Getting our bearings and animation roundup

The Secret World of Arrietty
Image from The Secret World of Arrietty

Janice and I were busy last week with work and more unpacking in our new apartment. We did take some breaks, checking out the Wilson Farm, the Outer Limits, and other shops and restaurants in our area.

On Saturday, 10 March 2012, we screened The Secret World of Arrietty, which is loosely based on the children’s book The Borrowers. The latest Studio Ghibli movie featured the animation style and gentle pace familiar to fans of Hayao Miyazaki’s works, decent voice acting, and a plot that was somewhat more faithful than other adaptations, such as Howl’s Moving Castle or Tales of Earthsea.

The Secret World of Arrietty follows a 14-year-old girl who is a member of a diminutive family of “Borrowers” living beneath the country home of modern humans. Arrietty’s adventures are both charming and perilous, as she has bittersweet interactions with a human boy named Sean.

The U.S. English voice cast includes Amy Pohler and Carol Burnett, but the celebrity casting isn’t distracting. The movie may not be as action-packed or high-concept as other Miyazaki films, but it’s still entertaining and a nice antidote to the recent overload of loud, computer-animated flicks. Overall, I’d give The Secret World of Arrietty, which is rated G, 7.5 or 8 out of 10, four out of five stars, and a B+/A-.

In other animation, Janice and I recently watched our DVD of Azur and Asmar: the Princes’ Quest, which follows two boys from their childhood in medieval France to the deserts in search of a fairy princess. Like Sita Sings the Blues, my first impression of the flat computer animation was that it was crude, but the detail and style grew on me as the characters and story developed.

I thought the movie did a nice job of depicting the conflict and synergy of European, North African, Arabian, and Persian styles and folklore. I’d give Azur and Asmar an 8 out of 10, four out of five stars, and an A-.

I have yet to watch Justice League: Doom, and Cartoon Network’s “DC Nationblock has just started on Saturday mornings, with a mix of Young Justice, Green Lantern, and humorous shorts aimed at younger audiences. It’s a little disjointed so far, but I like the shorts. Disney XD will be starting its own Marvel Universe programming on Sunday mornings, including The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Ultimate Spider-Man.

And that’s not even including upcoming animation such as Star Wars: Clone Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Avatar: the Legend of Korra, How to Train Your Dragon: the Series, and Pixar’s Brave! I’ve given up for now on trying to keep up with the latest TV iterations of G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Kung-Fu Panda, although they all seem decent. In comedy, I find myself more interested in The Looney Tunes Show, Metalocalypse, or Archer than in The Simpsons or Fox’s Sunday night animation block.

One final item (for now) of news: Sadly, Jean Giraud, also known as Moebius — borrowed from the mathematician — died last week. I discovered his art years ago in Metal Hurlant/Heavy Metal magazine. As with the recently deceased Robert McCall and Ralph McQuarrie, Moebius shaped generations of science fiction and fantasy creators and fans. Examples of Moebius’ influence include the distinctive looks of Alien, Blade Runner, Dune, The Fifth Element, Heavy Metal, Tron, and Willow. All of these artists will be missed, but their visions live on!

On the move again, 2012 edition

Fan-built set
Lego space movers

I haven’t been able to blog as often as I’d like lately because I’ve been unusually busy. My employer’s annual meetings went smoothly, genre television and my three gaming groups have resumed since the holidays, and Janice and I will have to move soon.

We’ve lived in Needham Heights, Massachusetts, for about nine years, longer than we’ve lived together anywhere else. Janice and I like the residential neighborhoods, nearby restaurants, and the easy access to highways. Our rent hasn’t gone up during that time, and our combined salaries aren’t enough to buy a comparable home in the area.

However, Janice’s current commute by train to work in Kendall Square in Cambridge, Mass., has taken an hour and a half each way every day. We’ve also been responsible for things like mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, and various repairs. In addition, we had to move between duplexes within Needham in 2006 after our basement flooded because of development up the hill.

