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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Special Concert Review: The Planets: An HD Odyssey

As most of you know, I am a big fan of heavy metal music but I also enjoy classical music and neither Ft.Worth nor I are not without a little culture. Both heavy metal and classical music share some of the same heavy themes and power with pieces such as Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Moussorgsky and of course The Planets by Gustav Holst. Last night, I experienced a very special concert (which I almost missed because of my health) at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas: The Planets: An HD Odyssey performed by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Associate Conductor Andr├ęs Franco and also featuring a performance by the TCU Chorale. To begin the concert, the symphony performed the Star-Spangled Banner and then the 1812, Overture solonelle Op. 49 by Tchaikovsky, a surprising but fitting and impressive prelude to The Planets. This particular performance was accompanied by a visual presentation on a movie screen above the symphony featuring HD images of the actual planets of our solar system taken from satellite photos and The Hubble Telescope. Before the music began there was a short, documentary-style interview session featuring several prominent scientists and astronomers from institutes such as the Jet Propulsion Lab.
Ironically, although the performance features images of the actual planets, the theme of The Planets has more to do with their Roman mythological counterparts than the actual planets. The performance began with the most popular and recognizable of pieces from The Planets: "Mars, the Bringer of War". Mars is a very powerful and bellicose piece that incorporates images of battle and destruction, however while the planet Mars itself has a very barren, rocky terrain which has sparked the imagination of astronomers and Sci-Fi writers for years. Also on the screen, were images from the Mars Rover Mission in 2004. Next was "Venus, the Bringer of Peace", a very slow and light piece which reflects the mysterious surface of the planet accompanied by very colorful images. Then came "Mercury, the Winged Messenger", a very light and playful piece which hardly compliments the actual planet as it appears very grey and resembles our moon. "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" is probably the next best-known piece from The Planets and is quite possibly the most uplifting and triumphant with a very Western-themed sound. The images of it's gaseous surface and particularly it's great red spot are wondrous. Next came "Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age", a piece that starts out very slow and grows very ominous. The images of Saturn's rings were especially impressive. Next was "Uranus, the Magician", while starting out very playful and lively, the piece ends very somber and foreboding. The striking blue color of the planet complimented the piece very well. The last piece of The Planets is "Neptune, the Mystic", another haunting and mysterious piece which featured the marvelous voices of the TCU Chorale towards the end. The performance was a success and very special experience which earned a standing ovation for the conductor and the symphony. This concert was originally performed by the Houston Symphony and is also available on DVD and Blu-ray

   

"Every artist ought to pray that he may not be a 'success.' If he's a failure he stands a good chance on concentrating upon the best work of which he's capable." - Gustav Holst, 1925

Friday, September 16, 2011

BLU-RAY SPECIAL: TOP 10 STAR WARS MOMENTS

STAR WARS is THE greatest pop-culture phenomenon in the world (or the galaxy)! I grew up on Star Wars (the Original trilogy) and have been a devoted fan all of my life. No other movie has had such an impact on my life. While the prequel trilogy may not match by far the original trilogy, it does hold some merit in the Star Wars Saga as a whole. Today marks the release of Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-ray in the U.S., which includes 9 High-Definition Blu-ray discs and features over 40 hours of bonus material including deleted, extended and alternate scenes, documentaries and archive footage! The Star Wars movies have some of the greatest and most memorable moments in movie history and any Star Wars fan would have a hard time choosing their favorite. In celebration of the release of The Complete Saga on Blu-ray, Chernobog's Blog Presents: The Top 10 STAR WARS Moments!

#10 The Rise of Darth Vader (Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) - While fans have been awaiting to see the origin of Darth Vader for 30 years, the events leading up to Episode III was not without disappointment. After Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) joins Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), he helps him to destroy the Jedi, (even killing younglings) and the ultimate duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan leaves Anakin severely injured. The Emperor makes Anakin him into a half-man/half-machine. Upon reviving him, the Emperor tells Anakin that he inadvertently killed Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) in anger and thus he responds with the now infamous "NOOOOOO!"

