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Sunday, June 28, 2015

An important message about Spider-Man

Greetings, internet. My name is Alex Shannon, and I am addressing the following post as an open-letter to everyone at Walt Disney, Marvel, Sony, and whoever is involved with the production of the upcoming Spider-Man movies.
Way back in the early 2000s, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films ranked at the top of my favorite movies list. Super-hero films were picking up in popularity and quality, blazing forward into bigger and better things as time went on.
Time passed, new movies were released, new franchises gained ground, and some cinema-goers forgot the revolution that was Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies. I'll bet that some don't even remember how bleak the outlook on super-hero films was before Sam Raimi came along and made a movie everyone loved.
And then along came Spider-Man 3, and the star of Spider-Man fell in the eyes of the public. It was a little bit rushed, it wasn't as long as it needed to be, and there was a little too much going on.
But even as the 2000's waned, I still loved watching the Spider-Man films. You see, the first movie made me pick up the comics. And from that point on I became a die-hard Spider-Man fan. Before that, I didn't have much interest in comics. I knew they existed, but I didn't care about them.
And Spider-Man changed that for me. I got invested in the characters and the stories. Over time though, I abandoned the comics. Marvel's Civil War crossover left a bad taste in my mouth. Some of the characters I loved betrayed their beliefs and values for the sake of a pointless conflict, and others were forced to fight the best of their friends and loved-ones in response to that conflict. Tony Stark was especially out of character, betraying his friends, and siding with the pro-registration side? I'd like to think that he's got a stronger moral fiber than that.
And the fallout led to even worse things. As a Raimi fan, I shipped Peter and Mary-Jane like a fleet of Galaxy-class starships at Warp-9. So you can imagine my reaction to One More Day.
I kept reading for a while after that, but those storylines soured the Marvel universe for me. The magical spark that Spider-Man had was gone. The wonder of being a man who can do whatever a spider can just vanished under a cloud of darkness. This world of escapism and amazement which had so inspired me was gone, replaced by something less than it had been before.
So I stopped. I stopped reading comics about this time. I tried going over to DC for a while, but I had no clue what was going on or where to start, and eventually I just stopped reading ongoing comics altogether.
But I still had Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies, the X-Men movies, the Avengers series and Christopher Nolan's Batman movies. My favorites remained unruined and perfect there. Nothing could change that.
And that's why I reacted so negatively to the 2012 reboot of the Spider-Man movies. I became invested in Sam Raimi's version of Spider-Man. I wanted to see how he and Mary-Jane ended up. I wanted to see what new stories were to be had. And for all of that to be swept away in favor of retelling the story with a new cast? I hated the idea. Especially since the new love-interest was going to be Gwen Stacy.
I thought The Amazing Spider-Man wasn't going to be as good as Spider-Man, I thought they were going to ruin it and destroy everything that made the movies good.
But they didn't. They made it better.
Andrew Garfield was a better Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire could ever be. And I'll remind you, I was among the most die-hard of die-hard Raimi fans. I went into the theater with dread in my brain and hate in my soul. And I came out of that theater inspired and rejuvenated. This was the magic of Spider-Man that had captured me in the first place. The wonder, the heart and soul of Spider-Man was back, and better than ever. With an amazing cast, a great director, and great ideas, this was the best thing that could have happened to the series.
And then, two years later, Amazing Spider-Man 2 came along and wrecked it all.
I don't know if any of you reading this know me personally, but most of my friends and family know I don't like Spider-Man 2. It was a downer of a movie with too much time dedicated to despair and depression, and while it had its good moments, I didn't like it as much as the previous Spider-Man film, which I felt covered Peter's particular issues with Uncle Ben's death adequately.
That was my main issue with Amazing Spider-Man 2. It went from Peter being on top of the world to seeing George Stacy's ghost warning him to stay away from Gwen.
And Peter heeding those warnings didn't make any sense. He'd already decided to ignore them at the end of the first film in the series, and there was no reason for him to go back to that. And that tone follows him around through far too much of the film.
