From the archives: September 2004

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Eisner slips himself a Mickey

Saturday, 11 September 2004 — 2:13pm | Animation, Film

This is the Main Street Electrical Parade.

This is the rain on that parade.

This whole thing reminds me of the old hackneyed quote, “You can’t fire me, I quit.” The benefit to all is that in two years, Michael Eisner will be out of Disney’s top seat. Unfortunately, it will be on his terms. Now, I for one could care less about Disney’s hotel business, their handling of ABC or opening Disneylands all over this planet and a few others to come, but what I am interested in is the effect this will have on what defines the Magic Kingdom at its core, feature animation.

By the time Eisner is gone, two or three of WDFA’s first all-CG features will be out of the pipeline, and if they turn out well, he may be riding his way out of his tenure on a wave of success. But the last thing these films need is more micromanagement and mismarketing, and if Eisner plans to step up his involvement in his last two years at the company, this could be a problem. The CG projects are already a double-edged sword by themselves, because as much as one would like these films to bust the blocks, it could very well justify the death knell of traditional animation at the Mouse House in the eyes of the suits.

Interestingly, 2006 is when Pixar’s first movie outside of their Disney contract, Ratatouille, is targeted for release – and it has yet to find a distributor. A distribution deal with Disney may well be possible, and Eisner’s successor – be it his hand-picked recommendation Robert Iger or not – will be off to a rocking start.

For now, let’s sit back and see what Roy and Stanley are going to do about all this.

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TV stands for Too Viewtiful

Thursday, 9 September 2004 — 5:28pm | Television, Video games

It’s cool enough that Japan’s getting an anime series based on Capcom’s incredibly stylish video game Viewtiful Joe, which I have praised on many an occasion as the best side-scrolling fighting game since the golden age of Mega Man. But word is that after the 52-episode Japanese run that begins in October, there will be an English release bound for Europe and the United States, though there is as yet no word on whether or not Canadian networks will pick it up.

I have never been much of an anime fan myself aside from “The Origin of O-Ren” and the occasional Miyazaki, but I’ve seen the tremendous potential for such a project since I saw the anime Viewtiful Joe commercials that promoted the first game. While most video games, perhaps all of them, are butchered in the transition to television – anyone remember the atrocious Legend of Zelda episodes every Friday in the Super Mario Bros. Super Show starring Captain Lou Albano? – bringing VJ to television could work out a whole lot better. The entire game is already a tribute to manga art and popular film in general; and as I already mentioned, the existing commercials are a testament to the kind of quality we could expect.

On another note related to stylishness in the video game industry, check out this new glamour photo of the Nintendo DS, easily the best picture of it released so far. It tweaks the last design overhaul and resolves the one reservation I had about the colour contrast, since the plasticky black is now closer to the charcoal grey that took the PC industry by storm a few years ago. (This was possibly not a design change at all, but just something revealed by a higher-resolution photograph done under better lighting.) Also note how the DS logo is now emblazoned just beneath the touchscreen.

For those of you wondering about what in the blazes happened to the headline above my piece in today’s Gateway, it has been corrected for the online version. So that’s what it was supposed to read; I had my bets placed on “By-elections are exposé of Council’s weaknesses” with an omitted accent and “of”. Guess I was wrong.

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Demos meaning "people", kratos meaning "big guy with sword"

Tuesday, 7 September 2004 — 5:00pm | Journalism

You see, Kratos is the token mysterious mercenary fighter with dark brown anime-hair and a purple get-up who follows you around in Tales of Symphonia.

Here is an interesting subtlety sighted today on a student group pamphlet at the U of A Clubs Fair, courtesy of DemocracyNow, formerly known as Students For A Stronger Alberta:

DemocracyNow is a non-partisan organization that fulfills its mission objectives by… Sponsoring the creation and operation of a University of Alberta online student newspaper called The Independent. This newspaper will be devoted to the unbiased repoting and evaluation of national, provincial, municipal, and campus issues from a student perspective.

So it looks like The Independent will be returning after all, but not in the manner that was expected. Mind you, the transition to an online format does not come as a total surprise given their rumoured financial constraints. Indeed, it looks as though its print run will only total one issue. Now instead of being poised to compete with The Gateway, which it never really did given the significant difference of intent between the two publications, it seeks to go head-to-head with Points of Information.

SFASA’s rebranding is an interesting move in itself. The copy on the DemocracyNow pamphlet is almost identical to the now-defunct SFASA website, so the group clearly has the appearance of maintaining a very Albertan focus. It will be interesting to see if this is a sign of them branching out.

As for The Gateway, it has yet to post the already-released first issue of this academic year on the website. This is a pity, since one would be hard-pressed to comment on Chris Samuel’s piece on the Bobby Fischer trial without the ability to link to that specific article.