In the past few weeks, we’ve noticed that our townhouse’s water heater has been leaking. We contacted our landlord, who said he’d prefer to replace it when renovating the entire unit rather than fix it while we’re still here. We’ve had other problems with plumbing and heating before.

Our lease doesn’t expire until the end of April, but since we now have to move anyway because of the renovation and Janice’s commute, we decided to do it sooner rather than later. Janice and I spent the past few days looking at potential apartments to move to by the start of March.

Janice and I had the option of moving to yet another townhouse in Needham owned by the same landlord, but it was a little run down and wouldn’t help Janice’s commute. Still, it was in a familiar neighborhood and comparable in rent and space to our current place, which has three bedrooms and a full basement. It was our backup.

Janice and I considered other sites in Newton, West Roxbury, Watertown, and Arlington. We’ve applied for a place in Waltham, Mass., about equidistant from Janice’s and my jobs. We’ll likely lose some space, including our basement, which is where we’ve stored numerous boxes of files, comic books, decorations, and toys. It’s also where I’ve hosted and run role-playing sessions.

We’ll be paying quite a bit more per month, but I hope that the modern amenities and better service will be worth it. I’ll report more once our lease is signed. In the next few weeks, I’ll be busy with packing and trying to sell extra appliances, books, and furniture.

We’ll have to hire movers, because with 80+ boxes of books last time, we can’t impose on friends and family in the middle of (a delayed) winter. Thanks in advance for your good wishes!

In blackest night…

Kilowog and Hal Jordan
Green Lantern: the Animated Series

On Thursday, 10 November 2011, Janice and I had dinner at the Acropolis restaurant in Needham, Massachusetts. The next evening, we settled in for the usual night of animation and genre television. We enjoyed Cartoon Network’s premiere of Green Lantern: the Animated Series, which combines Bruce Timm’s streamlined style from his superb 1990s shows with computer animation similar to that in Star Wars: Clone Wars.

I thought that it was smart of GL:tAS‘s producers to focus on Hal Jordan’s missions against the murderous Red Lanterns in deep space rather than on his origin story, which was recently covered in the live-action movie and First Flight DVD. The previews of Cartoon Network’s DC Nation were also fun, with a Wallace & Gromit-like short and another of the chibi Teen Titans. The level of violence in GL:tAS was greater than in some superhero shows, but as with Clone Wars, it’s necessary for the military space opera.

Speaking of Clone Wars, I think the darkening tone befits a war that began with idealism and ended with critically weakened democracies, much like World War I. On a related note, famed comic book creator Frank Miller lobbed a rhetorical grenade into debate around the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements. I don’t deny that there have been difficulties with latter’s focus and safety, but I also believe that questioning economic fairness is no less patriotic than fighting terrorism. Science fiction author David Brin posted a strong retort, and I wish that both liberals and conservatives alike would strive harder to stay civil.

On a lighter note, I’m still impressed with the gradual world building in ThunderCats and belated insights into the superheroes in Young Justice. Chuck and Fringe have been experimenting with some role swaps this season, and Grimm reminds me not just of the fantasy Fables or Once Upon a Time, but also the late Pushing Daisies.

After raking leaves on Saturday, we ate at the Texas Road House, whose Dallas filet steak I enjoyed. I also liked Masterpiece: Contemporary’s Page Eight, an all-star musing on British national security and bureaucracy (not unlike Homeland). On Sunday, Janice and I attended a performance of works by Bach, Respighi, Haydn, and Brahms by the Rivers Symphony Orchestra at Christ Church in Needham.

Playing catch-up

Person of Interest
Conspiracy drama

Although Janice’s and my Verizon FIOS wasn’t restored until Thursday, 3 November 2011, I hardly missed land-line telephone, cable television, or Internet service after the early winter storm last week. A decent number of trick-or-treaters came to our door on Halloween, and I’ve caught up a bit on reading, free of fund-raiser calls.

Of the TV shows I missed, I should be able to see Masterpiece: Mystery and Homeland in reruns, and I can afford to miss episodes of Castle and Psych because they don’t rely too heavily on story arcs. I’ve already dropped Terra Nova and American Horror Story. Fairy-tale dramas Grimm and Once Upon a Time are just getting started. I prefer the quirky sense of humor of the former over the romantic visuals of the latter. I also enjoyed the latest low-key Person of Interest.