#9 "It's a Trap!" (Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) - During the final battle between the Rebellion and the Empire over the moon of Endor, Lando Calrissian in the Millenium Falcon, leads a squadron of fighters to attack the new Death Star. Under the command of Admiral Ackbar the fleet soon realizes that the deflector shield is still operational because Han and his team have so far been unable to deactivate it. When the fleet start to retreat, they realize that the Empire has surrounded them with Star Destoyers. Ackbar says one of the most famous and overly done quotes in the whole Star Wars saga: "It's a trap!"

#8 The Death of Qui-Gon Jinn (Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) - While Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) may have seemed like an ancillary character in Episode I, he remains a fan favorite. His death causes Obi-Wan to reluctantly take on the training of Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), who had previously been denied by the Jedi Council. While Qui-Gon is seen as a very wise Jedi Master, he is apparently very rebellious in his decision to take Anakin from his home and train him as a Jedi. Even Yoda, Master Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), and the council knew that Anakin possessed many qualities of the Dark Side, Despite their warnings, believing Anakin is prophesied to bring balance to the force,Qui-Gon defies the council and trains him anyway. His training is cut short as Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) encounter Darth Maul (Ray Park), a Dark Lord of the Sith. In a desperate duel with the dual-lightsaber wielding Sith, Qui-Gonn is killed and later Obi-Wan vows to complete Anakins training.

#7 Escape from Jabba's Palace (Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) - By the final chapter of the Original Trilogy, our heroes are in the worst situation possible! When Han Solo (Harrison Ford) was frozen in carbonite, Boba Fett took him to Jabba the Hut. While Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) had already been undercover in Jabba's palace as a guard, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) also comes to Han's rescue, disguised as the bounty hunter Boussh with Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) as her captive. Although Leia tries to free Han from his frozen prison, they are discovered! Han is thrown in jail with Chewbacca and Leia is chained to Jabba's side and forced to wear a scanty slave outfit (many a fanboy's dream)! Finally Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) arrives, now a full fledged Jedi Knight, He attempts to bargain for his friends lives, but is fed to the Rancor. When Luke defeats the Rancor, Jabba then decides to feed all of them (except Leia) to the Sarlac! Ultimately, Luke escapes being eaten by the Sarlac, Han unwittingly defeats Boba Fett and Leia strangles Jabba. It all ends when Jabba's sail barge is destroyed in a magnificent explosion and our heroes escape with C-3PO and R2-D2 in tow!

#6 The Trash Compactor (Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) - When Han Solo and Luke Skywalker go to rescue Princess Leia disguised as Stormtroopers, they are cut off by Imperial troops and their only escape is through one of the Death Star's trash compactors. While trapped, they realize there is a creature living in the compactor which almost kills Luke and on top of that the compactor is activated and slowly begins to crush the three of them. If not for the bumbling efforts of C-3PO and R2-D2 they surely would've been crushed to death!

#5 The Death of Emperor Palpatine (Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) - During the final battle between the Rebellion and the Empire, Luke Skywalker has been held captive in the Emperor's throne room watching the battle alongside his father, Darth Vader. As tensions rise and Luke feels the need to kill the Emperor, battle ensues between Vader and Luke! Luke, in a fit of rage, then cuts off Vader's hand and still refuses to join the Dark Side. The Emperor responds with bolts of Force lightning, nearly killing Luke if not for Vader's ultimate sacrifice! Vader intervenes, picks up the Emperor and throws him down a long shaft but not before receiving a fatal dose of the Emperor's power. Vader soon dies as Luke finally sees the real face of his father.

