Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tuesday animation: Конёк-Горбуно́к (The Humpbacked Horse)

I definitely wasn't expecting an older movie to be selected today!  But it's a nice break from all of the modern ones I've been reviewing.  There are far more modern animated films than older ones, so the likelihood of an older film being selected is low.

This film is one I doubt anyone has seen except for either animation buffs or Russian film buffs.  I myself did not watch it until recently.  There is an English dub of the film, but I only watched the original Russian since I like to watch films in their original format.  I watched a little of the English dub and have to admit that I enjoyed the English dub's portrayal of the main character over his portrayal in the original.

Not to say the Russian version isn't good, though!

Overview: The Humpbacked Horse is a Soviet Russian animated fantasy film first released in 1947.  It was based on a poem by Russian poet Pyotr Pavlovich Yershov.

Art: Honestly, it's beautiful.  It is truly art.  I mean, it's crude and low-budget, but at the same time, it is very artistic and well-done.  The quality has obviously deteriorated over time, though it probably wasn't that good to begin with (lots of spots, cracks).  Good colors, fair amount of fluidity, though not a lot of shading or depth.  Not many angles, all action is usually seen straight-on (i.e. not from above, below, etc.).  Backgrounds are not too impressive and are rather flat and unmoving.  I don't love the designs of the characters.  They're not necessarily cartoony, but they aren't beautiful.  I liked the design of the humpbacked horse and the Tsar-Maiden the best.  I also liked Ivan's transformation at the end.  I love the way light was rendered in this film.  Shiny and bright, especially for its time.  A lovely effect.  However, it is definitely rotoscoped, or at least some parts definitely are.  The artistic style makes it less obvious, but some movements look oddly realistic which strongly suggests rotoscoping.

Good detail here.
Nice light rendering.
Good water animation for its time.

Sound: Deteriorated over time, probably fairly poor when it first came out, though.  Fuzzy, unclear, lots of pops and cracks.  I actually enjoyed the music!  Ivan had a great singing voice as did the Tsar-Maiden.  I loved the bath song with the Tsar, haha.  Some nice background music as well, though nothing memorable.  I really only remember the bath song.  That was just so funny!  I thought all of the voices were great, the humpbacked horse and the Tsar's advisor particularly.

Story: Basically, it's about Ivan's attempts to impress the king and thereby stay alive, and in the end, with the help of his humpbacked horse which was given to him by a horse with a fiery mane at the beginning of the movie, he wins the heart of the Tsar-Maiden and gets everything he could ever want.  The Tsar's advisor attempts to get him killed, and the Tsar is selfish and wants him to do everything for him.  Honestly, it's nothing very deep.  I don't know if I could say that there's a moral.  It's interesting how Ivan was considered the idiot among his three brothers when he actually seemed fairly clever.  A bit brash and outspoken, but clever.  The humpbacked horse was very sweet and helped him so much.  The Tsar-Maiden was beautiful but also quite shallow since she only had interest in Ivan once he was transformed into a handsome man.  The humpbacked horse itself appeared to be a small horse with two camel humps on its back.  o.O  I guess, haha.  The only character that's developed at all is Ivan; the others are pretty flat.  The story is plot-driven, though, so it works out fine.

Personal appeal: While I didn't like the design, I did find the art to be lovely.  The music was fun although not memorable.  The story was interesting, full of whimsy and fantasy.  I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, more than I thought I would.  It was a fun little story, not boring at all.  It was even, dare I say…kind of cute, haha.  Does it compare to Disney movies of the time?  Not even close, but considering that most animation studies back then did not have the money or talent that Disney had, this was certainly a well-made film at the time.

Overall, I rate this two and a half out of five peridots.  It has a lot of charm and fun, but it's a little lacking plot-wise, and the use of rotoscoping makes it less impressive.  It also looks lovely, but the designs are not so attractive.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Banana splendor

I spent most of today working and cleaning.  Getting a new house set up is tiring!  And when I say new, I mean brand-new!  They only just painted the back door today.  :b  I think they'll be painting the front door sometime this week, which should be the last thing so that the house officially won't be under construction anymore.  Yay!

I've been in this house for awhile, but I still had not any any cooking or baking in the kitchen.  I had used a small toaster oven for cooking some chicken skewers, and I of course used the microwave, but the oven had been untouched...until today!  My mom bought me some bananas when I first moved in, and although I tried to eat them all before they went bad, there were just too many.  D:  So, I decided to make banana bread with the remaining bananas!  Yay!  A good reason to use my oven for the first time!

I first had to find a recipe for banana bread.  I wanted one that used brown sugar and picked the first one I could find.

The ingredients!  Yes, that is lactose-free milk.  I'm somewhat lactose-intolerant, and I find that lactose-free milk actually passes as normal milk when used in recipes.  It also makes good chocolate milk!  I haven't tried it on its own, but I don't really like regular milk on its own, so I don't know if I ever will.

