Thursday, November 16, 2006

Moving back to hazylium

I'm merging this blog back into my main one- hazylium. This blog was an interesting experiment, but seperating out my interests doesn't work too well for me. I'll keep on blogging about movies, animation, comics and other entertainment stuff on hazylium, along with my other postings.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Read Cory Doctorow's new story- I, Row-Boat

Cory Doctorow's new story I, Row-Boat (a "riff" on his earlier, Hugo-nominated short story I, Robot), about "the theological wars between an Asimov-cultist AI boat and an uplifted coral-reef," can be read online at Flurb Magazine (as part of the fledgling science-fiction magazine's first issue). It's a stellar short story- Cory is one of the few science-fiction writers who has the ability to take an unimaginably futuristic science-fiction concept (such as the post-Singularity future of I, Row-Boat) and craft a story with real, human emotion out of it. Very, very impressive stuff indeed.

Banksy Punks Paris Hilton!

Guerrilla artist extraordinaire Banksy has made the news again for his latest prank- replacing 500 copies of Paris Hilton's latest album with his own doctored versions, complete with all-new artwork (warning: slightly NSFW) and music- in the form of a 40-minute long track titled "That's Hot", mixed by DJ Danger Mouse (the same man who produced the infamous and brilliant Grey Album- get yourself a copy here if you haven't already- and, more recently, Gnarls Barkley). You can find the track here as well as here (though honestly you can hear all the good bits in the following video, where Banksy shows us exactly how he pulled off the stunt).

Bill Plympton's Don't Download This Song music video

The video for "Weird Al" Yankovich's new song, Don't Download This Song, is directed by none other than the phenomenal Bill Plympton!

The song, a parody of your typical inspirational ballad (with lyrics that lampoon the RIAA's attempts to deal with music piracy by suing the heck out of music downloaders), is pretty funny. The video, a cautionary tale of a boy who illegally downloads music and is subsequently chased down by the police as a hardcore felon, is truly hilarious. If you'd like to see more cartoons by Bill Plympton, check out this blog entry by Shawn, which lists all the Bill Plympton videos that he found on Youtube (including the Oscar-nominated short Guard Dog). Thanks, Shawn!

Well, it looks like "Weird Al" has recruited some truly awesome animators to work on the videos for his new album (for which Don't Download This Song is the lead single). John Kricfalusi, creator of the famed Ren & Stimpy cartoons, is working on one of them (along with the talented illustrator Katie Rice)! I can't wait to see it.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Two brilliant CG shorts by Polish animator Tomek Baginski

I discovered Tomek Baginski through the excellent animation blog The Progressive Animation Review, which highlighted his short film Fallen Art. I was highly impressed by the piece (which is winning awards everywhere), a stylish black comedy that builds up to the most hilarious yet disturbing climax I've seen in any film this year. It's definitely a must-watch for animation aficionados.

Naturally, I google'd Tomek Baginski to see what I could find. Turns out that Fallen Art was just his second released animation! His first film, Cathedral, tells a highly abstract science fiction tale about a pilgrim who visits a cathedral (what else?). One thing is clear from watching the two shorts- Baginski is not a man who likes to repeat himself. The two shorts are very different in both style and content. You can see how his directing and animation skills have improved from the first to the second. This really bodes well for his future, methinks. I look forward to seeing his future works.

Both shorts were animated and rendered in 3D Studio Max and were produced by Polish animation studio Platige Image. To learn more about Tomek Baginski and his works, check out these interviews:

Max Underground Interview with Tomek Baginski about Cathedral

Max Underground Interview with Tomek Baginski about Fallen Art

CGSociety Interview with Tomek Baginski about Fallen Art

Cathedral (2002)

Fallen Art (2004)

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Masters of animation- Derek Lamb

Animator, director, producer, writer, musician and teacher- the late, great Derek Lamb was all of these. He created works for the National Film Board of Canada, Sesame Street and UNICEF, amongst others, leaving a legacy of great animations. Here's a few that've made their way onto Youtube:

Every Child (1979)- produced by Derek Lamb, directed by Eugene Fedorenko.