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This song explains why I’m leaving home to become a stewardess

Monday, 6 September 2004 — 3:50pm | Music

As anybody who has experienced the marvel and joy of Almost Famous would know, the song in question is Simon & Garfunkel’s “America”. This is also the song that Josh Groban played and sang as an encore at his concert at Rexall Place last night. He is a remarkable vocalist, and his reputation – not to mention his legion of fans – is well deserved.

Curiously enough, my first introduction to Josh Groban was not through my mother, who has been to six of his concerts (four of them in the past week), something I have no right to make fun of in any case given what I do for every new Star Wars film. Back in 2001, apparently long before he became all the rage, he sang a duet with Lara Fabian (“For Always”) on the theme of John Williams’ score to one of the most underrated movies in recent years, A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Williams’ compositions for that movie are, I find, the best work he has done in perhaps the past decade, with odd exceptions like “Across The Stars” from Attack of the Clones. The jovial return to his jazzier roots in Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal are in a category of their own, and he was certainly in top form with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but A.I.‘s haunting piano melodies remind one of the similarly acronymic E.T. in its more sombre moments.

The Fabian/Groban duet at the end of the movie was itself only heard by few, most of them movie soundtrack buffs such as myself, and surprisingly many Groban fans have not wound the clock back and discovered it. I prefer it to “Remember” from Troy, but primarily for compositional reasons.

Yesterday’s event was not even the first time I’d seen Groban live – he had previously been featured in one of Sarah Brightman‘s tours, which I caught when it passed through Calgary. (That was, however, the first time I had seen the former Mrs. Lloyd Webber perform, being too young to have seen her in her signature role as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera.)

Since then, his rise as a solo artist has been astronomical enough that many a major publication has covered it more extensively than I will on this humble web page. For our purposes here, let us be satisfied with describing last night’s concert as a display of incredible vocal talent. You really do need to see Josh Groban live to get a sense of how powerful his voice is, as his recordings do not impress on quite the same level.

There was also that bit at the end where he put on the Oilers jersey, but being a Calgarian – albeit one who respects the Gretzky dynasty – I remained strictly indifferent.

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Aurum est potestas

Saturday, 4 September 2004 — 12:41pm | Literature

Those of you who know me know that I am an avid reader of children’s literature. Today, I have a recommendation to make. I recently finished reading all three books in Eoin Colfer‘s ongoing Artemis Fowl series (Artemis Fowl, Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident and Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code), starring a preteen criminal mastermind who crosses paths with the underground kingdom of the fairies.

Colfer’s flagship novels can best be described as a modernization of traditional fantasy, which should and does draw comparisons to Harry Potter, but there are a few key differences between them and J.K. Rowling’s juggernaut franchise. Some of it has to do with the fact that the Fowl books are firmly rooted in the land and lore of Ireland, but where the two really begin to differ is in how they approach the historical development of the respective secret magical society. Whereas Muggle artifice is incompatible with the magical world in the Potter series, in Colfer’s universe, the fairy creatures of the Lower Elements embrace technology full-on in such a way that jet packs have gradually replaced wings and goblin rebels carry illegal laser weapons. The stories primarily revolve around how Artemis, our title antihero, tries to capitalize on this futuristic fairy technology for his own ends.

The downside is that the longevity of the series is questionable, given how closely it is tied to the context of this specific decade; references to current trends in technology abound, with mentions of everything from Apple to Napster. But at the moment, Colfer’s fast-paced, high-octane yarns exhibit an aura of high technology, and this includes much of the nomenclature and wordplay. (‘Leprechaun’, he tells us, is actually derived from ‘LEPrecon’, the reconnaissance unit of the Lower Elements Police.)

While they are not the deepest read – you won’t see endless debates of symbolic extrapolation about how everything thematic should pan out in the next book, Artemis Fowl: The Opal Incident – they are fun, stylish techno-thrillers that, while squarely aimed at the twelve-year-old bracket, can be enjoyed by all ages. And unlike similar authors in the genre like Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler, Colfer gives himself every excuse to be ridiculous. His wit keeps the occasional Russian mob or Italian gangster clichés from being outright annoying and even goes so far as to make them look fun, in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. The cast of recurring characters is especially likable, and make the already comfortable cover-to-cover reads all that smoother.

Take that, The Da Vinci Code.

By the way, word on the street is that the afternoon I spent playing Scrabble with Dan Lazin is the cover story of today’s ed Magazine supplement in The Edmonton Journal. I have yet to see it myself, but I hear there is a picture of me looking like (I quote) “some sort of evil Scrabble doctor.” Who knew?

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