Monday, August 19, 2013

Movie Monday #21: Inception

 “An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules...which is why I have to steal it.”

--Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, Inception 

If there was ever a movie that totally blew my mind and left me with my heart pounding and my jaw on the floor, it was Inception.  I bought it back in January on a whim after hearing people talk about it online and hearing how it got nominated for all those awards.  I was wary of watching another Christopher Nolan vehicle, considering how boring The Prestige had been and how utterly ridiculous and confusing The Dark Knight was. 

Inception opens with our hero, Dom Cobb (played deftly by Leonardo DiCaprio), lying on a beach in Japan.  Brought inside to an old man’s home, the homeowner (Ken Watanabe) and Cobb have a mysterious exchange that’s intriguing but doesn’t make any sense.  As the old man reaches for a gun on the table, the film cuts to the past, where a younger Cobb and younger homeowner, who we learn is named Saito, are discussing a matter of security.  You’re led to believe that Cobb and his associate Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are secret agents of some kind...but then you discover that they’re actually operating inside Saito’s mind--specifically, his dreams.

Cobb, Arthur, and many others live in the near future, where the next level of espionage and thievery has been raised to a person’s subconscious.  Through an experimental device and sedating drugs, anyone can enter anybody’s dreams and extract their deepest, darkest secrets (bank account numbers, troop locations, etc.) and sell it to the highest bidder.

There are some basic rules to how this works, however.  You must have someone build the dream world for you (this person is called the “architect”).  If you’re killed in a dream, you wake up.  If you’re simply shot, it causes excruciating pain on the other side.  To wake someone, you “kick” them--knock them off a chair, dunk them in water, or push them off a building.  It’s the falling sensation that wakes them up, you see.  And the biggest trick of all is the “totem”--an item that tells you when you’re back in the real world (i.e., Arthur’s totem is a pair of loaded dice).

In the opening action sequence inside Saito’s dream, we’re also introduced to Cobb’s wife and nemesis, Mal (Marion Cotillard), who always shows up when he’s least expecting it and undermines whatever operation he’s trying to run.  Needless to say, Cobb’s operation goes to hell when Mal shoots Arthur and the dream collapses (which causes the entire building to fall apart like it’s in an earthquake), but they escape with their skin (and their brains) intact.

Unfortunately, Saito catches up to Cobb and Arthur and offers them a deal--instead of stealing ideas, normally referred to as “extraction,” he wants to know if Cobb can plant an idea, referred to as “inception.”  Arthur says it can’t be done.  Cobb says it can.  He takes the job, and Saito promises him that if he’s successful, he’ll be able to return to his children, who he hasn’t seen in several years.

For this job, Cobb’s going to need a new architect.  He travels to London and visits his grandfather, Miles (played by Michael Caine), who brings his brightest student to our hero’s attention--Ariadne, played by the underrated Ellen Page.  In an interesting job interview, Cobb asks her to draw a maze in two minutes that it would take him one minute to solve.  After several tries, Ariadne draws a giant ring and puts other, smaller rings inside of it, so there’s no way in or out.  The smile on Cobb’s face tells us that this is what he was looking for.

Gathering the rest of his team, Cobb prepares for the biggest gamble of his life--they’re going inside the mind of entrepreneur Robert Fischer, Jr. (played by a very grown-up Cillian Murphy) to plant the idea that he break up his father’s company and be his own man, thereby paving the way for Saito’s company and other companies to open the market.  To do this, they need to go three layers deep--a dream within a dream within a dream--and get so deep into Robert’s subconscious that he won’t remember them being there. Once this gets under way, the movie is a no-holds-barred, non-stop, adrenaline-pumping thrill ride.  I don’t intend to spoil it for those who haven’t seen the movie (and shame on you if you haven’t), but I’ll tell you this much: it will take your breath away.

