Wyld Stallyns’ Greatest Triumph: Bill & Ted Face the Music

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and its sequel BIll & Ted’s Bogus Journey are two of my favorite films ever due to their absurd premises to their even more ridiculous climaxes. Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan epitomize what people today call “himbos”—dim yet sincere dudes, and the two are great watches even today. Now, 30 years later we have a new movie in Bill & Ted Face the Music, and it’s a great sequel that captures the spirit of its predecessors. But as much as I enjoyed the film, I’ve also come to realize that it has an underlying story about how great Bill and Ted are as parents.

Because this is going to be discussing the ending to Bill & Ted Face the Music, be warned that there will be HEAVY SPOILERS involved.

The basic plot of the film is that metalheads Bill and Ted, aka Wyld Stallyns, have not been able to live up to their potential. They’re supposedly destined to write the song that ushers in a centuries-long age of peace and harmony, but they’ve spent the last 25 years failing to accomplish what should be their moment of greatness. Bill and Ted aro longer young, perhaps best shown by the fact that their daughters, Billie Logan and Thea “Theadora” Preston, have gone from babies at the end of Bogus Journey to 24-year-olds in Face the Music. After many time travel shenanigans (par for the course with Bill and Ted), Bill and Ted realize that they’re not the ones who are meant to write the ultimate song, but their daughters. What results is a song that is not only heard across time and space but also literally played by every person ever simultaneously.

There is a clear passing of the torch aspect to Billie and Thea being the true “destined ones,” in case any future films are to happen. However, I  see Billie and Thea as more than just replacements, and that’s because of something heavily implied throughout Face the Music: the daughters are able to succeed in creating the ultimate song because they were raised by Bill and Ted to love and appreciate music. It’s thanks to their dads’ support that they’re able to build on and surpass what the original duo achieved.

At the beginning of the movie, Bill and Ted perform their latest attempt at the song that will unite all, and it’s an extremely bizarre and experimental piece. Their audience, Ted’s brother’s wedding party, is not having it. But when the two talk to their daughters, they express how impressed they were by Wyld Stallyns’ use of the theremin and Tuvan throat singing—far, far cries from their rock and metal origins. What’s not said outright in these scenes is that Bill and Ted, in their attempt to write the ultimate song, have greatly expanded their musical horizons over the year. This pursuit of all forms of music, in turn, has rubbed off on Billie and Thea. The daughters are also portrayed as much more intelligent than their fathers, and might very well be musical geniuses.

Thus, when Billie and Thea go on their own time travel adventure to recruit the greatest band in history, they pick famous figures from across many musical genres: Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Ling Lun, Mozart, and a cavewoman named Grom. And while a young Bill and Ted wondered who “Beeth Oven” was, Billie and Thea know exactly who Mozart (and everyone else) is. Another notable difference is that, whereas rock and metal have traditionally been dominated by white performers, most of these artists are non-white, showing greater respect for music from other cultures. When Face the Music gets to its climax and Wyld Stallyns make way for Billie and Thea’s production and DJing skills to thrive (and save the space-time continuum), Bill and Ted are doing more than just stepping aside for their daughters—they’re allowing their greatest triumphs to fulfill their own destiny.

The support shown by Bill and Ted towards their kids stands out all the more when remembering the upbringing they themselves had, especially Ted. Rather than fostering Ted’s dreams of becoming a rock star, Mr. Logan is a police captain who cares more about instilling discipline and making his son “do something” with his life. The threat of a future at the military academy hangs over Ted in both Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey. It’s not until Face the Music that Mr. Logan finally accepts all that Ted has gone through (time travel, going to heaven and hell). In contrast, Ted has likely been behind Billie from Day 1. 

Although Isaac Newton has never appeared in the Bill & Ted films, his famous quote about standing on the shoulders of giants is highly relevant here. Bill and Ted are the unlikeliest of heroes, but the ground they cover thanks to their adventures allow their daughters to take things to the next level. Sure, BIllie and Thea are much more astute and sharp by comparison, but father and daughter alike appreciate the other on a deep and fundamentally important level. It’s that love and respect, the fact that their relationships embody the dual mottos of “be excellent to each other” and “party on, dudes” that ultimately allows them to save the universe. 