That's part of the issue. Anotherpart is that Harry Osborn's character was ruined. Dane Dehaan makes a great villain, don't get me wrong, but he shouldn't have turned villain quite so fast, since it ruins any chances he'd have for redemption later on in the series.
And now let's talk about the bizarre plot.
Marvel's Civil War was a plot that hinged on certain characters making stupid decisions. The Amazing Spider-Man 2's plot hinges on Peter Parker and Harry Osborn making stupid decisions.
For one thing, Peter had plenty of opportunities to explain to Harry why using Spider-Man's blood wouldn't be a good idea. He could say Spider-Man has HIV. He could say that Spider-Man has some other blood-borne disease that the super-healing can't cure.
Or, he could just explain how he is Spider-Man and found some of his father's research that said that the Spider-Serum was tuned to Parker family DNA and that it wouldn't work for anyone else unless they find some way to engineer the Spider-Serum to work with Osborn family DNA.
And the best part is that Harry couldn't do anything about it. Peter would be able to tell (Spider-sense) if Harry wanted to go public with his identity, and if he tried to tell anyone Peter could just kill him. He wouldn't, but he could. He's Spider-Man, and no matter what, Harry Osborn could do a total of jack and squat to him.
Besides, he's Peter's best friend. Yeah, Harry is a little bit nuts, but he still would have understood, especially considering how much they uncovered about Norman Osborn's experiments in that film.
Then again, he might not have, considering how poorly his character was written.
It's not like the plot couldn't have worked. It just didn't work the way they made it.
And then there's the ending.
Spoiler warning, Gwen Stacy died at the end.
I dreaded that the moment I found out that the Green Goblin was going to be in Amazing Spider-Man 2. Despite my love of Mary-Jane Watson, Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy made a great impression on me.
She and Andrew were great together, and I couldn't imagine them replacing her with someone else. It would just be wrong. Peter Parker went through enough when George Stacy and Uncle Ben died in the last movie, and killing a character like Gwen would have just been cruel.
And they did it.
You remember what I said about killing the magic? Well that took what had become throughout the movie, the blazing fire of Spider-Man magic and doused it with enough water to drown a freaking whale.
Yes, they managed to recapture part of it with the ending. It doesn't matter. The shadow had been cast.
But I figured there might be a glimmer of hope. Spider-Man was going to be in The Avengers, and I thought that would improve matters.
But at this point, it's only looking worse and worse. Andrew Garfield is gone, replaced by Tom Holland.
Tom Holland is about four-inches too short to be Peter Parker, and he doesn't look a damn thing like Andrew Garfield.
Yes, we've had cast transitions in the MCU in the past. We went from Terrence Howard to Don Cheadle as Rhodey, from Edward Norton to Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, and from Rebecca Romjin to Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique in the X-Men movies. Yes, I know all of those cast-changes worked. But the problem at hand is that they're trashing the pre-existing Spider-Man that captured peoples imaginations.
So I've got a proposal for Marvel, Sony, Walt Disney and everyone else who's working on that new Spider-Man movie.
Emma Stone has a contract for at least one more Spider-Man movie, right? And Marvel has an ongoing Elseworlds series where Gwen Stacy was bitten by the spider, right?
So here's my suggestion. Rather than rebooting the whole series, just rewrite the ending of Amazing Spider-Man 2 so that Peter dies instead of Gwen, and find some way for Gwen to get the powers of a spider.
Basically what I'm saying is that I want a Spider-Gwen movie with Emma Stone in the starring role.
Andrew Garfield might not be able to stick around in the role of Peter Parker, but we'll at least be able to keep some continuity with The Amazing Spider-Man series.
And best of all, we'd get to keep Emma Stone for a few more movies.
Granted, if you guys over at Marvel decide to do the right thing and scrap this upcoming reboot, fire Tom Holland and get Andrew Garfield back, you guys still have the perfect Mary-Jane Watson at hand, and her name is Emma Stone.
So, to the fans of Spider-Man who read this, which do you want to see? A continuation of The Amazing Spider-Man movies with the same cast as before, or a quasi-reboot with Emma Stone in the role of Spider-Gwen? I've made petitions for both, check them out below!
To maintain the series as it is, click here.
For a Spider-Gwen movie with Emma Stone, click here.

