Captain America: The Winter Solider

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review (Film, 2014)

Something is very wrong in the Marvel cinematic universe. Everything you thought you knew about S.H.I.E.L.D. and Steve Rogers’, aka Captain America’s, role in America has changed. A suspicious mission saving a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship from French pirates leads to Nick Fury being questioned by his international superiors about the true nature of his actions. Stranger still, a mysterious assassin known as The Winter Soldier has appeared, turning Captain America and Black Widow into fugitives with three shots.

Anthony and Joe Russo, taking over directorial duties from Joe Johnston, have taken an entirely different approach to world of Marvel. They have created a spy thriller using superheroes. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the most shocking and action-filled Marvel film yet. This combination of characters allows for a far more grounded approach than any of the other solo superhero properties so far.

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Lilo & Stitch Review

Lilo & Stitch Review (Film, 2002)

Lilo & Stitch is a film I just keep returning to over the years. It is such a profoundly weird feature in the canon of Disney animation that I have no choice to be drawn to it. Where else do you see a not-musical packed to the gills with Elvis songs about an intergalactic weapon of mass destruction posing as a puppy dog adopted by a pair of sisters trying to stop child protective services from separating their remaining family? Nowhere else.

Here’s reality. Lilo & Stitch should not work at all as a film. It is, from many different levels of production, a film at odds with itself. Yet the story is so honest and the quality of animation so high that it overcomes a lot of inherent flaws in its concept.

Let’s start from a strictly visual perspective. The film, set in Hawaii, uses this beautiful pastel watercolor background for all of the scenery and props. It’s lovely. A whole film in that style could have been gorgeous.

Then you get to the characters. They are straight up Disney cartoons. You think of Disney animation–Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland–and Lilo, Nani, and even Stitch fit that image. They have instantly recognizable features and color schemes that don’t change even as wardrobe (and appendages) come and go throughout the story. The inking is harsh and the colors are supersaturated.

Lilo & Stitch wisely starts on an alien space station filled with characters and settings in those tones. The watercolor takes over when Stitch crashes into Earth. It’s an alien world for him, one the aliens themselves know nothing about, and needs to look different. That’s why it works. The native Hawaiian characters have softer tones for their ink than the aliens, but the line weight and characteristics are the same.

That whole space station thing could easily have sunk the film, too. I didn’t even remember that the first 10 minutes of the film take place at an intergalactic trial and jailing facility. That’s the start of a whole different story.

It’s not even immediately apparent what Stitch’s exile has to do with Nani fighting against Child Protective Services to keep custody of her younger sister Lilo. True, Stitch and Lilo have volatile personalities and are the same height, but those are superficial qualities temporarily bridging the gap between very different stories.

At its core, Lilo & Stitch turns into a heartfelt exploration of family. The new CPS agent does not believe that Nani can actually provide a real home for Lilo after Lilo tears up the house in a fit of rage and depression. The head of the intergalactic order believes that Stitch needs to be executed because he is incapable of showing empathy or reason when it comes to any other creature. These young characters are set to be removed from everything they’ve ever known because people who only met them for a brief moment have decided they’re beyond help in their current environments.

Yet Lilo was raised in a household with a very important motto. “Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind.” It is revealed later on that Lilo and Nani’s parents were killed in a car accident. The only ohana they have left are each other. That is until Nani agrees to adopt a dog for Lilo to give her something productive to do with her time.

The dog she chooses is Stitch, the little blue alien engineered by a mad scientist to cause chaos. The two become fast friends, but not in a way that actually helps either of their situations. In fact, Stitch only agrees to go with Lilo because hiding behind the Earth child is the only thing that stopped Stich from being executed on sight by alien agents tasked with his capture and/or execution.

But for Lilo, Stitch is instantly ohana. He is not allowed to be left behind. It doesn’t matter how much trouble he causes. She brought him into the family, and she is going to teach him to be a member of the family. There is no other course of action for her. It doesn’t matter who is bullying her for her family at school or what CPS is threatening to do; Lilo, Nani, and Stitch are staying together because family is family no matter what.

The story does go into some very heady and mature content for a Disney film, but it is not so serious as to be inaccessible for a younger audience. Lilo & Stitch is a very cute comedy film. The slapstick gags with Stitch and the other aliens land very well throughout. The action scenes are tense and funny, not scary and serious. Best of all, Lilo and Stitch’s relationship allows an even playing field for hijinks. Lilo is young and Stitch is inexperienced. They’re the perfect pair to cause mischief but not mayhem for most of the film.

When Lilo & Stitch does gun it in the last 20 minutes and let the concurrent stories go to a much darker place than you thought, the story has earned its self-indulgence. The writing is on the wall from the first few scenes of what has to happen, but you never believe that Disney will actually go there. Obviously, there will be a happily ever after, but it’s safe to say that Lilo & Stitch takes the strangest path to it in all of their animated films, Jim Crows and flying elephants included.

I Know That Voice Review (Film, 2013)

I Know That Voice Review (Film, 2013)

I Know that Voice is a documentary about voice actors narrated by voice actors. With very few exceptions (Matt Groening, director Andrea Morano, writer David X. Cohen, and a few others), everyone who appears onscreen in the film is a voice actor. They’re not just single character actors, either. These are actors who can appear onscreen every time with a different caption under their name indicating a different credit.