This was my first time watching Leonardo DiCaprio in a film, and I was very impressed.  I guess the reason I’ve stayed away from his work was the ridiculous performance he put up in Titanic, but he’s grown up a lot since then, and so have his acting skills.  He’s the perfect guy to play Dom Cobb, a man haunted by his past who can’t even dream without the aide of a machine and some drugs.  You instantly connect with him, you feel sorry for him, and you want him to overcome his past in order to seize his future.  This was some of the best acting I’ve seen out of anybody in a long time, so hats off to DiCaprio for a job well done.

I’d only seen Ken Watanabe in one other film (that being The Last Samurai) before Inception, and I’ve got to say that I really like him.  The Japanese film industry isn’t known for its actors or its films (it’s safer to say that Americans identify better with the anime and manga they produce), but Watanabe-san is probably one of the best Japanese actors I’ve seen in a while.  He’s vastly improved over his performance in The Last Samurai, and the intriguing twists his character takes in the film allows for more range in his acting ability.  Hopefully we’ll see more of him in the future.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a very reserved and very respectable role as Arthur, the guy who’s been through the thick and thin with Cobb.  He’s the one who reveals to the viewer that Mal is Cobb’s wife, and the other shocker that she’s dead--what you see in Cobb’s dreams is his projection of her.  Levitt is a very intelligent, very talented actor who I always thought was capable of so much more, and he proves that he is in Inception.

I first saw Ellen Page in the off-beat dramedy Smart People, and I was left wondering where the hell they’d been hiding her all these years.  Now that she’s getting larger, better roles, I was really excited to see what she could do in Inception.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Ellen has the skills and depth of an actress twice her age, and the little touches of her growing closer to Cobb added some much-needed compassion to a movie that, otherwise, would have been very, very weighty.  I think Miss Page has a long career ahead of her, and I’ll be highly anticipating her upcoming projects.

The supporting cast also performs well, but the one actor I couldn’t figure out was Tom Berenger, who played Fischer’s advisor.  This is probably just me, but I’ve never seen him as an A-lister or even a B-lister, and with his age, he really didn’t fit in with the rest of the cast.  Even with those issues, this was probably one of his better performances, so we’ll leave it at that.

The music by Hans Zimmer was just astounding.  I’ve been very wary of Hans ever since his awful Tears of the Sun score, and I was beginning to wonder if he was losing his touch.  He earned so much respect from me with the score to Inception that I went out and bought the soundtrack CD, grinning like some idiot who had just won the lottery.  In a way, I had--the orchestral/electronic score that Hans devised for this film showcases every single aspect of Christopher Nolan’s vision.  The powerful crescendos, the orchestra hits, and the electronic percussion all comes together to make this one of my favorite film scores of all time, and proves that Hans Zimmer is simply the best at what he does.

The production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas was, in a word, beautiful.  The locations and the sets all look so real that you forget you’re watching a movie, and I guess that was the point--to make all of this look like it was really happening, even though it was inside someone’s mind.  Dyas also gets extra points for constructing a staircase to nowhere and discovering the trick to making it look like it really did loop around itself.

The cinematography by Wally Pfister only added to Dyas’s beautiful production work.  Pfister captures all the varying exteriors, interiors, and locations perfectly, and everything looks gorgeous not only on DVD, but also in high-def, something that’s becoming rare these days. 

Christopher Nolan seems to be at his best when he’s universe-building, and it shows in Inception.  Here he presents to us a future where everything seems impossible and possible all at once, with compelling characters in very dire situations that could spell their life and death (in the real world and in the dream world).  While some people laughed at the movie and called its concepts “ridiculous,” I fell in love with the universe Nolan built and found myself in very familiar territory, trekked by the sci-fi and fantasy writers of old.