#4 The Duel between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) - Probably one of THE darkest moments in the Star Wars saga, the ultimate duel between friends is the final step in turning Anakin to the Dark Side of The Force. It is a shock to see Anakin and Obi-Wan, who had become very close as Master and Padawan, locked in such a violent battle on the volcanic planet of Mustafar. It is one of the most powerful scenes and a dramatic moment for Obi-Wan: "You were the chosen one! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! You were to bring balance to The Force, not leave it in darkness! You we're my brother Anakin, I loved you..."

#3 The Freezing of Han Solo (Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) - While there are several scenes in the Original Trilogy that deal with narrow escapes, the climax to The Empire Strikes Back is not one of them. When Han Solo, Leia, Chewbacca and C-3PO travel to Bespin and Cloud City to seek refuge and repairs from Han's old friend Lando Calrissian, unfortunately Lando has already made a deal with the Empire and turns Han over to them! While Vader wants to use the heroes as bait for Luke, whom he intends to freeze in Carbonite for his journey to the Emperor. First, he tests it on Han. As Han is prepared to be lowered into the freezing device (which is one of the most dramatic and romantic moments in the Star Wars saga) Leia kisses Han and says "I love you", to which Han responds: "I know" and he is lowered into the freezer.

#2 Luke Vs. Darth Vader (Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) - The first battle between Darth  Vader and Luke Skywalker in the climax to The Empire Strikes Back is one of the most pivotal moments in the Star Wars Saga. Luke, having left Yoda's training prematurely to save Han and Leia at Cloud City is met by a trap set by Vader. As he is lured into the Carbonite Freezing Chamber he is met by Vader and the battle ensues. The fight is taken outside onto a platform overlooking a bottomless shaft in the bowels of Cloud City where Vader ultimately cuts off Luke's hand and then drops one of  the biggest WTF moments of all time: "I am your father!" The rest is history...

#1 The Battle of Yavin, a.k.a. the destruction of the first Death Star (Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) - The ultimate battle between the Rebellion and the Empire is fought by a small squadron of Rebel fighters and the enormous Death Star! (That's no moon!) With the knowledge from the secret plans from Princess Leia stored in R2-D2 the Rebels were able to find a small thermal exhaust port along a trench. Against insurmountable odds the small squadron manages to fend off defending TIE fighters and Death Star gunners until only Luke Skywalker's X-Wing remains and with only the power of The Force at his side (and a little help from Han Solo) he manages to fire a single proton torpedo into a 2-meter wide hole and BOOM! The Death Star Explodes! The Rebels win, Luke and Han get medals from Leia (but not Chewbacca?) and the galaxy is safe again...but don't worry The Empire will build another one soon!


My thoughts on the Blu-ray release: While the video releases of the Star Wars Saga have always met with some controversy, the release of the new Blu-rays is not without some debate. The THX remastered editions of the Original Trilogy released in 1995 and the Special Editions in 1997 included some subtle and some very bold changes to the films made by George Lucas himself. While some of the changes have sparked discontent and controversy in many fans (including me), any changes are remotely minor to the saga as a whole. With the release of the new Blu-rays it is obvious there will be even more changes along with even more added, deleted and altered scenes, but I hope will not "damage" the saga further! May the Force Be With You!
LINKS: Star Wars Official Site, The Official Star Wars Blog, Star Wars Blu-ray on Facebook

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering September 11, 2001

September 11th, 2001...it started out an ordinary day like any other. People went to school and work that morning like they did every day, little did we know that it would be day that would change our world and everything forever...

I remember where I was on 9/11: I was a college journalism student at Tarrant County College working in the newspaper office when a student came by the room and announced a plane crashed in New York City. The class quickly went to the student center where there was a big-screen TV and we saw the WTC North Tower in flames and watched as a second plane hit the South Tower. We watched the devastation in silence most of the morning and when it was announced that classes were cancelled I went to work and watched the rest of the event there. I had a friend that lived on Staten Island at that time and another friend who was in the U.S. Army Reserves and was involved in "Operation Enduring Freedom" (Nov. 2001-Dec. 2002), thankfully he came home but I have another friend currently serving in the Air Force in Iraq.

