Sunday, September 14, 2014

Why Anime Shows Can't be Live Action Films (at least in the U.S)

Reading an earlier blog post about books turning into movies inspired me to write about anime shows turning into live action films, and why they just don't work.  
I mean, c'mon. When was the last time you went to the movies to see a live action film based off of an anime show and it was actually really good? Probably never. And this idea of turning anime into live action films will never, never work because the film industry in the U.S just completely fails when doing so. 

Fail Number One: Avatar: The Last Airbender & The Last Airbender (2010)

That character interpretation tho
Avatar: The Last Airbender was no doubt one of the best shows Nickelodeon came out with. However, the movie adaptation, The Last Airbender (directed by M. Knight), was completely horrible. I mean, the film won Worst Picture in 2010, and was universally attacked by critiques about the plots being inconsistent with the show, and let's not even begin on the acting or the pronunciation of character names. (Is it Eroh or Iroh?) The film's budget was $150,000,000 but only grossed in $131,564,731 in the U.S. Surpringly though, it ranked second in the box office behind The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. (Ironic?)
The anime show is Asian-influenced especially when it comes to the characters and cultures (meditation relating to Buddhism, etc.) HOWEVER, Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon were critiqued for casting Caucasians in the film, and even being racist by having Prince Zuko played by Dev Patal, the only 'colored' actor in the film. The Asian community was so upset by this action that the Media Action Network for Asian-Americans urged for a boycott of the film. Even though anime characters are all up for interpretation, the industry could at least try to make it close enough to how the anime character looks. I mean, the artists literally drew them out for you.
Besides the terrible casting, the visual effects were sad to see and the dialogue was just painful to listen to. The film is narrated by Katara, but every character is so repetitive with their lines and even explain themselves so much, that there really isn't a need for the poorly written narration. The film was HEAVILY scripted as well, with way too much talk and not enough visual effects. It seems like the director told the kids to just wave their arms around and it's 'bending'. Bending is an actual form, but thank you very much for taking the time to consider that. (Sarcasm for those of you who don't understand it). The movie Avatar came out around the same time, so obviously special effects could have been pulled off in the film. The bending looked so computer generated (I'll give them credit though, it's tough to make fire look natural but controlled at the same time). But there's a scene where you can see Aang petting Momo the Lemur, but his hand is hovering over at least a couple inches above. The movie received 6% on the Tomatometer and 4.4 stars out of 10 on Internet Movie Database. If there's one thing the movie did do great, it was that it lived up to the title. It definitely is the last live action avatar movie we'll see.

Fail Number Two: Dragon Ball & Dragon Ball Evolution (2009)

Do I even need to really explain why this movie failed? The movie is "supposedly" based off the first series of Dragon Ball (Dragon Ball Z & GT have the same characters but are just about different periods of times in their lives, for those of you who don't know your Dragon Ball facts). The plot in the anime is that a monkey tailed boy named Goku befriends a girl named Bulma, who goes on an adventure with him to find the seven Dragon Balls which will summon the dragon Shenlong who will then grant the user one wish. I don't even know the plot for Dragon Ball Evolution; it's just somewhere along Goku's life. For starters, the film did a terrible job explaining the plot elements. Everything just sort of happens in the film without an explanation, and a lot of the original content from the anime was completely ignored. For example, Picollo (the bad guy) gets released from his seal and Goku gets appointed as the savior of the world. But there's no answers to the how's and why's, especially when all the characters just pop up out of nowhere to Goku's assistance. 
Eh, close enough
And the special effects are sooooo cheesy, and lack the visual elements that the anime provided. For those of you who are die-hard Dragon Ball fans, you know you were super excited to see Goku transform into "Oozaru", his monkey form. But wait for it...Surprise! It's nothing more than 30 seconds of really bad special effects and disappointment. The dialogue is also over dramatic and yet so uninspiring. And once again, people complained about the cast; we see that a Caucasian (Justin Chatwin) plays the role for an Asian influenced character. It's no surprise that the film received 2.8 stars out of 10 on Internet Movie Database, and 14% on the Tomatometer. The film is definitely entertaining if you're an 11 year old boy.

Fail Number Three: Speed Racer & Speed Racer (2008)

So far, it seems like movies based on anime shows fail to use special effects to their advantage. However, Speed Racer just used TOO much special effects, and not surprisingly, didn't develop a coherent story line. But that's according to the finest critiques. Everyone else actually loves Speed Racer.  The "too much special effects" isn't a bothersome to audiences but instead, enjoyable. People love getting sucked into a new world full of colors that remind them of a classic arcade game. And although there's been complaints about the actor's acting in the film, others have argued that it's supposed to add to the cartoon-ish feel of the film. I mean, the film does have it's cheesy moments, but it is suppose to appeal to a younger audience as well. But besides the film being visually accepted and enjoyable and cheesy acting, the story line is still neglected form the original anime. You can have a film be full of colors and cheesyness (which is exactly the point of the film), but can't neglect the narrative coherence of the film. The film has been listed as one of the most underrated films, and an unsung masterpiece for it's time. Speed Racer is literally a film that is so bad, that it's so good; an argumentative film that only you can either love or hate. However, the film didn't even surpass it's budget of $120,000,000. Instead, it only grossed in about $44,000,000. But based on the two previous films listed above, Speed Racer did much better in ratings with 6.2 stars out of 10 on Internet Movie Database, as well as 39% on the Tomatometer. Then again, it could have gotten better ratings than the other two since the The Wachowski Brothers took advantage of writing a movie based off an unknown Japanese manga/anime series. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Movie adaptations of books: What works and what doesn't?