Besides my dislike for Tom Berenger and the lengthy run time (nearly two and a half hours), Inception is a perfect film.  You feel for the characters, the revelations are all in the right places, the bits of humor are well-spaced, and the rhythm of the plot is intoxicating.  If you haven’t seen Inception yet and you can catch it at a good price, then grab a copy, sit back, and prepare to be blown away. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Movie Monday #20: Drive

"I don't sit in while you're running it down. I don't carry a gun. I drive."
--Ryan Gosling as Driver, Drive 

When I first saw Drive, it was on my computer screen as a glitchy screener rip that someone posted on BT Junkie.  I'm not proud that I downloaded the movie first, but when all of the rental stores have closed in your town, downloading becomes your renting.  My impression from that first viewing was that the film was a masterpiece, so much so that after it was done, I watched it all over again (something I rarely do).  The 80's-influenced electro-pop soundtrack, the superb acting, and the subtleties in the script made this one of my top ten favorite films of all time.

Recently I finally acquired a Blu-Ray player and a HD-TV and needed a cool movie to test them out on.  I headed down to my local Dollar General and found a DVD copy of Drive for eight bucks.  Knowing that my Blu-Ray would up-convert the anamorphic widescreen print to 1080p, I popped it into the player and sat back with a Sprite and a McChicken to experience this masterpiece again, the way I should have seen it the first time.

Ryan Gosling plays a nameless Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a wheelman for crooks.  He also works at a car garage run by Shannon (Bryan Cranston), an overly-friendly guy who has taken "Driver" under his wing and affectionately calls him "kid."  Driver lives in the same apartment building as Irene (Carey Mulligan), a waitress whose Latino husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is serving time.  Driver makes quick friends with Irene's son, Benicio, and soon a romance blossoms between Driver and Irene, only to be thwarted by Standard's release from prison.

One night while returning from a drive, Driver spots two rough-looking characters in the parking lot of his building.  Exploring a little, he finds Standard beaten to a pulp and Benicio cowering in fear.  According to Standard, he's behind on protection money he paid some toughs while he was in prison, and every time they come asking, the amount doubles.  They also want him to rob a pawn shop that reportedly has the money that will pay off his debt.  Driver agrees to be Standard's wheelman...but when the heist goes to hell, Driver's life--and everyone else's--falls into jeopardy.

The first thing you'll notice about Drive is its electro-pop soundtrack.  Featuring the likes of Kavinsky, Desire, College, and a mesmerizing number by The Chromatics called "Tick of the Clock," the music just drips coolness.  Add to this the astounding visuals of Los Angeles and Driver cruising the streets at night, and you've got yourself a winning combination.  The musical score by Cliff Martinez (who I've loved since Steven Soderbergh's "Solaris") is an astounding electronic mixture that captures all the moods, emotions, and tragedies of the film perfectly and compliments the electro-pop numbers on an even level.

The second thing you'll notice is Ryan Gosling as "Driver."  This was the first time I'd ever seen him in a film, and I was supremely impressed.  He doesn't say very much, but each line is delivered with the appropriate inflection and meaning, like he was born to play this role.  Sometimes he doesn't say anything at all, and a twist of the head or a shift of the weight sufficed (watch his conversation with Standard in the bathroom for evidence of this), and even that carried the necessary gravity to get the point across.  And even when Gosling had to show Driver's anger, it was also measured and proportioned, like he was holding it all back in case he needed it again.  This is one of the best performances I've seen in modern film, and I can't recommend it enough.

Carey Mulligan plays Irene, Standard's wife and Driver's love interest.  This was the first time I'd ever seen her in a film, and I instantly fell in love with her.  She looks so sweet and innocent, but plays Irene as a woman who's struggling between her duty to her husband and her feelings for Driver.  Bryan Cranston totally owns the role of Shannon, and evokes such sympathy for the character when his plans go down the tubes.  Oscar Isaac fleshes out the role of Standard and even makes you feel sorry for the guy, who gets caught up in circumstances beyond his control.  Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, and Albert Brooks round out the cast, but it should be noted here that Albert Brooks turns in one chilling performance as the lead villain, Bernie Rose, proving once again that he can play anybody.

