Anime Review: Kill la Kill

Anime Review: Kill la Kill

In the indefinite future, Ryuko Matoi is the delinquent daughter of a mad scientist who arrives home after a long time away at school to find him murdered with one blade of a giant scissors.  The killer, too far away to identify, has the other blade.  Ryuko vows vengeance.

Kill la Kill

In the course of her investigation, Ryuko comes to Honnouji Academy, a school with a rigid social structure based on what uniforms the students are allowed to wear, from the powerless zero-star students, to the three-starred Student Council whose “Goku Uniforms” greatly enhance their superhuman abilities.  At the top of the pyramid is Satsuki Kiryuuin, a cold and tyrannical girl who seems to know something about Ryuko’s quest.

Ryuko meets the very…special zero-star student Mako Makanshoku, who immediately decides that Ryuko is her new best friend (and Ryuko winds up bunking with the Makanshoku family.)  Ryuko also meets a number of one-star students, who she can easily beat up even without special clothing.  The two-star boxing club captain, on the other hand, is easily able to defeat Ryuko.  Being a bit brighter than many shounen heroes, Ryuko retreats.

Back at the ruins of her house, Ryuko stumbles across the insanely powerful uniform she will name Senketsu.  It’s sentient, and forces itself on her in a very disturbing scene.  They don’t get along at first, but Senketsu gives Ryuko the power she needs to return and defeat the boxer, declaring her intention to beat some answers out of Satsuki.

The first half or so of the series is Ryuko battling her way up the opponent ladder to get a good shot at Satsuki.  Then she (and the audience) finally get some answers as to what’s really going on, and the scale of the battles enlarge.  There’s much more at stake than one man’s murder or who gets to be top dog at a high school.

This Studio Trigger production is by many of the people who created Tengen Toppen Gurren Lagaan and is similarly over the top.  It’s also a homage to the work of Go Nagai, with Cutey Honey being an obvious influence throughout, and shades of Devilman coming in towards the end.

In addition to rather heavy violence, the series is kind of raunchy, with frequent nudity and some skeevy sexual molestation (mostly by the main villain.)  The nudity does serve a thematic purpose, as one of the running motifs is the relationship of people and their clothing, and the meaning of fashion.

If you can get past that, the series is a lot of fun with some great jokes and exciting action.

Movie Review: Cleopatra (1934)

Movie Review: Cleopatra (1934)

It is 48 B.C., and Egypt is having a bit of a civil war.  Cleopatra (Claudette Colbert) and her brother Ptolemy both want to be the ruler.  The regent Pothinos (Leonard Mudie), who finds Ptolemy easier to control, exiles Cleopatra to the desert, then negotiates with Julius Caesar (Warren William),  representative of Rome.  Cleopatra has managed to get herself smuggled back into the city, and makes her own appeal to Caesar.

Cleopatra (1934)

While Caesar likes Cleopatra better than he does Pothinos, he is more fascinated by her offer of not just Egypt’s wealth, but India’s as well.  They soon become lovers, and Caesar takes Cleopatra back to Rome with him, planning to divorce his wife and marry Cleopatra so he can become ruler of both Rome and Egypt.

Alarmed by Julius Caesar’s ambitions and worried that he is too strongly influenced by the foreign queen, prominent Romans conspire, and eventually assassinate Caesar.  Cleopatra is forced to flee back to Egypt.

In Rome, Caesar’s buddy Marc Anthony (Henry Wilcoxon) has quickly used his oratorical skills to gain favor, much to the envy of Caesar’s nephew Octavian (Ian Keith).    A misogynist, Marc Anthony thinks it will be easy for him to trick Cleopatra into becoming his captive, despite the warnings of his faithful friend Enobarbus (C. Aubrey Smith.)

Cleopatra, however, has shrewdly realized that Marc Anthony is actually a repressed hedonist.  She gets him aboard her barge and plies him with fine wine, rich food, jewels and dancing girls.  It works, and Marc Anthony becomes besotted with Cleopatra, accompanying her back to her queendom.