It seems like almost all movies these days are based on something else. In an earlier post I talked about comic book movies, but they aren't the only source material for Hollywood these days. Lots of Hollywood blockbusters are based on popular novels, especially those of the children and young adult genres. But undoubtedly some of these adaptations are better than others. So what works and what doesn't?

Let's start by looking at perhaps the most famous book series adaptation of all time, and what one could argue was the kickstart of the now extremely popular childrens/young adult book adaptation genre.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Over 400 Million Copies Sold (7 Books)
 $7,723,431,572 Box Office Gross (8 Films)

Harry Potter is without a doubt a cultural phenomena. Harry Potter is one of the most successful book series of all time, has been sold in over 200 countries, translated in 68 languages and sold over 400 copies. The film adaptations are the highest grossing film series of all time. There are few people who haven't seen a Harry Potter film, and even fewer who have never heard of the character at all. There is even a Harry Potter theme park in Universal Studios, Orlando.   

The films are mostly well reviewed, especially the final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which has a 96% positive review rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (And is personally one of my favorite films of all time, but that's besides the point)

So what works about the Harry Potter films? Well for starters there is an extreme respect and seriousness for the source material. It would be easy to make these movies all flash, or even hokey, but there is a great respect for the characters and the world of the books. Yet Harry Potter is easy to respect. It may be a children's series about a boy wizard, but the core of the story is about the casualties of war and dealing with death and loss. 

Not all books are as profound as Harry Potter. When you don't have good source material, it's hard to make a good adaptation. Which brings me unfortunately to my next example. 

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Over 100 Million Copies Sold (4 Books)
 $3,345,177,904 Box Office Gross (5 Films) 

Oh god, oh god why. Why did this franchise make so much money? Okay. Alright. I have a confession to make. I have read the Twilight books. Oh god, there I said it. (I was in 7th grade don't judge me.) However, and don't shoot me here, while they are in no way good books they are still 1,000 times better than their movie counterparts. 

The first Twilight movie is literally awful, it's honestly painful to sit through. The script is awful, the acting is awful, the special effects are awful, EVERYTHING about it is awful. To give the filmmakers some credit here, they didn't have much to work with. Unlike Harry Potter, the themes of Twilight involve enteral love on a scarily codependent psychological level. 

Yet still these films were extremely successful. So if quality doesn't matter, what is it that makes people flock to see novel based films? Well, what is it that the Harry Potter and Twilight films have in common?  Not much, but one of the few things both films do is closely follow their source material. Which brings me to my next point.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
Over 20 Million Copies Sold (5 Books)
$430 million Box Office Gross (2 Movies)

Now I personally have not read the Percy Jackson and Olympians series, nor seen the films. I do know however, that fans of the series were widely disappointed with the film adaptations of the novels. The reason for the largely negative reaction from fans being that so much of the plot and events of the books are changed in the films. As a result, while the movies weren't box office disasters they also weren't nearly as successful as the Harry Potter or Twilight films, as they might have had the potential to be.

However, one must note that critics gave the films largely negative reviews as well. The first film currently holds a 49% positivity rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while the second an even lower 41%. So perhaps there is more going on here than simply disappointed fans. 

To continue this point, there are other films that differ from their books source material that still manage to be successful. 

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Over 65 Million Copies Sold in US (3 Books)
$832,678,739 million Box Office Gross (2 Movies)

The Hunger Games is one of the most successful ongoing film franchises. The series was well received by fans and critics alike, especially the second film Catching Fire which currently holds a 89% positivity rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

There are certain things about the books that were altered for the films. Yet, unlike Percy Jackson, the fans of the Hunger Games don't seem to mind the changes. Perhaps that is because the elements of the story that were changed were changed because they simply could not work in a two hour film version, and not because of laziness or lack of respect for the source material. 

The Hunger Games films are honestly well made films, and can stand alone from their source material as just good films in general. It remains to be seen if the last two films of the franchise will be as successful as the first two, seeing as they will be based on the final book of the series which was largely the most negatively reviewed of the trilogy. 

So what do you think? What is it that makes a film adaptation of a book successful? Is it more important for the film to be good on it's own, or should it follow it's source material as closely as possible? Or does none of this matter, as there will already be a built in audience who will go to see the film regardless of quality? 

Colin Jost, Cecily Strong, and the Weekend Update Desk

This week, Saturday Night Live announced that Michael Che, currently a correspondent for The Daily Show, would be replacing cast member Cecily Strong and joining head-writer Colin Jost at the Weekend Update anchor desk. This comes just half a year after Jost took Seth Meyers' seat at the desk. I think that Lorne Michaels and the show's other creative staff made a serious misstep in this decision.