The script by Hossein Amini was refined by director Nicolas Winding Refn after the project was purchased from Universal, where it had sat in development hell for six years.  Both Amini and Refn create something unique--a movie that starts out still and quiet and slowly spirals into chaos.  It's very reminiscent of the 80's crime thrillers Thief and To Live and Die in L.A., which are two of my favorite 80's movies and some of the best crime thrillers I've ever seen.  Director Refn worked with Newton Thomas Sigel as his director of photography, and Sigel captures all of Los Angeles, both day and night, in such beautiful and subtle ways that even florescent lighting in a parking lot looks alluring and vivid.  Add to this the unique production design by Beth Mickle, the superb editing by Mat Newman, and the awesome costume designs by Erin Benach (including Driver's white-and-gold scorpion jacket), and you have yourself a masterpiece.  

Drive was the sleeper hit of 2011, but for me, it's the perfect film.  It has everything I love about movies--drama, romance, cars, crime, and a great soundtrack.  If you love those same elements, then you're going to love "Drive" as well...and don't be surprised if you find yourself cruising around the streets of your town at night, windows down, blasting some electro-pop of your own. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Movie Monday #19: Burn Up!

"Donuts.  Now."
--Don Huffman as Banba, Burn Up!

Remember when people didn't watch anime for the pretty colors and the boobs?  Remember when things like cars, trucks, and robots were hand-drawn instead of computer-generated because computers couldn't do that yet?  And remember when anime girls actually gave you wood?  If you're one of those people, then "Burn Up!" is the anime for you.  Released in 1991 at the peak of the anime boom in Japan, "Burn Up!" is a 50-minute one-shot OVA that follows the adventures of three traffic cops (Maki, Reimi, and Yuka) as they go on an illegal undercover assignment to break up a slave trading ring operating in Tokyo.  When Yuka gets kidnapped by the slave traders, it's up to Maki and Reimi to break every protocol in the book by getting her back in a no-holds-barred, balls-to-the-wall battle with the white slave trader Samuel McCoy and his mansion full of gun-toting thugs.

Sound stupid by today's standards, doesn't it?  But that's the thing about "Burn Up!" that I love--it's unpretentious fun.  This OVA knows it's nothing but an excuse to get sexy anime girls in skin-tight body armor and have them blow McCoy and his army to kingdom come.  And I love it for that.  It's a reflection of a time in Japan when producers were taking chances on ambitious animators and their projects, and "Burn Up!" was most likely one of them.   It's attractive characters (designed by Kenjin Miyazaki), the 80's-style mechanical animation (for the cars, bikes, tanks, and the like), the production design (by Gasho Tano), and the bright color palette all speak to the glory days of anime when the creativity was flowing and everything wasn't based off a manga or PC game.

With that said, there are some awesome action sequences here, especially the opening chase between Maki, Reimi, Yuka, Kenji (Maki's boyfriend), Banba (Reimi's "potential" boyfriend), and a red BMW filled with three McCoy gangsters and one female hostage.  The shading techniques in the animation are just brilliant, the screaming guitar music (by none other than Kenji Kawai) gets your heart pumping, and the way Maki's bike slices its way through the cars on the interstate has to be seen to be believed.  And my personal favorite part of it all are the old-school sound effects that would perpetuate many an anime show for years to come. 

If you're going to watch "Burn Up!", please watch the Japanese version, featuring Yumiko Shibata as Maki, Miki Ito (of "Project A-Ko" fame) as Reimi, and Kumiko Nishihara as Yuka.  Norio Wakamoto plays the devilish McCoy, while Sayaka (one of McCoy's slave girls) is played by Yuri Shiratori.  All of them are perfectly cast to their roles and give each line the correct meaning and inflection.  These seiyuu (along with the entire cast) were very popular throughout the 80's and 90's, and one of the best parts of watching "Burn Up!" in Japanese is going "Hey, I recognize that voice!" whenever these actors speak.