Banana bread calls for "very ripe" bananas.  These look very ripe to me!  I probably could've waited even longer, but they were making the pantry smell like bananas.  :/

I had to mash the bananas in a bag.  It was easy, thankfully.

Er, I still need to buy an electric mixer.  You don't really realize what you need in a new house until you, well, need it!  I couldn't get it as smooth as was probably necessary, but I did my best with just a spoon.

I also need to buy more measuring spoons!  I have two, not sure why only two.  I need a full set.

...and I need more baking pans!  Specifically, a loaf pan.  This cake pan had to do.  :b

My brand-new never-been-used oven!  :D  It still looks more or less like this as the banana bread wasn't messy, but now I can't say it's never been used.

The finished product!
It would've been better in a loaf pan, but in the end, the taste is more important than the look, right?  And it did taste good!  I can't say it's best I've ever had, though.  Maybe it was the lactose-free milk or the primitive mixing abilities.  Or maybe the cake pan!  It's still quite tasty, though.  It'll be a good breakfast for a few days!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wednesday whatever: It makes me laugh

I think this picture speaks for itself.  Too cute!  :3  >^____^<

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tuesday animation: ハウルの動く城 (Howl's Moving Castle)

It's been so long since I've gotten a chance to review any traditionally animated films!  D:  I've missed them so much!  The one selected for today is not one of my personal favorites, but it is widely acclaimed and loved by many others.

Howl's Moving Castle came out while I was living in Okinawa.  As with Spirited Away, this film also got a lot of publicity and advertisement.  However, I still did not understand Japanese very well at the time, and I did not have the money nor desire to actually go to a Japanese movie theater and watch it.  I did not watch the film until a few years later in a small theater in my hometown that plays such foreign films and cult classics regularly.  The film had been dubbed in English, so I later had to watch part of the Japanese version in order to write an adequate review.

My thoughts and feelings during the movie were similar to the ones I had during Spirited Away.  As an avid animation fan, people expect me to love Studio Ghibli films, but alas, there's something missing about all the films from the studio that prevents me from rating them too highly.  I acknowledge that they are good, some of them very good, but they do not seem to have that magic that makes me adore animation.  They seem a little...hmm...elitist, if that makes sense, like they are convinced that they are amazing films and that no other films could possibly compare.  That's the vibe I get from them, anyway.  :b

That's not to say it isn't a good film, because it is!

Overview: Howl's Moving Castle is an animated fantasy film from Japan released in 2004.  It was written and directed by the now legendary Hayao Miyazaki.  Highly praised, it was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 78th Academy Awards.

Art: The film is a visual beauty.  Lovely backgrounds and details, many colors.  That said, the character designs are not anything particularly impressive.  They look very similar to the characters from all of Miyazaki's other films.  In fact, the look in general is very similar to his other movies.  If you were to hold a screencap from this movie and a screencap from another Miyazaki movie, you might even believe that they are from the same film if you had never seen either film.  Characters that are supposed to good-looking end up just being kind of weird-looking, and characters that are meant to be plain or not particularly attractive actually appear most attractive.  I think it's just an effect of the design of the characters.  Also, the shading of the characters doesn't seem to match the shading of the backgrounds, creating a weird offset.  The shading on the characters is just so hard and defined while the shading in the background is soft.  This is pretty characteristic of anime, though.  It's not a bad thing necessarily, but it's something that draws my attention.  There is more fluidity than most anime films, but even though I know it was animated at twenty-four frames per second, it still has that very anime-esque feel to it of not having very much movement.  I think the lack of lip movements really adds to that feeling, too.  Also like a typical anime, the characters' mouths mostly just flap when they speak; they are not actually drawn in such a way that it looks they are articulating the words they are speaking.  That to me is a mark of real animation.  Just drawing the mouth lines moving...anyone can do that.  It definitely is a beautiful film, but the actual animation seems to be lacking in some way.  In any animated film, the animation is what impresses me most.  Anyone can make a beautiful picture.  It's how you make that picture move that defines truly beautiful animation, and I cannot rate this as truly beautiful animation.  Beautiful imagery, for sure, though.

I love that sun and the grass.

Great detail.

Astounding detail.  This is really impressive.  I only wish that Howl and Sophie blended in better.

I find this to be just lovely.  Nice light rendering.
Sound: Excellent sound quality.  Everything is crisp and clear.  Music is very good.  Not memorable, but it fits very well and sounds full.  Voices (the original Japanese voices) fit each character very well.  I never felt like any of the voices were grating or didn't seem to match their characters.  Acting was also very well-done.  None of the voices stood out to me in particular, though.  Sophie's voice actor, Chieko Baisho did very well as both her young and old counterparts.  I also really liked Howl's voice actor, Takuya Kimura.  Otherwise, I do not have any huge praise to give any of the voice actors individually.  They all did very well.