Now, if I had missed “sci-Friday,” I’d have a lot more to catch up on: Batman and the Brave and the Bold, Young Justice, ThunderCats, Star Wars: Clone Wars, and X-Men for animation. In addition to them and Grimm, there’s also Chuck, Fringe, and Sanctuary (and eventually Spartacus: Vengeance). Of these, my favorites right now are Clone Wars, ThunderCats, and Fringe.

Coming soon: Food, once and future co-workers, games, and reading…

Autumn 2011 genre TV, Part 3

Cartoon Network's Young Justice
DC/Cartoon Network's Young Justice

In the first two parts of my look at the new television season, I looked at the mysteries and thrillers that fill many weeknights. Fridays are different, however, with more speculative fiction than any other night. Cartoons, conspiracies, and fantasy worlds abound!

Cartoon Network has been burning off the final episodes of the fun and retro Batman and the Brave and the Bold, followed by the darker Young Justice, lone space opera Star Wars: Clone Wars, and the cool reboot of Thundercats. There have been decent reboots of G.I. Joe (Renegades) and Transformers, but I haven’t had time for them.

I’ve been less impressed with G4’s late-night Wolverine and Iron Man — they have many of the worst weaknesses of both Marvel and anime, such as static scenery, long internal monologues, stereotypical (and worse, bland) villains, and improbable action scenes punctuated by shouting. I’ll give the latest incarnations of the X-Men and Blade a try, however.

I lost Marvel’s Iron Man: Armored Adventures and Fantastic Four in the scheduling shuffle, and I still miss the canceled Spectacular Spider-Man and Sym-Bionic Titan. Cartoon Network/Boomerang has been rebroadcasting Samurai Jack, and the Hub has been showing the superlative Batman: the Animated Series.

In yet more animation, I’m looking forward to Nickelodeon’s fantasy Avatar: the Legend of Korra and the computer-animated Green Lantern and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as to the recently announced Beware the Batman. The computer-animated Tron: Uprising, How to Train Your Dragon, and Kung-Fu Panda movie tie-ins should also be coming soon.

As I’ve noted before, Disney/Marvel may have the lead in print comics and live-action movies (see The Avengers trailer), but Warner Bros./DC is holding on with TV series and direct-to-video releases such as the upcoming Batman: Year One and Justice League: Doom. To be fair, Marvel‘s Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Super Hero Squad have been renewed, and Ultimate Spider-Man (and a live-action Hulk, Cloak & Dagger, and A.k.a. Jessica Jones) is in the works.

Speaking of live action, spy spoof Chuck, cryptozoological Sanctuary, and alternate reality drama Fringe have all moved to what used to be called “SciFridays.” My DVR will be working hard from 8:00 to 11:00 p.m.! As with Smallville, I’ll enjoy the cameos on NBC’s Chuck to the show’s approaching end. SyFy’s Sanctuary has been uneven in tone, but Fox’s Fringe is still going strong, in my opinion.

Torchwood is over for now, and I haven’t yet caught A Gifted Man. I’ll try to see Grimm, which combines the modern supernatural aspects of Once Upon a Time with the procedural spoof elements of Dylan Dog (which I recently rented and enjoyed). Less fantastical but more gruesome is Spartacus: Vengeance, which lost its original star Andy Whitfield and whose third season I plan to watch.

On Saturdays, other than the annual Christmas special, Whovians will have a long wait for new Doctor Who episodes — until late 2012. I’m also looking forward to the eventual return of BBC America’s Being Human, if not the Americanized SyFy remake.

A few updates: After my previous posts on the current TV season, I saw that laid-back Southern crime drama Memphis Beat has been canceled, as well as the latest Charlie’s Angels, which I had already dropped. David I.S. has picked up Terra Nova and American Horror Story just as I’ve dropped them from my busy schedule, but there are only so many hours in the week!