The history of the Weekend Update segment in the 21st century is dominated by names that went on to achieve even greater success elsewhere. Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Seth Meyers have all gone on to anchor their own shows: Poehler and Fey found second lives on the NBC sitcoms Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock, respectively, and Fallon and Meyers occupy back-to-back time-slots in the network's late-night schedule. However, when Meyers announced his plans to depart at Christmas 2013 posed a unique problem for the show, with no truly strong contenders in the cast available to take his place. Lorne Michaels decided to pair Meyers with Cecily Strong for the first half of the show's 39th season last fall:

Meyers and Strong

After strong reviews of the pair, hopes were high when Jost, the show's head-writer and Meyers' best friend, replaced the male half of the pair. However, Jost gave a less than memorable performance in his first couple of shows, and although he began to improve by the end of the season, he had already lost the trust of much of the SNL audience. It was clear that the show was going to make changes at the desk going into the 40th season. However, this week's announcement seems like a step in the wrong direction to myself and many other fans. 

Michael Che's work on The Daily Show has admittedly been strong. His correspondent segments often dealt with race and the experience of being a modern black American in interesting ways. 

However, Lorne Michaels' decision to go with Jost instead of Strong shows a bit of bias towards the longer-tenured writer, who may have payed his dues on the show more. That's all well and good, but I     believe that the stronger performer should have won out. Many fans are speculating that the decision was based on giving Cecily Strong more time to write and perform sketches and characters. I hope that that's the case. 

I Love Tracking Shots

I have always loved tracking shots. When done right, the fluidity of the camera movement, the timing and work that goes into them results in cinematic magic. Some however are more successful than others; here is a list of my personal favorites.

 Kill Bill Vol. 1
The first time I think I was ever really aware of a tracking shot was in in my all time favorite move Kill Bill. I first realized I liked the shot well before attending film school, and before I even knew what a “tracking shot” was. The almost 2 minuet shot is relatively short compared with some of the other more famous ones, but still worth mentioning. The ambitious shot was done after 17 takes, but was completed in one day. “I got bounced around pretty good,” said Larry McConkey the veteran steadicam operator, “I never actually hit the ground, but I hit just about everything else.” 

This is perhaps the most famous shot on the list, and the most well known. This iconic opining shot was however actually an accident. At this time in Scorsese didn’t even like to use steadicams, however when he was not allowed to go through the front door, he had to improvise. He decided to do the long shot through the back door to “symbolize Henry’s whole life being ahead of him, doors opening to him. It’s his seduction of Karen and it’s also the lifestyle seducing him.” This shot took eight painstaking takes to get right. 


Boogie Nights
This film has two iconic tracking shots, the first taking a page form Goodfellas. It takes us around the Club and introducing us to many of the main characters in the film in a 3 minuet seen. Then next shot was later on in  the movie during a house party, it follows William H. Macy looking for his wife, and ends with the double murder of his wife and her lover, and his suicide. 

Cinema...Everything But the Kitchen Sink

I have always been interested in learning.  Every subject in school was an adventure with new secrets to learn.  I value knowledge and education highly.  My dreams changed many times throughout my childhood.  When asked what I wanted to be, I replied an architect, marine biologist, professional jazz musician, astronaut, lawyer and an actress.  Because I was interested in so many things, it took me a long time to finally figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  When I finally discovered filmmaking, I was enthralled by the amount of other fields that cinema production encompassed.  Film allows me to practice in other fields that I love such as science, history, writing, and even music.

For one, cinema is both biological and technological science.  One of the main scientific principles behind cinema is Persistence of Vision.  This is the thought that an afterimage remains on your retina for a fraction of a second after you view an image.   Because of this, many pictures shown quickly in succession appear to be moving in real time in the eye of the viewer.  This lag time in the back of our eyes is the reason why it is possible for people to view films.  Technological science and invention have always been an important part of filmmaking as well.  From the first Vitascope to new green screen technology, new ideas in filmmaking are constantly encouraging new technology to be created.  Cinema also crosses into engineering with its use of the 3-D printer in stop motion animation films like Coraline and ParaNorman. 

History is also present in many films.  Not only does cinema have a wonderful technological and cultural history itself, but cinema can also take an audience back in time to an era that we can not currently experience.  Historical heroes (and villains) are brought back to life and put on display for the world to see.  It is almost if filmmakers can raise the dead and travel through time.


Since I was young, writing and storytelling have been a huge part of my life.  I am able to transfer my love of storytelling into screenplays.  There is the basic dramatic structure of a story that is similar between novels and screenplays.  It is beneficial to know basic dramatic structure when writing a screenplay.  Many films are also inspired by books which is a wonderful way to meld literature and the art of filmmaking.

Film also incorporates the music field.  Professional musicians, a well composed score, and a well mixed soundscape can add to the power of a film.  As a musician, I get chills from a soundtrack that helps to enhance the mood of the film.  Music is an integral part of film, and without it, movies would be less impactful. 

Film has the ability to incorporate many outside fields.  It is entertaining, intriguing, and let’s you have the best of everything!  Well...Everything, but the kitchen sink.