There they are visited by the sly King Herod (Joseph Schildkraut) who is allied with Octavian, and turns the lovers against each other with paranoia.  Before this can bear deadly fruit, however, the impatient Octavian declares war.  Marc Anthony’s bold response to this wins Cleopatra’s heart for real.

Unfortunately, the opposite is true for Marc Anthony’s legions, who desert to Octavian rather than rebel against Rome.  Even Enobarbus is forced to repudiate Marc Anthony by his principles.  Marc Anthony puts up a valiant fight using the Egyptian troops, but it is no use.  Soon he and Cleopatra are trapped inside her palace.

Cleopatra tries to bargain with Octavian to leave Egypt if he will spare Marc Anthony’s life, but he’s having none of that.  Only Enobarbus’ reminder of the honor of Rome keeps Octavian from violating her peace negotiation immunity then and there.

Returning to the palace, Cleopatra discovers that Marc Anthony mistook her envoy for a betrayal, and committed suicide rather than surrender.  As he passes away, the lovers reconcile.  Cleopatra then commits suicide by asp herself, the invading Romans finding her dead upon her throne.

This is another Cecil B. DeMille film, this one produced just as the Hays Code came in.   The stranglehold was not so firm yet, so some pretty risque images made it into the film, especially in the scene on Cleopatra’s barge where she seduces Marc Anthony.  Dancing girls in leopard skins having catfights, yowza!  The sets and costumes are really nice with an Art Deco feel, and almost make up for the lack of color.

Cleopatra is the star of the movie, and Claudette Colbert shines in the role.  She has little actual power, and must rely on the men around her to get things done.  So she uses her sex appeal and wealth and psychology to manipulate those men into doing her bidding.  Cleopatra throws herself wholeheartedly into this endeavor, allowing herself to truly fall in love with Caesar and then Marc Anthony.

But it is all for the sake of Egypt, and Rome will not have Egypt be anything but a vassal, so it all ends in tragedy.  There are references to the Shakespeare plays here and there.

As always with the DeMille films, this is a highly romanticized version of history, but it’s a great movie.

Comic Book Review: The Forgotten Man Graphic Edition

Comic Book Review: The Forgotten Man Graphic Edition by Amity Shlaes & Paul Rivoche

Disclaimer:  I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  My copy was an uncorrected proof, and some changes will occur in the final edition (due out around May 2014.)

The Forgotten Man

This is a “graphic novel” version of the revisionist history book by Amity Shlaes in which she argues that the New Deal policies tended to prolong the Great Depression.  For this version, the story is told through the narration of Wendell Willkie, an electric utility executive that ran against Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1940 election.

The black and white Rivoche art serves the subject well, although casting FDR’s face in shadow much of the time is an artistic choice that is perhaps a bit too obvious in its intentions.

The general notion is that government intervention in the economy was (and is) a bad thing, and that self-starting individuals such as the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous could have brought the country out of its slump much earlier.  It also tries to link several of the important figures in the Roosevelt Administration to Communism, a frequent bugaboo of neoconservatives.

That said, there were many missteps in the great experiment of the New Deal, and several of them get a mention here.  Some of them don’t come across quite as the author intended, I think, looking more like the result of bad individual decisions than bad government policy.

There are some really good bits in here, such as the running gag of Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon not talking.

The back has a (possibly misleading) timeline and economic chart, followed by a listing of the cast of characters.  The potted biographies carefully cut off as of 1940, which means that you will need to do your own research on such figures as Ayn Rand to see where they actually ended up.

As noted in the disclaimer, this is an uncorrected proof, and some dialogue balloons have missing words or badly constructed sentences, making them make little sense,  which will presumably be fixed in the finished product.

Fans of the original book should find this one interesting, as well as history buffs who enjoy graphic novels.  Those of you who are not familiar with economics may want to brush up a bit to more fully understand the positions being argued here.  In honesty, I’m recommending this one more for the art than the writing.

Movie Review: The Crusades (1935)

Movie Review: The Crusades (1935)

It is the 12th Century, and the Holy Land has been seized by the Saracens, under the command of Saladin (Ian Keith).  Crosses, Bibles and other Christian symbols are burned, and the Christian inhabitants of Jerusalem taken into captivity.  A hermit (C. Aubrey Smith) confronts Saladin and declares that he will call a crusade.

