live-action

115: HarmonQuest Review

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Warning/Parental Heads up!: This show does have some profanity in every episode, and some suggestive elements at times. Don’t watch with younger kids. Viewer’s discretion is advised. Hope you enjoy the review!

So, since I review animated films and video games, it should be no surprise that I have dabbled in Dungeons & Dragons/Pathfinders. I’m no master of it, and I only play it when my best friend from Seattle comes to town, but I always love fantasy stuff like that. There is something about making your own character, and having a story unfold with you and your friends’ actions in epic or comedic fashion. Sadly, most shows or entertainment don’t really do a good job at using D&D/Pathfinders in an entertaining way. I know there are popular videos online of lengthy sessions, but the problem is, no one has really found a way to make it both entertaining, and also work in a show-like format. Luckily, we do have such a product. Today’s review will be of the two current seasons of HarmonQuest. Inspired by the HarmonTown podcast tradition of having D&D sessions, HarmonQuest was created by Community creator and Rick & Morty co-creator Dan Harmon and Spencer Crittenden. It’s a half hour, half-live-action and half-animated show. It was originally part of the streaming service Seeso, but due to that service’s failing, the second season is now at home on VRV. So, is it great? Does Dan Harmon have a hit on his hands? Well, let’s get out our character sheets, roll the dice, and find out.

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To be clear, I am reviewing both seasons, so I’m going to be talking about the plot for both. I’ll try my best to keep spoilers out as much as possible. The first season stars a half-orc ranger named Fondue Zoobag, played by Dan Harmon, a goblin rogue named Bone Weevil, voiced by Jeff B. Davis, and a half-elf barbarian named Beor O’Shift, voiced by Erin McGathy. The three are sent on a mission to get back three magical rune stones that are being used by an evil cult to summon the Great Manticore. The second season has our leads trying to stop an evil sorcerer from fusing the demon and the human realms together.

 

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Let’s start with the positives. I mean, I technically can say that every positive this show has comes with a small negative attached, but in general, I have a lot of praise for this series. For one, this makes the whole concept of Pathfinders and Dungeons & Dragonsapproachable. Like I said, I’m not the biggest player for this kind of stuff, but due to how the story is kept moving and exciting, it really makes you wonder why more people who dabble in this hobby don’t do this. You are a show, don’t just give us unfiltered bore fests that are four hours long. Of course, the show wouldn’t be getting two seasons if the characters weren’t interesting. Luckily, the show does a great combination of having scripted events and improv comedy. What I mean by this is that they will have situations given to them, but the actors involved don’t have precisely worded scripts, and instead, have to think on their feet. Everyone from the main cast to the special guests work wonderfully off one another, and I don’t remember a current animated show that made me laugh harder than HarmonQuest. Sure, the show has plots and “character moments”, but you watch this show for the interactions of everyone. The first season probably had my favorite interactions, and that’s mostly because, while not every guest has played the game the entire show is based around, their reactions, actions, and lines do work, and no one feels like they are out of place. Season two also does a good job, but unfortunately, I have a few issues with season two, but we will get to that later.

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Since this is an animation review series, and this show is 50% animation, I think for what it is, it holds up, and gets the job done well. I like that every character’s designs are based around the likeness of the actors portraying them (Well, most of the time), and no one feels out of place. I can understand people calling it simple, but for an online series with big names attached to it, it’s not too flashy, but it’s not cheap looking either. You can tell the animators had fun listening to the actors play out the plot and then think, “how we can make this look great, and hilarious at the same time?” The designs are also not confusing. You can tell who is what if you are into this type of game.

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So, it’s time to bring up those negatives I have with the series. Like I said, it comes off as a pro and a con at the same time. While I love the special guests that they get, like Patton Oswalt, Paul F. Tompkins, Paul Scheer, Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Olsen, Jason Mantzoukas, Steve Agee, Thomas Middleditch, and Aubrey Plaza, sometimes, it seems like the guest character doesn’t really have a lot to do in the plot. They are more there to get the plot going than to do much. I felt like this with the episodes that had Aparna Nancherla and Rob Corddry in them. I love the improv between the characters, but the two seasons lack a major story or arcs for the characters. I think that’s partly the compromise with doing the bulk of the story on the spot, but I feel like not a whole lot happens to make the characters grow. Enough happens to give some outlines for the characters, but they are never the focus. And sadly, the comedy doesn’t always land. I don’t think it’s the actors fault, improv is probably one of the single hardest forms of comedy to pull off correctly, but some of the guest role-players don’t mesh well with each other. I was so excited when I saw actors like Patton Oswalt, and Rob Coddry in certain episodes, and while they have maybe a laugh here and there, I found myself liking those episodes less than others.

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In general though, HarmonQuest is one of the funniest animated shows around right now. Sure, it’s not always consistently entertaining, but it’s definitely a show I have watched multiple times, and I don’t do that often. Unfortunately, this isn’t on something like Amazon Prime or Netflix, which is easily the two biggest streaming platforms, but if you want to watch it, you have to get a subscription for VRV. I do hope that it can get a third season, since it ended on a cliffhanger. If you are into anything fantasy, or if any of this sounds appealing, definitely go watch it. Well, that was fun, but next time, we shall dive into Blue Sky Studios once more to check out their latest film, Ferdinand. Thank you for reading this review! I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see everyone next time!