Like the Transformers Movies but Less Stupid: Godzilla 2014

The 2014 Godzilla film is a strange amalgam of sorts. The most famous of Japanese giant monsters is many things to many people, its movies spanning generations, the narratives of which vary between Godzilla as the power of nature made reality, a representation of the hubris of humankind, and kick-ass monster eager for a rumble against its fellow kaijuu. Rather than going for the heavy reintepretation as with the old 1998 film, Godzilla 2014 tries to embrace all facets of the lizard with some mixed results.

I have somewhat of an “improper” understanding of Godzilla. Certainly I grew up on some of the movies, having watched my Godzilla vs. Megalon and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla VHS tapes religiously as a kid, for example. However, I’ve still never seen the original (not even the English adaptation with Raymond Burr inserted in), nor am I so hardcore into Godzilla that I can tell you all of its production history. I’ve realized that deep down I think of Godzilla first and foremost as teaming up with Mothra or Jet Jaguar and giving monster smackdowns, so when I originally came to the movie expecting something more along the lines of a disaster flick, I could feel the kid inside of me smile as the film revealed that it was definitely leading to a massive battle.

At the same time, Godzilla 2014 definitely does not have the same feel as those Showa-era movies I’d grown up on, the heavy emphasis on military presence makes it feel somewhat closer to the Michael Bay Transformers films. Fortunately, Godzilla maintains the image of futility as the US Navy’s weaponry proves overall ineffectual, a classic trope of the franchise, and so it avoids the more jingoistic feel of Transformers when it comes to representations of the military. Even though the main protagonist is a soldier, and he accomplishes quite a bit as a human being, his significance pales in comparison to Godzilla, and the film does a good job of conveying the smallness of humanity.

In this respect, the movie tries to have its cake and eat it too, being on some level the disaster movie I expected going in, but also the monster mash that Godzilla is famous for, but also the contemporary US blockbuster with that strangely stylish militaristic vibe that has increasingly become a part of the movie experience. I find that it balances these incongruities surprisingly well, which is actually pretty impressive, but I also can’t help but shake the feeling that the “something for everyone” approach allowed it to only go so far. I won’t say that it was like three films in one, as I do think there is a good sense of continuity and cohesion overall. Instead, it’s more that Godzilla 2014 embodies the idea of an “American-made Godzilla” to a tee, for better or worse.

No Objections Except the Good Kind: Miike Takashi’s Ace Attorney

Last week was the beginning of the Rotterdam International Film Festival, and with it came the international premiere of Miike Takashi’s film, Ace Attorney, or “Gyakuten Saiban” as it’s known in Japanese. Based on Capcom’s video game franchise of the same name, Ace Attorney follows a bumbling wet-behind-the-ears defense attorney named Phoenix Wright and is quest to figure out the truth behind a string of murders leading back 15 years (and defend his clients along the way) using a combination of wit, courage, and irrefutable evidence. Opposite him is prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, a former friend of Phoenix’s from childhood whose ruthless approach to justice is a far cry from both Phoenix’s ways and how he used to be.

(Note that the film was English-subtitled with the official English-language names, so I’ll be referring to the characters as such (Phoenix Wright instead of Naruhodo Ryuuichi).)

The Ace Attorney video games utilize a very “anime” aesthetic, and for anyone who saw the preview images or the trailer, the first thing that stands out is the fact that all of the characters’ costumes and even the sets are very close to the original source. Phoenix looks like he practically stepped out of the tiny DS screen, and when someone wins a court case in the film, even the way the background actors clap like stock animation looks like it came straight out of the games. However, what isn’t so obvious from the previews is the fact that, while the faithfulness of the dress results in distinctly spiky hair, frilly collars, and unique color combinations, the actual colors of the backgrounds and even the clothing itself are quite subdued. Phoenix Wright’s suit may be blue, but it’s a very toned-down blue that is a far cry from the bright, primary colors that mark the video games, and rather than clashing with the anime elements in the film, the more realistic use of color actually helps to bridge the gap between the iconic anime elements and the use of live actors. Whereas the original games’ aesthetic presents a world and motif unto itself, with the way the film looks there is a sense that our world could possibly someday turn into the larger-than-life world of Ace Attorney, however small those chances are.