The English dub of "Burn Up!" is from 1995 and was ADV Films' first English dub, which introduced everyone to their mainstays Tiffany Grant (as Maki), Amanda Winn (as Reimi), and Kimberly Yates (as Yuka).  Also in the English cast is Milton Lawrence as Kenji (who actually does a first-rate job, given the script) and Rob Mungle (of "Guy" and "Gunsmith Cats" fame) as Captain Hashima.  The problem with the English dub is its age (the 90's were infamous for unnecessary swearing and ridiculous rewrites), and the fact that Amanda Winn is miscast as the soft-spoken Reimi.  Tiffany Grant plays Maki well enough, but most of what she does involves screaming, roaring, and being generally pissed off (and generally missing the point of Maki to begin with).  Kimberly Yates suffers from a poorly-written script that turned Yuka into an airhead from the get-go and didn't give her much room to act.  All three of these ladies would go on to do bigger and better things, and for that all of otaku-dom (or me, at least) is eternally grateful.

Unfortunately, both editions of "Burn Up!" (the original ADV Films release & the Sentai Filmworks re-release) are out of print, so your best bet to snag a decent copy would be off the Amazon marketplace.  If you're lucky, you might end up with the ADV Films version, which included a bonus previews disc that showcased their latest anime acquisitions.  Even if you're not, you've still got "Burn Up!", an anime that simply entertains the pants off the viewer without throwing their brain through the wringer and their heart under a bus (like most anime titles today).  I'm all for a story about love, romance, and the eighteen beautiful girls that are vying for my hand in marriage (yeah, right!), but sometimes I like to watch something that's actually fun and doesn't require that I sign over my soul to a shinigami in a note book.  If that's the kind of anime you're looking for (and you appreciate the days when anime didn't come in a "complete season" pack for 20 bucks), then "Burn Up!" is the anime for you. 


Here's a link to the original ADV Films VHS trailer for "Burn Up!" back in 1995.  It features some of the awesome music from the soundtrack and some cool scenes from the anime. 

Monday, December 31, 2012

Movie Monday #18: Infernal Affairs

“Do all undercover cops like rooftops?”

--Andy Lau as Lau, Infernal Affairs 

I am not that hip when it comes to the Hong Kong movie scene, and for good reason -- I just don’t get the pacing and the plotting of most Chinese films.  I guess I’m too used to Hollywood car chases and explosions that, admittedly, my favorite Hong Kong film for years was John Woo’s Hard Boiled, mostly because of Tony Leung’s performance in the film.  Last Saturday night, I had the pleasure of taking in another great Tony Leung performance, and a terrific film altogether -- Infernal Affairs, directed by the upcoming team of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak.

The basic story behind this crime thriller is simple -- two cadets rise up quickly through the ranks of the Hong Kong police force, but end up taking separate paths.  Yan (Tony Leung) is “thrown out” of the academy so he can become an undercover cop within the Triads, China’s form of organized crime.  What he and the other cadets don’t know is that Lau (Andy Lau), an ace cadet with perfect marks, is a plant within the police department with loyalties to the Triads.

I was a little surprised that the movie let the big secret out from the get-go, but then I realized just how smart that was.  It screwed up the tension and the anxiety ten times more than they already were, and from that point, the movie proceeds to embellish the characters a bit.  Yan has been undercover for ten years and has been arrested three times for assault of an officer, and his boss, Superintendent Wong (the great Anthony Wong in a stone-cold serious role for a change), orders him to see the department shrink.  Lau, on the other hand, finds himself ordered to locate the mole that’s recently been discovered within the department (which is, naturally, Lau himself) and work directly for Internal Affairs, while still helping Sam (Eric Tsang), the Triad boss he’s loyal too, get his criminal enterprises underway.