The Crusades (1935)

Sure enough, we next see the hermit at the court of King Philip of France (C. Henry Gordon), who accepts the call to go on crusade against the infidels.   But first he must secure his kingdom against invasion, so it’s off to England to marry his sister Alice (Katherine DeMille) to her betrothed, King Richard the Lionhearted (Henry Wilcoxson.)

Richard, as it turns out, is a boisterous fellow who enjoys hanging with his bros and participating in violent sports in preparation for serious fighting.  He especially loves harassing his minstrel friend Blondel (Alan Hale), who fights back with joking rhymes.  Richard is in no mood to get married, especially to the dour Alice.  To be honest, Richard is kind of a jerk who cares little for God.

So when the hermit arrives to call the crusade, Richard is lured not only by the thought of combat, but by the fact that the pledge of the crusader overrides all others, including arranged betrothal.  The hermit can tell that Richard’s motives are not pure, and warns him that he’ll be humbled, but accepts his pledge nonetheless.   Richard is less enthused that Alice has taken the crusader’s oath as well and will also be going to the Holy Land.

Meanwhile, Prince John conspires with the Marquis of Monferrat.  It would serve them both well if Richard did not return to England.

When Richard’s troops arrive in Marseilles, he discovers that he really should have brought more gold with him, as the King of Navarre (George Barbier) isn’t taking IOUs for his cattle and grain.  A reluctant bargain is struck; Richard will marry Navarre’s daughter, Berengaria (Loretta Young) in exchange for the supplies.  Richard sends his sword to the wedding ceremony as a stand-in, which ticks the bride off no end–she wasn’t keen on an arranged marriage in the first place, and the groom can’t be bothered to even show up for it?

The next morning, Richard finally sees Berengaria and realizes that she’s the hottest woman in Europe.  He pretty much abducts his reluctant bride to the Holy Land with him.

Richard’s actions create discord among the assembled crusader kings, especially drawing the enmity of King Philip, who is understandably infuriated by the insult to his sister.  Richard and Berengaria’s relationship is also pretty rocky; she’s coming to admire his moxie, but still considers him a jerk.  And Saladin also is taken by Berengaria’s beauty, adding more intrigue to the mix.

This highly romanticized tale of the Third Crusade was directed by Cecil B. DeMille.  This is most obvious during the exciting scenes of the siege of Acre, with war machines and hundreds of extras battling it out by and on the walls of the city.  There’s also a wonderful set piece with the Crusaders arranged on stairs, trying to get a glimpse of the True Cross.

By this time, the Hays Code had come in, so the violence is relatively subdued, and the sexual overtones are considerably reduced.  (Doesn’t stop Berengaria from having a dress that clings to her curves, mind you.)

After an ugly scene at the beginning where Christian women are sold into slavery, the Muslims aren’t shown as being particularly bad people, just militarily opposed to the crusaders.   Saladin himself is a noble fellow, and a worthy opponent to Richard.  (Indeed, he winds up negotiating peace with Richard, and returning the captured Berengaria, allowing Richard to keep his vows without further violence.)

The treatment of women in the movie, however…they are persistently treated as property and bargaining chips.   Alice is more or less okay with this.  She’s fiercely devoted to protecting France by marrying the King of England (whoever that might turn out to be) and maintains her dignity throughout.  Berengaria is much less pleased, and it takes her most of the film to reconcile herself to Richard.

Richard, on the other hand, goes from a self-centered jerk who doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions on other people, to a humbled warrior who is willing to pray to God for aid, and abide by treaty.

As a movie, this is a fun, well-shot, well-acted film.   However, it’s very much Hollywood history, and should not be taken as at all a serious examination of the Third Crusade so much as a romantic epic.

For another romanticized look at the Third Crusade, see my review of The Boy Knight by G.A. Henty.