In a way, this gives the film a rather prominent science fictional element, as if it’s asking, “What if the criminal justice system were like this?” Indeed, Ace Attorney even presents the unique gameplay of the video games (using evidence to find contradictions in witness testimony) as a transformation of Japan’s court system. In the story of the Ace Attorney film, the Japanese government has set up a new judicial method in order to deal with the increased amount of criminal cases. This “Bench Trial” is a court where evidence is king and which must conclude after a maximum of 3 days, giving both prosecution and defense a limited amount of time to make their cases before the judge (not a jury) makes a verdict. Moreover, in this court, evidence is presented in the form of Minority Report-esque holographic projections, flown to the center of the courtroom through the signature cries of “Objection!”, “Take That!”, and “Hold It!”, helping to bolster that larger-than-life feel. Just in case I’m giving the impression that the film is mainly serious business though, I have to point out that the movie will make the occasional sudden tonal shift like in a Tezuka manga in order to lighten the mood (and succeeds in doing so without disrupting the pacing of the movie).

The storyline and court cases of Ace Attorney is familiar to anyone who played the original, though it combines a few of them together, both for the sake of time and for all of the characters involved to have their own denouements by the end. As I have played those games and thus pretty much knew how the cases would go, I cannot comment on whether or not the narrative events of the film would be a surprise or difficult to figure out for someone new to the series. However, what I can say is that the actors do a very good job of portraying their characters, conveying a strong sense of both their personalities and their approaches to handling trials. For me, the two most outstanding performances in the film are by Phoenix Wright’s actor Narimiya Hiroki and by Ishibashi Ryou, who plays the wily veteran Manfred von Karma. Narimiya does an excellent job portraying Wright as a very clever and observant but inexperienced attorney; when he sees evidence of a clear contradiction, you can see him struggling to connect the dots that he knows have to be there, gradually forcing the words out until the crucial element comes to the surface of his mind. Ishibashi meanwhile comes across almost perfectly as a man who cannot be fazed, a man with a 40-year undefeated prosecution record, and who can even take some of the anime mannerisms from the game and actually make them look perfectly natural. If that isn’t amazing, I don’t know what it is.

Overall, the Ace Attorney movie is fun and exciting, and never feels all that awkward combining the anime aesthetic with the live-action atmosphere. While fans of the game will almost certainly enjoy it, I think people unfamiliar with the franchise and even people have been turned off by Miike’s work in the past (perhaps due to their ultra-violence) have a very strong possibility of coming out of the theater satisfied.

One thing that made this showing of Ace Attorney special was that Miike himself was in attendance. Before the film began, there was a 15-minute interview session with the director where he spoke about this film as well as his experience in filmmaking in general. Miike had actually last visited the Rotterdam International Film Festival 12 years ago with Ichi the Killer and some other movies, and he claims that the extremely positive reaction he received in Rotterdam back then was actually the launching point for his international success and why he’s able to do bigger-budget movies today. He spoke about his use of extreme violence not for the sake of violence but to show the strong emotions which drive his characters, and his desire to make films which surprise himself (something I find he has in common with the creative process of Getter Robo and Devilman creator Nagai Go). He also showed great respect for the original source material of Ace Attorney, but pointed out that a good deal had to be done to convert that game format to a film. I have to say that he did a good job in that regard, transferring the excitement of figuring out the cases as a player to watching the characters work to reach their conclusions.

After the interview was over, the person next to me turned to me and asked, “Spreekt u Nederlands?” After I responded “Nee,” we then had the following conversation:

“What was that word he said, ‘man…gu?'”

“Manga.”

“Yes, manga. What is that?”

“It’s Japanese comics.”

“Oh, like Pikachu.”

“Yes, like Pikachu.”

Like Pikachu, indeed.

Finally, a Good Translation for the Title! Pocket Monsters Diamond & Pearl: Arceus – Transcend the Confines of Time and Space

NOTE: The English version of the movie provides us a good translation of the Japanese title of this Arceus movie by putting it right in the dialogue. Remember folks, if you are going to translate the title instead of using the English adaptation’s as I have, Choukoku no Jikuu e should now be called Transcend the Confines of Time and Space. Stop using every translation of the title except this one, including my previous one. That line of debate should be over one way or another.

The latest movie in the Pokemon franchise is unique in a number of ways, something which is impressive given that this is the twelfth time Pokemon has seen a theatrical release. This is the first time a Pokemon movie has been released in English so soon after its Japanese release. Known as Pocket Monsters Diamond & Pearl: Arceus – Transcend the Confines of Time and Space (known in English as Arceus and the Jewel of Life), it not only is the conclusive part of the Diamond/Pearl/Platinum movie trilogy, but also the first Pokemon movie to place its focus on a god of all creation.