If this sounds familiar, it should -- Martin Scorsese ripped off the story of this film to make his cop thriller The Departed, with none so much as a credit to Andrew Lau and Alan Mak as the originators of the story.  But the similarity between the two films pretty much ends at the whole mole here/mole there point in the story.  Yan starts to fall in love with the department psychiatrist, while Lau has one of his underlings tail Superintendent Wong to a meeting with Yan.  This results in the turning point of the story -- the Triads invade the building, and Yan and Wong are trapped.  Yan escapes, but Wong is thrown from the roof and onto the top of a taxicab, some twenty-five floors below.

And like some of my other reviews, I’m going to stop before I get ahead of myself and reveal the entire movie to you.  This is one Hong Kong thriller I’m very proud to say isn’t out to disgust you with gut-punching violence, confuse you with some symbolism that only the director understands, and offend you with gratuitous language and nudity.  Infernal Affairs, despite it’s name and the sexy Chinese woman who appears on the cover of the DVD (who isn’t even in the movie, I came to discover), is a very clean and crisp film that keeps you on the edge of your seat and includes some definitive jaw-dropping moments.

Andy Lau and Tony Leung are the standout performances in this film, though I felt that Lau’s was stronger, because his character goes through the most change.  Leung was still enjoyable and affable as always (that scene when he says he dreams of the psychiatrist and she responds with the sweet ‘I dream of you too’ was extremely well-played), but I felt like the directors were setting him up for a fall throughout the film and not giving him a chance to even try and be a hero.

This film also guest-stars one of my new favorite Hong Kong actors, Edison Chen, who I first saw as Ryousuke in the Initial D live-action film.  Edison plays the young version of Lau’s character, and many of the flashbacks to his cadet days feature Chen.  In my opinion, this is a bright young man with a bright future in cinema, whether it be foreign or domestic.

The production design, in combination with the lighting, is just superb in this film.  The use of white, black, gray, green-gray, blue-gray, and natural lighting really set this off as something that says, “Take notice of me.  I am not to be ignored.”  There are a lot of rooftop scenes in this film, and how they covered and lit them when there’s really nothing around to mount a camera on or plug a camera into is a testament to the Hong Kong film industry’s ingenuity in getting things done.

Overall, this is one film I’m proud to have in my collection, and I found it at the local Blockbuster store in the clearance section of their previously viewed movies for $3.99.  If I can find it there, surely you can find it through similar means.  I encourage you to do so, even if you’re not a fan of Hong Kong cinema, because this film just might change your mind -- it did mine.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Movie Monday #17: Sukeban Deka

"Like I said...the outside world basically sucks."
--Amanda Winn as Saki Asamiya, Sukeban Deka


Whenever you watch anime, you have to expect the unexpected.  A futuristic cop drama could suddenly turn into a magical girl show and back again in the blink of an eye.  But Sukeban Deka, the story of a teenage detective who uses a government-issue yo-yo as her weapon, probably takes the prize for the most unexpected (and unappreciated) anime out there.

Based on a shoujo manga by Shinji Wada from the 1970's, Sukeban Deka (which roughly translates as "Delinquent Detective") is the story of Saki Asamiya, a lavender-haired teenage girl sitting in a prison cell for causing trouble at her school.  A man referred to only as The Dark Investigator offers her a deal--she can work for the police as an undercover teenage detective, infiltrating high schools and fighting crimes the police normally couldn't reach...or her mother, on death row for murdering her husband, will be executed.  As long as Saki agrees to be a detective, her mother's execution will be postponed until she can be set free.

Saki has no choice but to agree, and soon she's back on her old stomping grounds--Takaoka High School.  Unfortunately, she's not top dog anymore--the three Mizuchi sisters are the queens of this school.  Emi Mizuchi is famous for her art, but it turns out that all she does is copy other artists' work and pretend that it's her own.  Ayumi Mizuchi is treated like royalty and pretends to be very lady-like, but in fact runs a righteous extortion ring and drug trade within the school.  Reimi Mizuchi is president of the student council, but yeah, she's evil too--she ends up brainwashing all the Takahoka students into doing whatever she pleases.