And for my fans who were looking forward to more of my summer cinema-catchup, I'll be getting back to that next week if there isn't another issue such as this one that requires my attention. The film in question?
The Maze Runner!

Image from Impawards.com

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 is a Marvel movie. It's based on a Marvel comic of the same name, which I unfortunately have not read.
Thing is that you'd never know that by looking at the posters or trailers for the film, or indeed, even the film itself. Unlike the other movies based on Marvel comics, it doesn't have the iconic comic-flipping Marvel logo before the film starts.
In fact, Marvel isn't even mentioned until a ways into the credits, alongside Joe Quesada and Jeph Loeb, who are both Marvel guys.
The main studio that's mentioned is Man of Action, of Ben 10 fame. They created the original characters of Big Hero 6, which apparently are fairly different from the ones in this movie.
Again, I wouldn't know, so I think it's time to move on to the actual film itself.
Big Hero 6 won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
No, I can't quite do better than that. Big Hero 6 damn well deserved that award. I still stand by what I said about The Lego Movie, though. It should have at least been nominated for Best Animated Feature at the very least, and it was definitely a top contender for Best Picture.
Mind you, 2014 is looking like another 2012 so far. Pretty much just good movie after good movie as far as I can tell.
Let's go ahead and talk effects, to start. The hair and cloth effects are among the best I've ever seen, but they look kind of strange in contrast with the cartoony bodies and faces. They look like they should be in a Final Fantasy game, except that the characters actually have practical outfits for both civilian clothing and superhero outfits.
Mind you, some of the outfits are kinda weird. Not badly designed, just oddly colored.
For instance, GoGo Tomago's superhero outfit is bright yellow, despite her civilian clothing being a whole lot of black and purple. Yes, it's apparently like that in the comics, but that doesn't make it any less odd.
The rest of them are fine, since most of their superhero outfits match their civilian color-schemes.
My issue with GoGo's suit is just that the bright yellow seems to clash with her personality and regular choices of color.
I don't usually like yellow as a primary color-scheme for anything (Bumblebee excluded) since it tends to look pretty garish and usually clashes with the colors of the other characters. If a character's colors are entirely yellow (Such as in Power Rangers, or the aforementioned Transformers example) it can look good, but GoGo looks better in purple and black.
Hiro Hamada, seen above and to the left on the Big Hero 6 poster I used for the review, gets the purple outfit.
See, this makes a little bit of sense, but it would make more sense if he'd gotten a dark-blue suit with red highlights and if GoGo had gotten the purple and black suit. And then, give the yellow suit to Honey Lemon (Or just make her suit orange and ditch the yellow altogether) and we'd have all of the design issues ironed out.
Now, back to the effects.
Everything looks good, and I didn't notice any issues. The animation looks good, as is expected from Walt Disney Animation. I expected perfection from them and they delivered.
So, now that that's out of the way I'm gonna talk some about the story.
While it's a good one, it isn't quite as good as that of The Lego Movie. Yes, Big Hero 6 has good characters, a decent plot and great visual-design, but it doesn't have the same subversive quality The Lego Movie possessed.
That's not to say that it lacks creative spark, far from it. The jokes in Big Hero 6 are extremely funny, and never failed to make me laugh. As far as that goes, the writing is top-notch.
Hell, Marvel movies are well-written in general, and this isn't an exception.
Despite some Disney movies tendencies to follow along the same lines of plot, characters and twists, this actually surprised me with how it turned out.
So all in all, Big Hero 6 is a pretty sweet film with a good story, great characters, funny jokes, sweet moments, and good pacing.
What else could I give it but a 10.1* rating?