That god is known as Arceus, who in legends is said to have shaped the universe with its 1,000 arms. A metaphor I’m sure, seeing as the kirin-like Arceus has no arms to speak of. The movie centers around his return to Earth after many generations, where Arceus plans on exacting Judgment upon the humans who had dared to betray him all those years ago. And in the case of Arceus, “Judgment” translates into “Fiery Death from Above.”

The only Pokemon capable of even putting up a fight against this Pokemon deity are the feature Pokemon of the previous two movies, Dialga (the Pokemon who rules time), Palkia (the Pokemon who is given dominion over space), and Giratina (the sole natural inhabitant of a mysterious alternate dimension). We also learn that Arceus’ impending arrival is also what caused the distortions in time-space in the first two parts to the trilogy. Even then, they are barely able to withstand Arceus’ ire, and it is up to Satoshi/Ash and friends to figure out the truth about the Alpha Pokemon.

The 12th Pokemon movie is decent overall and definitely the kind of thing fans of the series will enjoy, but there are some things this movie does not do all that well. First, it never gives you a good sense of just how powerful Arceus is supposed to be. Though it clashes with and overpowers a number of other legendary Pokemon, the difference between Arceus and the three dragons of Sinnoh are never made clear enough to really appreciate that gap in power and majesty. Second, and I admit this is being somewhat unfair to the movie, it just does not live up to the bar set by Mewtwo Strikes Back. I revisit the first movie every time I review a Pokemon theatrical release because I believe it represents the pinnacle of the franchise and its ability to tell stories with a surprising degree of maturity and moral complexity.

That said, Arceus – Transcend the Confines of Time and Space still succeeds in showcasing through its story elements of human behavior that are both supportive and condemning of their place on the planet, albeit in a somewhat ham-fisted manner, and it provides a lot of information on the world of Pokemon that we had not previously seen, and this is probably the most fascinating part of the movie. Although the fourth movie starring Celebi gave us a view of the past where Poke Balls were hand-cranked devices, and the eighth movie starring Lucario showed us a time before the Poke Ball was even invented and Pokemon were controlled by humans like a general controls an army, Arceus’s movie goes back further still. Here, we learn that before they were known as Pocket Monsters they were called “magical creatures,” as if to imply that the relationship between man and Pokemon changed as technology progressed, though not necessarily for the worse, as the magical creatures of ancient times could be seen forcibly controlled by restrictive harnesses. That doesn’t exactly make up for not quite living up to the movie’s potential, but it does provide a lot of food for thought.

Overall, while it definitely could have been more, it was a mostly satisfying end to this trilogy. The next movie is bringing back Lugia, who’s had a 10-movie break, and will mark the first true theatrical appearance of Ho-oh. Ho-oh holds special significance in the Pokemon anime, as its appearance always signals great changes for Satoshi/Ash, so an entire movie featuring the Rainbow Pokemon almost feels like the end of an era.

Capturing the “Spirit” of a Work

When I first saw the trailers for the new Star Trek movie, a movie designed to be a continuity reboot of sorts with a young Kirk and young Spock, I was worried. On the movie theater’s screen was a whole lot of action and explosions and intense moments all while the trailer implies what a big coming-of-age story the whole thing will be. I felt that while it could still be a sgood movie, there was a risk that it would not be faithful to the spirit of Star Trek. Having seen the movie, I can say that I was thankfully wrong about it. It’s still full of action and is basically a coming-of-age story, but the core of Star Trek felt intact.

Now, this might be hard to believe based on everything I said in the above paragraph, but I am really not that much of a Star Trek fan. I may have caught a few episodes on tv here or there, particularly The Next Generation, sat through parts of the Star Trek original series marathons that would crop up on tv now and then, watched Duane Johnson Rock Bottom Seven of Nine, and know what the hell a Jem’Hadar is, but it’s not something that has consumed my attention like say, Gundam has. I am not speaking from the perspective of a diehard Star Trek fanatic. That said, the core of Star Trek, I feel, lies in its “How far could we go, if only we got along?” message. To extend it further, I feel that Star Trek is an “intelligent” series, not in the sense that you need to be smart to watch it, but that the focus is mainly on the exchange of ideas, be it between friends of the same race or enemies from different planets, and it’s something I think the new Star Trek film accomplished successfully.

I said something similar about Dragonball Evolution about the need for an adapatation to really capture the “spirit” of its source material, something that, for example, I felt the recent Iron Man film also was able to do. However, what I found in speaking about my concerns regarding Star Trek and any other movie where I feel that an adaptation of an existing work may not be adapting “properly,” is that I had a hard time describing what I consider the “spirit” of a work to be, what an adaptation must successfully bring over from the source material to make it truly an adaptation. After some thinking, the answer I’ve arrived at is something like this.