Book Review: Letter & Spirit, Volume 8: Promise and Fulfillment

Book Review: Letter & Spirit, Volume 8: Promise and Fulfillment edited by Scott W. Hahn

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would write a review of it.  I am a Christian, but not a Catholic, so this may affect my reactions to this volume.

Letter & Spirit, Volume 8

This is not actually a book, but a scholarly journal put out by the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.  While I do not agree with the Catholic church on some of their dogma, they do have an impressive history of Biblical scholarship.  This volume’s focus is on the connection between the Old Testament and New Testament, and how the latter fulfills the former.

I am sadly lacking a knowledge of Greek or Hebrew, which means that I am at a loss to fully appreciate some of the more esoteric papers, which focus on the precise meaning of individual words in the scriptural texts.  All of these are extensively cited and footnoted, however, so the scholar can follow up with the sources.

The paper I found of most value was “The Tradition of Christian Allegory Yesterday and Today” by Leroy A. Huizenga.  It’s a good introduction to the subject of using allegory to interpret Scripture, and just what is meant by the terms used in the field, including “allegory” itself.   I would recommend this paper to any interested layman.

Also of interest was “Historical Criticism as Secular Allegorism: The Case of Spinoza” by Jeffrey L. Morrow.  It argues that Spinoza’s approach to Biblical interpretation, which among other things seeks to know what was added to the manuscript when and by whom, reflects the political and religious struggles in his time.    Thus it has its own subjective lens, and is not as objective as some of its adherents would claim.

The primary audience for this journal would be Biblical scholars; aside from the one paper mentioned above, I really cannot recommend it to anyone else.  This is not to say that it is poorly written, merely that it’s esoteric.

Open Thread: Microeconomics

Bad news, I’m afraid.  I will have to retake microeconomics again next quarter in order to graduate.

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

In other news, the next book coming up has been slow going, so the review will take another day or two.

Any good stories out there about economics?

Movie Review: The Sign of the Cross (1932)

Movie Review: The Sign of the Cross (1932)

In the year 64 A.D., Rome burns while Nero (Charles Laughton) composes poetry, accompanying himself on the lyre.  Ambitious bodyguard Tigelinus (Ian Keith) warns that some parties are blaming the fires on Nero himself.  Nero doesn’t actually deny the rumor, but doesn’t confirm it either.  Tigelinus suggests blaming the fire on the Christians, a radical sect that he believes are planning to overthrow the government.

The Sign of the Cross

Thus there is now a bounty on Christians, which two local thugs try to collect by nabbing a couple of old men who were seen making the sign of the cross.  The ward of one of the men, Mercia (Elissa Landi) , tries to intervene, but the scene is turning into a riot.  The draws the attention of prefect Marcus Superbus (Fredric March).    Immediately smitten by the beautiful Mercia, Marcus allows the old men to go free by answering evasively about their religion.

Marcus, meanwhile, is a favorite of Empress Poppea (Claudette Colbert), who has the hots for him, even though he’s too loyal to Nero to return the favor.  Rumors start flying about Marcus and Mercia,  and Tigelinus sees them as a way to discredit Marcus and become prefect himself.  Things rapidly go from bad to worse.

This was a Cecil B. DeMille movie, his first talkie film with a religious theme.  It was made before the Hays Code, so contains some scenes that are kind of spicy by the standards of the early 1930s.  Reactions to these scenes helped lead to the formation of the Catholic League of Decency.  In particular, there’s the Dance of the Naked Moon, performed by the “wicked”  Ancaria (Joyzelle Joyner) at Marcus’ request to try to get Mercia to loosen up a bit at his banquet.  It has some pretty blatant lesbian overtones.

Mind, that dance is overcome by the power of Christian prisoners singing hymns.  Make no mistake, the author is on the side of Mercia and her fellow believers, no matter how many scantily-clad women may be on display.  There’s some shirtless men too, but the camera doesn’t linger on them the same way.

Quite a bit of violence is also on display, with archers massacring a Christian gathering, and a full day of events at the Games.  DeMille has some fun with little bits of dialogue among the audience at the Coliseum,  pointing up similarities to audiences at any violent sporting event.  And then there’s the outright weird Amazons vs. Pygmies battle, which the spectators treat as comedy, even though it has just as much blood and death as the other gladiatorial contests.  (The “pygmies” appear to be white little people in bad makeup.)