I don't usually blog about anything political or for that matter anything dealing with current events other than movies, music or TV. I admit I am not up on current events as much as I should be and am much more preoccupied with entertainment than the world's problems right now. But in light of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I felt obligated to acknowledge those events that affected so much in our world and so many people. No doubt the Internet will be full of 9/11 features and articles today and even Yahoo! News has a particularly large website devoted to 9/11 Remembered. Not since the invasion of Pearl Harbor in World War II has there been such a single loss of American lives and devastation. For my generation, this was a pivotal moment in our history, not unlike the baby-boomer generation who experienced the assassinations of John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr. Such national tragedies like the Challenger explosion in 1986 or Columbia disaster in 2003 cannot even compare to the loss of life and destruction of September 11th, 2001. We live in a troubled time, never has such a travesty caused so much fear, anger, hate, confusion and suspicion than 9/11 and if it hadn't been such a major event we wouldn't be talking about it today. We look back on the events of 9/11, a day where everything stopped and we watched helplessly as a symbol of American prosperity and power toppled in a cloud of dust and smoke, making the ground shake.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

ANIME FEST SPECIAL: TOP 10 ANIME

It's AnimeFest Weekend here in Dallas, Texas and unfortunately...I'm not going! Sadly, due to financial constraints, I have broken my long time tradition of being an attendee at Dallas' AnimeFest this year! But, it's not all bad, instead of spending a lot of money and dealing with the crowd, I can sit right here at home and have my own personal AnimeFest and watch all of my favorite anime! And so I thought I would post my long-overdue list of my favorite TOP 10 ANIME! This list includes both anime series, movies, OVAs, Enjoy!

#10 Macross/Robotech (1982) - In the year 1999, a gigantic spaceship crash-lands on Earth sparking a united Earth government to rebuild the ship and utilize the alien technology to develop their own new technology including fighter-planes that can transform into robots known as Veritechs! To most kids who grew up in the 80's like me who watched this little cartoon called Robotech and we had no idea it was our first introduction to anime! Although altered, diluted and Americanized from it's original format as Macross, it sparked a new popularity of anime in the 80's. The late 1970's brought "Gundam" and Starblazers to the U.S. while it remained virtually unknown, and did not seem to have the same affect, Robotech brought Japanimation to a more mainstream audience and of course the rest...is history!

#9 Rurouni Kenshin/Samurai X (2000) - Set during the Japanese Meiji Era, ten years after the revolution, Hitokiri battousai, the Manslayer, the legendary assassin known as Himura Kenshin is now a wanderer who has vowed never to kill again. Armed with his reverse blade sword he finds himself protecting a small sword school led by Kaoru Kamiya. Along with a diverse cast of characters including Sanosuke, Yahiko, and Dr. Megumi Rurouni Kenshin is a delightful series full of action, comedy and romance. Also recommend Samurai X OAVs: Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal, Samurai X: Reflection and Samurai X: The Movie (a.k.a. "Requiem")!

#8 Vampire Hunter D (1985) - Set in the year 12,090 A.D., the Earth is overrun with vampires, werewolves and all manner of dark creatures. When a small village is terrorized by an ancient aristocrat vampire and his minions, a young woman named Doris hires a vampire hunter named only "D" after she is bitten. However, D is no ordinary vampire hunter...! Vampire Hunter D was one of the first mature anime movies I ever saw. I was fascinated by the mixture of dark, Gothic horror and sci-fi in the strange post-apocalyptic setting. D has always been one of my favorite animes and I was overjoyed when a sequel, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust was released in 2000, but unfortunately it doesn't equal to the original, however it did spark new interest in D as recently both the original novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi, with art by Yoshitaka Amano and manga have been released in the U.S.!