I believe that the necessary ingredient for an an adaptation is respect for the source material. Incidentally, it’s also something which I consider to be essential to the study of anime as well. It’s not about liking or disliking a work, or perhaps even the production quality, but the people doing adaptations must be able to see what at the core of these works made them special, what made them successful, what is it that gives these works their uniqueness, and using that as a foundation to build upon. It’s okay if you want to make it look less “cheesy” or update some outmoded concepts, but don’t completely throw out what made this idea good or effective in the first place.

Watchmen is/isn’t Watchmen Enough

In discussing the Watchmen movie, I  feel that I should first describe my own personal situation with Watchmen, as I’ve seen how a person’s level of exposure to the original comic can really color the way a person sees the movie. I read the comic once a year or two ago, and enjoyed it, but never really re-read it or looked at it again between then and the time I saw the Watchmen movie. So I am familiar with the story, and the characters, and I know how it all goes down, but particulars and small details and possibly even visual cues are things I don’t remember particularly well.

The strongest impressions I had of Watchmen were its pacing and its visual style. For the pacing, I noticed somewhere in the middle of watching that it did not feel like it had a typical three-act movie structure.  Does this mean the movie had poor pacing, if it didn’t follow what movies are “supposed to do?” I’m not sure myself, but what it boils down to is that this is definitely the result of converting a comic book directly into a movie, instead of just converting the general theme as they did with Iron Man for example.

As for the visual style, 300 already established Zack Snyder as having a keen sense of action and the glorification of violence, though it’s debatable whether or not it was appropriate for Watchmen. Many I think wanted Watchmen to stick close to the visual style of the comic, which is this sort of ugly and dirty look where characters are all pathetic in their own way, but I don’t know how well the audience would have reacted to such. We’ve seen how viewers and critics react negatively to the very blatant anime-esque feel of Speed Racer, often seemingly not even noticing it was supposed to be like pages from a manga but with real people and bright colors. I personally think the violence was just a tad overdone, but the striking and brutal nature of the fights while perhaps overly stylish I think were good for establishing how the characters were, even if it was different from the comic.

I enjoyed Watchmen, though even now I can’t get a firm grasp on my feelings on it. It was at the very least not boring, and half the actors were fantastic, especially Billy Crudup with his serene  Doctor Manhattan voice, Patrick Wilson playing up the middle-aged and insecure Nite Owl, and Jackie Earle Haley as Rorshach who captured the character to a tee. No money was wasted in seeing this movie.

Ultimately, what I feel people’s views, including my own, boil down to in regards to the Watchmen is how do you adapt a work like Watchmen? It does not have an extensive history like Spider-Man or Batman from which you could cherry pick while keeping a basic sense of what makes them effective stories. Watchmen is just one book, and its strength lies in how every part comes together from the writing to the art to the characters and their motivations to the little bits here and there and everywhere. Something has to be lost in the transition to the big screen, and there will be endless debates as to whether the choices were right, especially as people themselves prioritize different parts of the comic. And then you have those who didn’t read the comic at all, and then the debates as to whether that makes for a “better” viewing experience or not, to not be chained by the original.

Adaptations are a funny thing going from any medium to the other, and it can be difficult to tell what is a “smart” change that will help unfamiliar people get into a story, or what will be a “stupid” change that is robbing the work of its core and dumbing it down. I’m sure the people working on Dragonball Evolution didn’t go in intentionally sabotaging it. They probably thought that the parts of the manga and anime they changed were changed for the better. Who wants to see a weak girl who can’t fight in Bulma? Give her guns! Who wants an ugly old man playing Shang Tsung the Turtle Hermit? No appeal!

The funny thing about the Watchmen movie is that you have people now complaining that a superhero movie stuck too close to the original source. Years ago, people would have dreamed of being able to have a misgiving like that. The fact that we now have a Hollywood that can produce honestly decent superhero movies on a somewhat regular basis is testament to true change.

Well Holy Crap: Eureka Seven Movie Announced

Anime News Network reports that Eureka Seven has been greenlit for a new movie to come out whenever.

This is, of course, very very good news. There’s no real word on what the story’s going to be like or about, but I have complete faith  in BONES.

This is perfect timing too, as I finally received my last Eureka Seven DVD, and as a result also finished reading Gravity Boys and Lifting Girl.

Review of that pending.