Landon Liboiron), the Loudmouthed Jock (played by Jake Weary, the son of soap actress Kim Zimmer), the more Sensitive Guitar Guy (Ryan Donowho), and the Artsy AV Chick with camcorder in hand (Julianna Guill). Their dialogue starts out as a string of not-clever banter among the group and devolves into shrill screeching once the plane's troubles begin (you know the drill: "Oh my God! We're gonna die!!!" and the ever-popular, "This is all your fault!!!). With five characters in such a confined space, it was a mistake to make a movie where they are just sitting there yelling at each other for extended periods of time. They get on each other's nerves, and ours, in record time.
This is director Kaare Andrews' first feature, and his lack of true vision or artistic flair shows. To comic book fans, he is known as an artist for Marvel Comics – perhaps his most high profile project that he oversaw was his second-rate Dark Knight Returns knockoff, Spider-Man: Reign – and his background is evident here as he puts visuals over story depth. We agree with Mr. Andrews who says, in the quite good making-of feature included on the disc, that this was a difficult film to direct. Actually, if they just included the documentary special features and left off the actual film itself, we probably could have given this DVD a positive review. However, we can see where it becomes increasingly harder to make shooting the interior of a plane visually interesting after awhile when all you can do is have the characters change seating positions in order to achieve some shot variety. Further, the octopus is seen all too infrequently here to make us feel the threat to the characters. If it gets even a minute of total screen time, we'd be surprised. We understand that this was a low budget film, but the Big Bad never achieves the same sense of menace that the less-is-more shark did in Jaws.
Finally, some scenes just don't work. The characters seem to take the presence of a giant flying octopus a little too in stride. Yes, they are scared by it, but they don't really spend any significant amount of time questioning how such a thing could exist in the first place. Other pull-you-out-of-the-story moments include the finale where Spunky Heroine gives Troubled Friend an extended you-can-do-it speech as she's hanging on the outside of the plane because the octopus has its tentacle wrapped around her leg and is pulling her into its enormous gaping sphincter-like maw. Overall, a more skillful team would have realized that a great way to turn the restrictive premise of this plot into something resembling entertainment would be to change the tone of the story.
In the world of comic books, a tale involving a plane being attacked by a giant flying octopus could be presented as-is and would have been accepted without a problem because that audience is already conditioned to be onboard with such outlandish plot devices – in fact, an EC-type comic (designed by Mr. Andrews himself) does actually play a pivotal role in the plot here. However, those comics, and the television shows and films that were inspired by it – Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Darkside, Freddy's Nightmares, Creepshow, etc. – handled the material with a sense of wit, black humor, and camp. Andrews, directing off a script by Paul A. Birkett, plays it straight, and Altitude, which mistakenly begs the more discerning moviegoing audience to take it sober-as-a-judge seriously, crash lands with a hollow thud. On a positive note, the green screen storm effects that were outsourced to a Chinese SFX company are plentiful considering the film's budget and work quite nicely. Too bad they didn't outsource the writing, directing, and acting as well.
US Townhall RealStories presents Jeff Hayne of MILL CREEK ENTERTAINMENT - back again!
Written by Scott Katz
Tuesday, 05 October 2010 18:37
Join us live on Thursday, October 6 at 2pm Eastern for the next episode of the US Townhall RealStories Internet Radio show. It will be another chat with Jeff Hayne, the Vice President of Product Acquisitions for Mill Creek Entertainment, one of the leading budget DVD distributors.
Our last interview with Mr. Hayne back in July to discuss the then-upcoming DVD release of Hunter: The Complete Series proved to be such a hit that we had to invite him back with us once again.
On Tuesday, October 12, Mill Creek will be releasing two full series DVD box sets: Renegade: The Complete Series and The Commish: The Complete Series. We'll be talking with Mr. Hayne about them as well as taking your questions and your suggestions for TV shows that you feel Mill Creek should consider releasing on DVD.
Please email us with your questions, comments, and suggestions for Mill Creek Entertainment to
, and maybe your question will get read on the air!
Click on the triangular "play" button on the audio player graphic below to listen to the full interview!