Rating: Go See It!

Can Ghost in the Shell Work in Live-Action?

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Last year, a full trailer was shown off for one of the most controversial upcoming films of 2017, Ghost in the Shell. This live-action adaptation of the popular anime/manga series got a lot of flak, when everyone realized that the lead character, Major Motoko Kusanagi, was going to be played by the lovely Scarlet Johansson. She’s a good actress, but this was the wrong casting decision. There are already a lot of concerns and problems than just the white-washing of the lead, due to how infamously terrible live-action adaptations of anime can be. This led me to think about the film itself. Can Ghost in the Shell work in live-action? Well, yes and no. Now why would I give that answer? Let me explain.

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In a way, Ghost in the Shell is the perfect anime to adapt. Its visuals and looks can easily translate well into live-action, unlike other live-action anime films like Speed Racer, which doesn’t look good at all, or how lazy and terrible Dragonball Z Evolution looks. Of course, this does come down to who’s making the film, but  Ghost in the Shell has similar elements seen in sci-fi films from the past couple of decades. It’s not a super-hard or impossible property to turn live-action. It’s a bleak sci-fi world that’s drab, and has a focus on robots with philosophical quandaries about emotions, what it means to be alive, and what makes you, you. We have seen these types of settings with sci-fi films with complex philosophical ideas done multiple times, with films like Blade Runner, Total Recall, Demolition Man, and many more. Even the aesthetic and how some of the androids/robots/machines are made can be made into successful live-action.

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Sadly, there are elements that keep me from saying that Ghost in the Shell can be a perfect adaptation. For one, and probably my biggest issue with the film, is that it’s live-action. Believe it or not, much of Ghost in the Shell’s legacy does lean on the fact  that for the time it was released in the states, it was mostly about the animation, and due to the fact that no one at that time has ever seen essentially an anime version of Blade Runner. Its animation was gorgeous and detailed, and that’s a shock during that period in time, since I’m sure most anime fans/curious viewers during that period in time never knew there could be something that is on par with Akira in terms of visual presentation. Taking that part out, and making the overall film in live-action makes it look like every other sci-fi dystopian film we have seen. It looks forgettable now, since you can probably find films that look very similar, while watching this movie.

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In terms of casting, I respect the wide variety of actors, but could you really not find a Japanese actress to play the lead? Not even the Japanese actress from Pacific Rim Rinko Kikuchi? I know some people argue that the lead, Motoko’s character is her soul, and not her visual robotic body, and not that she is Japanese, but come on. I love Scarlet in movies like the Marvel series and Her, but still. I barely heard of 90% of the actors in the cast, so I doubt you really needed Scarlet Johansson besides the cynical reasoning being that you probably couldn’t get the film made without getting a big profitable name to be in the movie. I also don’t like how everyone looks. Scarlet looks fine (well, mighty fine if we are being honest), but everyone else looks like they are cosplaying as the characters, which is always distracting when you know the costume or make-up department was either not great, or wasn’t given enough resources to make sure that the characters look accurate. Batou looks like a cosplayer who is trying to look like Batou from the original animated film, Beat Takeshi looks kind of goofy, and the others either look awkward or unintentionally creepy.

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Another concern I have is how the characters are going to be portrayed. Whether you agree with me or not, Ghost in the Shell’s writing is very stiff and clunky. Characters don’t speak like actual people, but rather speak with these long-winded philosophical ramblings, and while you might get something of an actual line that sounds good, it’s rare. I know anime doesn’t have natural dialogue, and anime creators even admit it, but knowing how badly Hollywood has translated anime in the past, they tend to make everyone sound bored or uninterested. What might come off as stoic in the original language oft-times is accidentally sometimes translated to stilted and boring in English, because they don’t get the acting nuances that went into those roles. A lot of credit has to go to the voice actors and their director when they are able to pull off performances with such wonky dialogue.

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Now, with all the concerns and the positives out of the way, can this work? Will it work? Well, I don’t really know. I need to see it for myself. This was all just some thoughts and opinions about why this specific anime might and might not work as a live-action film. I have my doubts it will work and that Hollywood will totally get the themes and philosophy behind the series and make a competent movie from it, but who knows? I could be surprised that it’s good, and the team does a fantastic job adapting it. It’s still too much of a wild card to be sure, but maybe Hollywood will surprise us in a good way. What do you all think? Will Ghost in the Shell do well, or will it be yet another reason why no one adapts anime into live-action?

The Other Side of Animation #20: Cool World Review


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WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP!: There are major adult and sexual themes. Definitely do not watch this with kids that are younger. Viewer’s discretion is advised. It’s also a really boring movie! Enjoy the review!