This Academy Award-winning short film was created in celebration of UNICEF's Declaration of Children's Rights and the International Year of the Child. It illustrates one of the ten principles of the Declaration- that every child is entitled to a name and a nationality. It's a brilliant piece- the animation is visually dynamic, the A capella sound effects are wonderful and the story is both touching and wryly comic.

Special Delivery (1978)- produced by Derek Lamb, directed by John Weldon and Eunice Macaulay.

Another Oscar-winning short, this one is a hilariously twisted tale of a man whose life changes completely after he makes the simple mistake of forgetting to to clear the snow off his porch.

Mystery! title sequence(1980)- directed by Derek Smart.

Oh what joy! Derek Smart brings the darkly humourous drawings of Edward Gorey to life in this fantastic opening sequence for the classic PBS TV series "Mystery!".

Finally, here's two animations Derek Lamb made for Sesame Street in the 1970s.

I Get Mad- designed and directed by Derek Lamb, animated by John Canemaker.

"It aint baaad to get maaaad!"
This cracks me up every time I see it. An adorably gruff goat sings a song about how it's ok to let off steam when people act like asses toward you.

Simple Simon and the re-arranged animals- directed by Derek Lamb.

A short yet really funny absurdist piece about a group of animals whose limbs have been re-arranged. Good stuff, especially the character of the snake- the way he says "Something is wrong... but this is great!" with a huge grin on his face is just classic!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Cover songs don't have to suck

I submit the following songs as proof of the above statement:

Ted Leo's acoustic cover of Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone." The perfect trash-pop song, covered by my favourite rocker. He even one-ups the original by smoothly segueing into the chorus of the Yeah Yeah Yeah's Maps about halfway through.

Speaking of which, here's the Arcade Fire's cover of the Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Maps". It's a pretty good take on what I consider one of the best rock songs in recent years.

I've saved the best for last. An absolutely gorgeous acoustic cover of Gnarls Barkley's Crazy by American folk singer Ray Lamontague. Not knowing who the man was, I didn't expect anything from the cover so I was floored when I heard this gorgeous, husky voice singing with raw, emotive passion. I'm actually going to buy his debut album on the strength of this song!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

State of Shounen Anime: 2006

Shounen anime used to constitute the bread-and-butter portion of my anime diet. While my tastes have shifted to anime with experimental animation and/or unusual and mature storytelling (FLAG, Kemonozume, Mushishi and Ayakashi are good examples from this year) I STILL enjoy a solid shounen-style anime every now and then. Here's what I've been watching lately:

Naruto was for a long time my favourite shounen anime. More than just a faithful translation of it's source manga, the show proved it's worth with excellent production values and beautiful animation. The highlight of the series was surely the climatic episode 133, where master animator Norio Matsumoto showed off his skills in a virtuoso fight sequence that is already considered by animation connoisseurs to be one of the greatest fight scenes in a shounen anime, ever. Sadly, the series dove from that high point into filler hell, where it's remained for the past year! I'll start watching Naruto again as soon as it resumes the manga storyline, but not an episode before.

Bleach started out pretty strong when it debuted in 2004, with an interesting premise, engaging characters and a nice mix of action and humour. However, the series suddenly switched gears in it's 2nd major storyline, which introduced a massive cast of superfluous supporting characters (beloved by fans because of their admittedly gorgeous character designs) and a plodding, overly-complex plotline designed to impress those who mistake complexity for depth. I stopped watching it after the 60th or so episode as it'd just become another example of everything I hate about mainstream anime.

Yakitate!! Japan, on the other hand, is an example of a great show that, despite hewing very closely to the standard shounen anime formula, managed to consistently be wonderfully entertaining. I took a break from watching it early this year as my sister, who I watched every episode with, went off on an overseas trip. She's back, but we haven't gotten around to catching up with the show just yet I was pretty surprised to find out recently that the series ended with it's 69th episode! I'm kind of disappointed- wacky, unique and fluffy-fun series like Yakitate!! Japan don't come around very often (or rather, they do but they're frequently not that good).

Eureka 7, which launched in 2005, was a surprisingly heartfelt show about growing up, young love, freedom, responsibility and giant surfboard-riding mecha. A weird combination, to say the least, but somehow the series (directed by Tomoki Kyoda of RahXephon fame) managed to make it work. I'd fallen way behind on my viewing and sure enough, the show seems to have ended! By all accounts, it was pretty good til the end. I can't wait to see what I've missed.