#7 Samurai 7 (2004) - Based on the classic samurai film by director Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai (1954)), Samurai 7 is an anime adaptation combining both fantasy and sci-fi elements into a unique 26 episode series. When a simple farming village is threatened by technologically advanced bandits who take their crops every year, the village decides to hire samurai warriors to defend them. What they get is an unusual group of samurai including the experienced Kanbei, the young Katsuhiro and a clumsy cyborg named Kikuchiyo! Truly original and fantastic, I was already a fan of Kurosawa's films and found the anime adaptation to be an impressive and wonderful series.

#6 Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) - The year is 2015, after a catastrophic global event, the Earth is being attacked by alien creatures dubbed "Angels" and only one organization, N.E.R.V., is equipped to handle them with their own bio-mechanical mecha suits called Evangelions or EVA. Shinji Ikari, a timid teenage boy is summoned by his father unexpectedly to pilot an EVA along with two other children (Rei and Asuka) in order to save the world! This phenomenal series combined Judeo-Christian mythology with apocalyptic prophecies and giant robots to create one of the most popular anime series in the last decade. After several movies and a recent reboot Rebuild of Evangelion 2.0, there is also a live action movie in the works!

#5 Cowboy Bebop (1998) - Following the adventures of a rag-tag group of bounty hunters, Cowboy Bebop is an immensely popular and successful anime series with a huge following. This unlikely "team" of bounty hunters include Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, along with Ed and Ein the dog. Despite having only a short run of 26 episodes, Cowboy Bebop is action-packed and funny, with an amazing soundtrack by Yokko Kanno! Also see Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001)!

#4 Mobile Suit Gundam (1978) - In the year 0079, the galaxy is caught up in a war between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon utilizing state-of-the-art mobile suit technology. When Amuro Ray, a young mechanical genius is caught up in the conflict he ends up piloting one of the Federation's prototype mobile suits called Gundam! Possibly THE most influential anime series ever, Mobile Suit Gundam has sparked over a dozen spin-offs (including the most recent: Gundam Seed) and several movies, not to mention a fortune in toys and models!

#3 Princess Mononoke (1997) - The animals and spirits of the forest are threatened by the encroachment of man and when Ashitaka becomes infected by a demon, he is exiled and seeks the Great Spirit of the Forrest in the hopes it will remove his curse. Along the way he meets San, a ferocious wolf-girl, a human raised by wolves, who is about to lead a major battle against the humans! Of all the films by master director Hayao Miyazaki, it's hard to chose a favorite, but considering Princess Mononkoe was the first of his films to earn immense popularity in the U.S. and is still the #1 film in Japan at the time! Princess Mononoke was one of the first Japanese animated films to have a wide release in the U.S. due to it's celerity voice actors and English script by writer Neil Gaiman. Also recommend other Miyazaki films such as Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, and Ponyo.

#2 Ghost in the Shell (1995) - Motoko Kusanagi, an advanced cyborg, is a member of Section 9, a covert security force specializing in cyber-crimes. While investigating a case she and her team are involved with the infamous "Puppet Master", an anonymous cyber-hacker, which will change her life forever. Based on the mana by Masamune Shirow (Dominion Tank Police, Orion), Ghost in the Shell is one of the most successful anime series spawning the sequel Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence and two anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and S.A.C. 2nd Gig, also the movie Solid State Society.

#1 AKIRA (1988) - 30 years after World War III where a massive nuclear explosion destroyed much of Tokyo, Japan; two young members of a biker gang, Kaneda and Tetsuo get involved in a huge, political cover-up dealing with psychic, mutant children. After a biker fight and crash, Tetsuo is abducted by scientists and experimented on, giving him psychic powers which will ultimately reawakens the most powerful psychic of all, Akira! Akira deals with love, friendship, government conspiracies, evolution and the power of the mind. Akira is written, directed and based on the manga series (1982-1990) created by Katsuhiro Otomo. Highly influential and beautifully animated, Akira is considered to be the most popular anime film of all time and is my #1 Favorite anime! "Kaneda!!! Tetsuo!!!"