The acting is good, though still in the “just out of silents” way that less experienced viewers may find odd.  Charles Laughton is clearly having a ball as the self-indulgent but easily swayed Nero.  Fredric March has a tougher role as Marcus,  who doesn’t quite understand this Christianity thing, and has a rather off-putting way of courtship (he does the “hem the woman in to keep her from escaping” thing some women I know really hate), but is trying to not frighten Mercia away.

You may notice a distinct resemblance to the plot of Quo Vadis, which the original play version apparently borrowed large chunks of.  This being a Cecil B. DeMille movie, there’s plenty of spectacle, and some really obvious Cross symbolism.

If you liked the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments and want to see some more Cecil B. DeMille, this is a good place to start.  (Make sure you get the restored version with the milk bath scene.)

Open Thread: School’s Out for Now

I finished the last of my homework last night, so now all I have to do is wait to see if I did well enough to get my Associates’ degree.

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

Now I can spend more time reading things that aren’t class-related!  Catch up on some movie watching, maybe get a job with my shiny new degree.

How’s by you?

Manga Review: Magi #1

Manga Review: Magi #1 by Shinobu Ohtaka

In a setting not unlike the Middle Eastern tales of the Arabian Nights, there is a boy named Aladdin.   He’s lived in isolation until now, so he doesn’t know much about the outside world, or how society works.  Soon, Aladdin meets a drifter named Alibaba, who’s a poor laborer now, but dreams of conquering a dungeon, a mysterious trap-laden building filled with treasure.

Magi #1

After some difficulties with Alibaba’s current client, the wine merchant Budel, and a run-in with the local slavery laws, Alibaba and Aladdin find themselves with no place to go but the dungeon.  It’s filled with dangers, just as described, but more dangerous may be the rival group of treasure hunters….

This is the manga the previously reviewed anime Magi: The Magical Labyrinth was based on.  (Its sequel, Magi: The Kingdom of Magic is now airing.)   The manga starts with a solo adventure of Aladdin, in which he helps out a caravan; this was skipped in the anime to bring in Alibaba faster, and bits reused after the first storyarc.

Aladdin has a rather annoying breast fetish, and some fanservice comes up throughout.  As mentioned in the anime review, most of the characters are suspiciously pale-skinned for the Middle East setting and being out in the sun all the time.

That said, it’s a fun series that will later have a really interesting female character, Morgiana (she appears in this volume, but pre-character development.)

This will mostly appeal to fans of the anime, but might be worth looking into if you’re a fan of Arabian Nights style fantasy.

Book Review: The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human

Book Review: The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human by Noah Strycker

Disclaimer:  I received this book from the publisher as part of a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  I received an Advance Reading Copy and there may be changes in the final edition.

The Thing with Feathers

As the title states, this is a book about the behavior of birds.  Mr. Strycker is a field researcher with a specialty in birds, so most of the chapters have stories of his personal experiences with the type of birds mentioned.  Each chapter covers a different type of bird and an interesting topic about it, from the ability of homing pigeons to find their way, through the pecking order of chickens to albatross monogamy.

Some of the topics will be familiar to anyone who paid attention in biology class, but others have up to the year research with new implications.   For example, the chapter on starlings explains how mathematics, physics and computer modeling have advanced our knowledge of flock behavior.  Many of the chapters do tie back into possible ties or comparisons to human behavior and biology.

It’s fascinating stuff, and is written in a casual, easy to read style.  The book should be suitable for bright junior high students on up to non-ornithologist adults who enjoy watching or reading about birds.  However,  the casual style carries over to the end notes, and there is no index.  Serious ornithology students will want to dig for more rigorously cited works to please their professors.  Each topic has a bird drawing by Janet Hansen.

Please be advised that this book does cover biological functions of birds and nature red in tooth and claw, so may not be suitable for sensitive children.

I recommend this book to bird lovers and science-minded readers.

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