Oh boy, we are heading into some infamous territory once more today on The Other Side of Animation. For the 20th review, we are going to look at the well-known and hated animated/live action film by Ralph Bakshi, Cool World. Ralph Bakshi was one of the head honchos during the “experimental time” of animation where Disney took a backseat, and animated films with weird and surreal ideas came out. Bakshi’s films stood out with more old-fashioned-looking cartoon designs, but with more adult themes and settings. Unfortunately, his style of animation and film-making, along with many others, ran dry in the late 80s and early 90s, and nowhere is that more clear than Cool World. This film had a notorious history, as in the beginning, it wasn’t meant to be this darker adult version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Originally, this film was supposed to be this weird live-action/animated slasher film where the psycho was this half-human half-cartoon character. Now, tell me, if you know anything about how weird and trippy Bakshi’s films can be, and now hearing about the original concept, how amazing does this sound? Well, apparently someone at Paramount thought this wasn’t a great idea, and basically screwed the entire project over with secret rewrites, celebrities wanting to stick their ignorant hands into the development pool, rating changes, and a lot of Hollywood shenanigans. The final product that we got was Cool World, a film released in 1992. It got panned by everyone, became a notorious flop at the box office with only making apparently less than half its budget, and is probably a film Brad Pitt wishes he could forget about. Honestly, I wouldn’t blame him.

Oh, joyous day, where do I start with this trainwreck of a movie? How about the story? Or, well, what little there is? Brad Pitt plays WWII veteran Frank Harris, returning from war and back to his mother. Brad then attempts to take his mother on a motorcycle ride down the desert roads with an unfortunately out-of-nowhere tragic crash that ends up with his mother dead. If that quick and somewhat forced tragedy wasn’t enough, right as when Brad’s dead mother is being taken away, he is, quite frankly, out of nowhere, pulled into this weird cartoony world known as Cool World by a scientist named Dr. Vincent Whiskers, voiced by Maurice LaMarche. Forty- seven years pass, and Brad Pitt is now a detective in Cool World, a rather hyper-violent cartoony world. During his time in this topsy-turvy world, he has his doodle girlfriend Lonette, voiced by Candi Milo, his spider police partner Nails, voiced by Charlie Adler, another real-life human known as Jack Deebs, played by Gabriel Byrne, and the infamous vixen, Holli Would, voiced by Kim Basinger. Can Brad Pitt keep the order within Cool World? Or will the zany world and Holli’s wild ways cause mass chaos?

So, I am going to be nice to this movie, and talk about its positive elements. It might not be much, but Cool World is a very, well, cool-looking world. I like the grimy aesthetic, the mixture of real-life sets and cartoons, and the cartoon art direction itself. The designs of the characters are very Fleischer Studios, and I really like that. This was during a time where Disney reigned supreme, and every other studio wanted to look like the Disney films. Cool World at least dodges that bullet by looking different. I also liked Nails. He was a good-hearted spider, who was rather wacky.

Now then, that is all the positive vibes this film is getting from me, because this animated/live action film is horrendous! First off, the mixture of both live-action and animation don’t mix! It doesn’t look good at all! This wouldn’t be a thing if Who Framed Roger Rabbit hadn’t come out and do it correctly four years earlier! It’s off-putting and distracting, since you feel like the live-action actors and the animated individuals don’t jive. What also doesn’t mix well is the story. The story is barely there, and it just loves to meander and distract you with little cartoon characters bouncing around and making huge amounts of noise. It also loves to throw in characters who have no character or identity, and love wasting the time of everyone involved in the story. Even the universe that this film sets up makes no sense, nor is it explained well at all. This is especially true when you keep seeing Gabriel Byrne pop in and out of Cool World. How does it work? Why, it’s never explained! They also treat him like he was the god and creator of the place, but we never find out how this world was made. I can’t believe how much this film has going on, but how little it matters to the viewer. In the end, I checked out, and couldn’t care less about what happened, since the film obviously didn’t care.

I feel like the people behind this movie never realized why Who Framed Roger Rabbit was so amazing. It wasn’t just because Jessica Rabbit was sexy, or that it was nonstop nostalgia. It was because there were likable/lovable characters that we wanted to root for and against. The world was more fleshed out in how everything worked, and wasn’t just loud and obnoxious 24-7. The idiots at Rough Draft Studios and Paramount Pictures thought that all you needed were cartoons being loud, annoying, and sexual. Yeah, I bet all that thought-power translated well into only making a little over $14 million of your $30+ million budget. They showed us that they knew what they were doing.

While I can safely say that this isn’t as horrible as The Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, Cool World is still a rancid cynical trainwreck to sit through. Unless you want to own this for a bad movie night, just go out and buy Who Framed Roger Rabbit, if you haven’t already. Cool World stands as a prime example of when Hollywood doesn’t care, and wants to leech off of people who put actual effort into making a good movie. I think we need to take a look at something more calming. I want to be invested in an atmospheric experience. This is why next time, we will be taking a look at the short film, The Garden of Words. Thanks you for reading my article, and see you next time!

Rating: The Worst