Noein is probably the most interesting new shounen anime I've seen this year. The first episode is all I've seen so far, but what I saw was really gorgeous! The animation was delicious, with loose, sketchy drawings (that probably made loads of regular anime fans recoil in horror) and beautiful movements. The fight scenes are truly a marvel. Disappointly, the second episode seemed to revert to a "normal" anime look, with detailed characters that lacked the free-flowing sense of movement that they had in the first, but Ben Ettinger (who has a keen eye for good animation and runs the very cool Anipages Daily blog) mentioned really great work done by the animators on later episodes so I'm really looking forward to seeing the rest of this series (which ended earlier this year).

I was really looking forward to Blood+ as I thought the movie it's based on was an excellent mood piece and relished the idea of it being fleshed out. However, the best part of the series turned out to be it's first ten minutes- a stylish extended introduction animated in a similar style to the original Blood movie. The rest of the show, which took the safe route with typical-looking character designs and animation, just alienated me. The storyline of the show turned out to be just as prosaic as it's look and by the 5th or 6th episode, I'd lost all interest.

If you're an anime fan, you'll have noticed that none of the above are anime from 2006! Disappointingly, none of the shounen anime released this year have been very good.

A friend of mine recommended Air Gear, citing it's similarity to SEGA's thoroughly hip Dreamcast classic Jet Set Radio (aka Jet Grind Radio). Unfortunately, the show tries it's darndest to ape JSR but fails completely. The music sucks, the animation is totally boring and the storyline and characters just grate (to my horror, there's even a loli character). BORING. 'Nuff sed.

I do have a couple shows on my to-watch list that might be cool:

XXXHOLic & Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle- I really liked the first volume of CLAMP's XXXHOLic manga and it's sister manga, Tsubasa Chronicle sounds pretty interesting too, so I figure I'll check both anime adaptations out.

Tokyo Tribe 2- Santa Inoue's manga Tokyo Tribe 2 (released in English as Tokyo Tribes by Tokyopop) has fast become one of my favourite manga with it's epic story about warring street tribes on the streets of an alternate Tokyo- one that's rife with crime and corruption. Santa takes his cue from the great Hollywood gangster movies by centering the story around two characters- Kai and Mera, ex-best friends, now members of rival gangs and embroiled in what's about to become the biggest gang war to ever go down in Tokyo. The anime is being produced by the always reliable Madhouse Studios and will be directed by Tatsuo Sato, who made the surreal and experimental Cat Soup, amongst other things. Pretty exciting!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Korgoth of Barbaria

On the strength of it's pilot episode alone, I'm declaring Korgoth of Barbaria the best new American animated series of 2006. Yep, even better than The Amazing Screw-On Head, which was cool, but nowhere near THIS cool. Korgoth of Barbaria is an action-comedy that parodies Conan the Barbarian, Heavy Metal comics and well, the swords-and-sorcery genre of fantasy in general.

It's created by Aaron Springer, who storyboarded Spongebob Squarepants (and even wrote and directed some episodes), and the pilot episode's animation was directed by none other than Genndy Tartakovsky (the genius behind Dexter's Lab and Samurai Jack). With animation bigshots like that, you expect quality and Korgoth delivers in spades.

The show looks great, with unique character designs, excellent animation and surprisingly lovely painted backgrounds (done by Bill Wray, according to Cartoon Brew). It's also gust-bustingly funny, thanks to some killer dialogue (people will be quoting this stuff everywhere on the web by year-end), deft comic timing and the totally over-the-top heavy metal music used in the show. I can't wait for the show to debut in September (sadly, Cartoon Network Asia sucks SO MUCH that we don't even get Adult Swim in Singapore, but there's always Bittorrent!).

So check out the pilot episode on Youtube (part one, part two and part three) or download the torrent and know the awesomeness that is... KORGOTH!
*cue wailing guitars*

Note: I forgot to point out that Korgoth is, true to it's sword-and-sorcery roots, a really violent show- blood and limbs fly everywhere during fight scenes. Suffice to say, it ain't for the faint of heart. You've been warned.