The film is a tribute to voice acting as a craft and business. The actors discuss creating voices, developing characters, interpreting scripts, getting work, and keeping a job among many other subjects. It’s a conversation created through dozens of actors discussing voice acting through their own lens of experience.

The thing you’ll immediately notice is the joy. These actors love what they’re doing. They’re passionate about what they do. They know how fast a job can go away and they choose to keep moving forward. Pamela Segall, for example, discusses a hypothetical of fitting in great at Cartoon Network but not actually working at Cartoon Network. She’s brought in for an hour every other week to fill in various characters and has no guarantee of ever being called in again.

Even more interesting is one of the longer segments in the documentary. A series of voice actors all show off how they can voice some of the classic Looney Tunes characters, like Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig. There’s even a voice acting teacher who breaks down the actual speech pattern for Porky Pig.

The point is the actual role of the voice actor. It’s not just creating a funny voice. A few actors point out that celebrities who do cartoon voices are often just asked to read the script so people recognize the voice. That’s different than being hired to turn a drawing and a script into a character that can be sustained for an episode, let alone a feature film or years of a TV show.

I Know that Voice doesn’t dwell too long on any single topic. A section called “Anime” quickly abandons the challenge of lip dubbing to discuss the myriad of Star Wars animated properties and the challenge of voicing multiple characters.

The film deserves a lot of credit for pulling so many different voice actors together for a documentary about voice acting. I can watch and ask “why not x, y, or z?” but that’s beside the point. This is a celebration of the artistry and the industry. It’s just fascinating to watch the people behind the animation we love so much discuss how it actually works.

Sia Chandelier

Listen: Chandelier by Sia

Sia has emerged after a long and successful career as a pop force to be reckoned with. Successful careers might be a more accurate phrase. She started in experimental jazz at 17. Then she got her first solo deal in more electronic music. Then she was reborn as the voice of Zero 7, a musical duo where she wasn’t actually a member of the creative duo. She continued her solo career and began another successful track as a songwriter for everyone from Christina Aguilera to Flo Rida.

The difference between Sia and a lot of other pop artists is intelligence and wit. There are smart songwriters who never find crossover success and there are pop singers who do nothing more than sing what’s given to them without a second thought. Sia has carved her niche with thoughtful music that’s easy to listen to with a much deeper message.

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Horror Thursday: DIe

Horror Thursday: Die

Horror Thursday is back. I missed last week because of my own reasons. You know them from last week. The show consumed my life and left me a blubbering, slobbering cluster of cells that didn’t move but to sleep, eat, and play the string book for Funny Girl for well over a week.

Die is…what it is. It’s a not-Saw film that doesn’t really want to be viewed as the horror film it’s meant to be. It also makes no sense and has no balance or sense of urgency with the various storytelling elements.

Read the full review. It’s complicated.

Horror Thursday: Die

Coming Soon: Short Peace

Coming Soon: Anime Collection Film Short Peace

Here’s a new one for the US market. Anthology films have been out of style for decades. Animation not obviously geared for children lives or dies based on awards recognition (and the whims of Disney when it’s a Ghibli film, like burying the Ponyo release).

So what about a collection of anime shorts actually getting a release in more than one theater in America in 2014? It’s happening. It’s happening and you should be excited.

Short Peace, a collection of four very different short films from Japan, is getting a 50 theater release in America on 18 April. Continue reading

Lotte Lenya Pirate Jenny

Watch: The Master of Pirate Jenny, Lotte Lenya

No one can touch Lotte Lenya on “Pirate Jenny.” Is it fair to compare other performances of the song to one of the original actors/collaborators the show was written for? Strangely enough, it is. Despite Lenya becoming known for being Bertolt Brecht’s wife and muse (thereby making her a muse to composer Kurt Weill, as well), her original role in The Three Penny Opera was Jenny. It is Polly (originatde by Roma Bahn) who got to sing the original “Pirate Jenny.” Lenya performed the mezzo-soprano role of Jenny, performing “Solomon Song” and “Tango-Ballad.”

But, of all the songs Lenya became known for and her wide variety of roles in international theater, her performance as Jenny in The Three-Penny Opera is the most iconic largely because of her “Pirate Jenny.” The long-running 1956 revival changed the book of the show (far softer than the original language, perhaps even gentler) and reassigned many of the songs to different performers. Polly lost “Pirate Jenny” and “Barbara Song” to Jenny and Lucy (Bea Arthur, singing a soprano role as a tenor) and the show just flowed better.

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Dogfight Musical Pretty Funny

Watch: Pretty Funny from Dogfight

The best thing about following contemporary musical theater is the abundance of cast recordings. Sh-K-Boom and Ghostlight Records, in particular, seems to be recording any show they can negotiate so we don’t lose shows with short runs to the aether. Sh-K-Boom releases the smaller shows, while Ghostlight gets the blockbusters like The Book of Mormon.

One show I was told over and over again to see but just couldn’t get to was Dogfight. It’s an odd subject for a musical, but very well written. It’s the story of a group of marines who decide to hold a contest to find the ugliest date on their last night before shipping off to fight in Vietnam. One marine actually starts to fall for the girl he picked up, leading to trouble when he tries to stop her from going to the contest party.

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