Story: The story is very confusing and actually kind of boring.  It's very interesting in the beginning, but then it starts to lull and drag, which can make you easily forget what is going on, and then you might get to the end and have no idea what you just watched.  The story is also kind of pretentious.  The trailers and synopses suggest that the story is about Sophie trying to break the curse of old age that has been placed on her, but that story, which is definitely most interesting, falls secondary to the story of Howl's interference in the war and how he tries to stop it.  You are introduced to one thread in the beginning, but then it changes so drastically that at the end, you're wondering what exactly happened to that first thread.  Just how did Sophie change back into a young woman?  Why is her hair white now?  These things aren't really explained, only heavily implied, which requires multiple viewings to really get what is going on, but it's not really interesting enough to warrant multiple viewings.  It's by no means a bad story.  I mean, I guess it's a good story overall, but it could've been shortened and maybe explained a little better.  The characters are not particularly interesting.  They're all fairly flat and ordinary, even the main characters Sophie and Howl.  The most interesting characters are probably the Witch of the Waste and Calcifer.

Eh...I don't love the way the rain looks here, especially the grey lines around the characters.  It kind of cheapens it.

Personal appeal: I don't hate the movie, but I don't like it.  I've seen it a few times just to make sure that my opinion of it is the same, and every time, I am bored.  Yes, it's pretty, but it's not worth two hours of boring and confusing plot points, especially since the characters engaging in those plot points are pretty boring themselves.  This film is unbelievably pretentious, too.  It's really trying to drive a lesson home about the evils of war, and I find that to be exhausting.  If it had focused more on Sophie's character and her journey as a character, that probably would've made a much more interesting movie.  I also would've loved to see more dynamics in Sophie and Howl's relationship as they never seemed to have any chemistry.  I also don't really understand Howl at all.  He needed a lot more development.  Overall, I acknowledge that it is a lovely film, but I have no desire to ever watch it again.  I'm sure I will watch it again, but it certainly won't be my idea.

Overall, I give this movie three out of five peridots.  It is pretty from a visual perspective, but lacking from an animation perspective, and story-wise, it drags and drags and is just not that interesting.  I can still see why so many like it though, and I would honestly call it a good movie.  I just don't personally like it very much.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Monday teaching: Dream on!

So, today was the first day of my new class (low advanced writing), and let me just say that it really didn't go that well.  D:  I was pretty unhappy with it.  First of all, I had to change everything about an hour before because I was informed only about an hour before that I would have to administer a vocabulary test on Wednesday.  I had to move everything around to accommodate that which meant I had to bump up a diagnostic assignment to today.

I was very stressed!  D:

I hope my students will be forgiving.  I didn't have as much time as I needed to explain and administer the diagnostic assignment today very well.  Thankfully, it doesn't count toward their grades, and in fact, they weren't really supposed to do well on it.  If they did, it meant that they probably needed to be in a higher level.  Still, they seemed so confused, especially since it was a difficult task to complete in only twenty minutes.  I felt pretty bad!

I incorporated the phrase "dream on" into the lesson.  I thought it would be a fun way to tell students "no" if I ever need to (i.e. if they want to turn in an assignment late).  None of them had ever heard the phrase before, which didn't surprise me too much since it is not really used anymore colloquially.  All languages have these phrases or words that were used widely at one time but fall out of favor later, but we generally still know what they mean.  In ESL classes, we try to focus on language that is used currently as that is what students will be encountering.  Trying to teach them older phrases only confuses them.  I made an exception this time, though, since "dream on" is actually one of those phrases I use somewhat regularly.

Anyway, tomorrow will be better right?!

(Dream on.  :b)

Friday, January 9, 2015


I have Internet now!  :D  Which means I can go back to blogging, yay!

I'm starting a new job in a new house and am feeling overwhelmed, but I want to share it all here!  It'll be challenging, but exciting!  I was hoping to have a new layout this month, but I wasn't able to update it without Internet.  Hopefully next month, then!  I at least have to update my calendar.

Monday, January 5, 2015

No Internet!

I spent this entire week moving into my new house, and I am sorry to say that Internet is still not set up!  When I say new, I mean brand-new.  I am the first person to ever live in the house, and it is still technically under construction.  With the help of my parents (<3), I've been getting it setting up to be liveable.

But without Internet or cable...oy, it's hard!  I was told it could be a month before my house is Internet and cable ready.  I have a router and account, just no access to anything.  :(

Which means that I haven't been able to blog.  I have my phone, but it's difficult, and I don't want to go to Internet cafes just to post blogs.  So, hopefully, I'll get it all set up soon so that I can start blogging again!  I'm in a new house in a familiar town.  Should make for some good blogging!