Add into the mix a cute but personality-free girl named Junko who paints like an angel and keeps getting her shirt ripped off, along with Saki's would-be boyfriend, Sampei, and you have the ingredients for your a-typical early 1990's high school drama...or do we?  Sukeban Deka has some familiar school drama moments, such as the awkward first meeting between Saki and Sampei (where he declares her his goddess) and Saki and Sampei hanging out at Junko's apartment, but that's not the thrust of its two forty-five minute episodes.  The real meat of this series is when Saki starts striking back against the Mizuchi sisters and their illegal activities, using her indestructible yo-yo, fighting skills, and street smarts to dish out plenty of payback.

Even though this OVA only has two episodes, the hero characters grow, adapt, and change at a satisfying pace.  Saki turns from a wild school yard brawler to a responsible teenage detective and heroine.  Sampei shaves his head (at Saki's request--you have to see it to believe it) and is a real help to Saki in the end, along with being a good friend.  Saki's police liason, Kyoichiro Jin, is one of those long-haired bishonen detective guys who probably inspired the characters in "Fake," but takes on the role of keeping Saki grounded in reality when her anger gets the better of her.  Even Saki's principal, Numa, gets in on the action, agreeing to help the girl he once hated.

And let's not forget that there's plenty of fighting, too, and the majority of it involves Saki and her yo-yo.  Anime is known for its dramatic poses, long sweeps of the hands and feet (before a punch or kick), the shouting of attack names before you use that attack, and the colorful backgrounds that appear behind the characters as they perform said attacks.  Sukeban Deka uses all of these mainstays in its fight scenes, but not to the point to overkill.  Director Takeshi Hirota knew exactly which notes to hit on the anime keyboard, and he hits them all just right.

The character designs were adapted from the original manga by Nobuteru Yuki, who also worked on Cleopatra D.C., another favorite of mine.  Nobuteru's large eyes, long faces, and shoujo leanings all add a nice touch to the proceedings here and give Sukeban Deka a unique style that it can call its own.

Takashi Takaomi's music is a combination of synthesizers, electric guitars, some nice bass, and occasional orchestral interludes that accent each character's struggle to escape the hell their school has become.  The battle themes are particularly memorable, especially the one where Saki busts into the arcade and starts raising all kinds of hell with her karate moves and her yo-yo.

I've watched both versions of Sukeban Deka (dubbed & subtitled) and, oddly enough, I prefer the dubbed version, which features the talents of old ADV Films mainstays Amanda Winn, Tiffany Grant, Kurt Stoll, Jason Lee, and Rob Mungle.  Amanda Winn landed the role of Saki Asamiya, and she was born to play this part.  The hard edge to her voice, her screams of frustration, and her comedic timing couldn't be better.  Tiffany Grant plays Junko, and while she does an admirable job, there's little she could do to elevate this character.  Kurt Stoll takes Sampei's wackiness and off-the-wall humor to the umpteenth level and makes this character a lot more entertaining than he was in the Japanese version.  Jason Lee and Rob Mungle star as some of the heavies employed by Ayumi Mizuchi to keep Saki in line.  Even ADV producer & dub director Matt Greenfield gets in on the action as some of the obnoxious background characters.

If you're expecting an anime version of the live-action Sukeban Deka movies released by Tokyo Shock,  then you'd best look elsewhere.  The Sukeban Deka OVA remains faithful to Shinji Wada's original manga and gives us a presentation that's definitely suited for the anime style.  But don't let that deter you from picking this up, because this show has it all--action, romance, angst, drama, humor, and tragedy, all in a neat two-episode package.   So if you're in the mood for an early 90's anime flashback or just a quick, entertaining watch, look no further than Sukeban Deka.

(And here's a fan trailer someone made for Sukeban Deka, if you can get past the thirty seconds of random intro clips...)