Image from Impawards.com

Sunday, June 14, 2015


I've only ever seen one other Godzilla movie besides this in my entire life. As a fan of Tokusatsu series and kaiju combat, that might surprise you, but it's true. It was called "Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth" and it was apparently the highest grossing film in the series.
Never mind that Godzilla was barely in it and didn't have much reason to be in the movie other than marketing purposes, it managed to become the second highest grossing film of 1993 in Japan!
But yeah, aside from that and this, the only monster movie I've seen is Pacific Rim, which, while cool, honestly wasn't that good.
It was like someone mashed together Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Top Gun, Enders Game and Attack on Titan, but failed to capture the essence of any of them.
And before I get into talking about this film, no I haven't seen the 1998 American made Godzilla movie. I've heard almost no good things about it, though.
But this film? It's great. If you can imagine some combination of the military storyline from the first live action Transformers movie and the plot of Aliens, then I suppose you've seen a lot of science-fiction movies.
But seriously, I think 2014's Godzilla was pretty good. It's like an improved version of Pacific Rim.
Yes, there are some small issues with the development of the main character, and yeah the science is total bollocks, but I can ignore that for the sake of the movie.
Unfortunately, that doesn't stop me from being seriously irritated by the sorry excuse for science they used in the movie. For one thing, they seem to use radiation as a catch-all for why the kaiju exist and why they managed to survive for as long as they have.
I shouldn't have to tell you that radiation doesn't work like that, and that the earth's core isn't made up of nuclear material. As far as I can tell, the general consensus is that it's made up of iron, nickel, gold, platinum, silicon, and some oxygen apparently. No plutonium, no uranium, and no kryptonite.
And that's just the inner core. The outer core looks to Nickel, iron, sulfur, and oxygen.
And as far as I've been able to find (Via Wikipedia and a bunch of old textbooks I've read) there's no nuclear material in the mantle either.
Technically heat and light are radiation too, but we all know that they weren't trying to say that it was the increased heat of the planet that made the Kaiju bigger than normal.
The rest of the back-story for the Kaiju I'm fine with, though. But honestly, they'd be better off not explaining what the Kaiju are or why they exist. Just like with the Xenomorph's from Alien, it's better not knowing, because it adds more mystique to the creatures.
I don't get why they even bother talking about radioactivity, since there's no underlying message about the perils of nuclear war. And why they'd even bother with a message like that in a post-cold war setting is beyond me. And I don't doubt that people would dislike the movie if it was heavy-handed with a message that doesn't have a lot of meaning in the modern-day. Especially when we point and laugh at the old PSA's of the past that warned of the dangers and inevitability of nuclear conflict. It probably would have been a better idea to just say that they exist and move on.
Other than that, there's not much to complain about, aside from the rushed character development.
The main character, while being decent enough, is no Bilbo Baggins. Fortunately though, he's no post-Megatron-slaying Sam Witwickey either, so he's at least tolerable.
The issue is that most of the characters have their development skipped, since the film starts off in the late 90s and resumes in 2014.
The good thing is that the movie prefers to show, not tell. Which means that exposition is kept to a minimum, and the pacing is never interrupted.
Now, let's move on to the effects.
It's my understanding that monster movies used to be relatively cheap to make, since you only needed to build the suits once and could re-use them, and the scaled scenery in future movies.
Unfortunately, that wouldn't fly today. My extensive complaints about cheap effects in Power Rangers Super Megaforce and Dino Charge are well on record. The kind of audiences that would be going to see Godzilla might possibly be expecting kitchy special effects, animatronics and dudes in suits in this film, but you'd be mistaken.
Likewise, putting out a movie with cheap-looking styrofoam buildings and wobbly rubber suits in this day and age would be financial suicide. Even if you tried to make it look as good as you can, practical effects in a monster movie have no chance of looking better per-dollar than CGI, especially on as grand a scale as this movie covers. Yes, practical effects do usually look better than CGI, but in a case like this, it's just not possible to make the kaiju move with as much weight as they should.
Hell, I'm a fan of Power Rangers, but even I'll admit that the suit-on-suit combat looks ridiculous most of the time.
Not that I'm about to let Dino Charge and Super Megaforce get away with their cheap-looking CGI Zords, but you get my point.
This movie has a good enough effects budget to make the CGI look like it's real. Godzilla looks real, the buildings all look real, the other Kaiju look real too. And most importantly, they feel real. The characters react to the Kaiju with the appropriate amount of terror and disbelief. And that, coupled with the awesome effects means that it feels like Godzilla is actually tromping through a city, smashing buildings and fighting other Kaiju.
And the fights. Oh my god the fights. The fights are amazing. Rather than being treated as commonplace, like in most Tokusatsu series, they're given a ton of weight. They show how the fighting affects civilians, infrastructure, and the world as a whole. News coverage is given of the incidents, and it rocks the world.
Some of the best moments in the film come from the fighting. But just as many, if not more, come from the humans trying not to get killed by the Kaiju.
Before I wrap this up, I'd like to address what appears to be a common criticism of the film.
That a character of Japanese origin, an icon of Japanese culture that is so firmly ingrained into Japanese society that they actually gave him citizenship and made him their tourism ambassador would wind up with great recognition in America by the end of the film.
The answer is this: In the film, Godzilla is not meant to be merely tied to one country. While he may have had come from Japan, his title is intended to apply to the entire world, rather than just one arbitrary little spot on a map. I presume that the next film (And I know there is going to be another movie, two more in fact, because Wikipedia has listings for a sequel coming in 2018 and one coming some time after) will take place primarily in Japan. Here's hoping, then?
All in all, I liked Godzilla. As both a monster movie and the revival of the long-dead art of making "good" horror movies, it succeeds. I give it a 9.8* rating. I'll see you guys next week with more catch-up, this time it's another Marvel movie, Big Hero 6!

Image from WWW.Impawards.com

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Lego Movie

So, still playing catchup on movies from 2014, next up is The Lego Movie.
The Lego movie is very funny, and very good.
Not much else to say, I suppose.

Oh alright. I'll talk about the acting and animation.
The animation is CGI, but it looks like stop-motion, it's so well done.
As someone who's built a lot with Lego in his life, it's good to know that they paid so much attention to the little details of how Lego moves and feels. That's something that the Lego comics tend to forget, that for all the freedom Lego gives, it still has some limitations. The fact that the minifigures don't have knees or elbows is a great touch.
That's something all of the animated Lego movies I've seen didn't have. The characters didn't move like minifigures. They stretched and squashed, which is something Lego doesn't do.
That's something which isn't seen in this film. Everything looks and feels like real bricks, rather than 3D models.
Part of the reason for that would probably be that they used the program, Lego Digital Designer, which was made by the Lego Group to allow fans to make custom sets, as the basis for the design of the environment and characters, and then rendered with super-detailed textures taken from the actual Lego bricks.
Even the old spacemen figures have the broken chin-straps, like they did in real life.
The fact that The Lego Movie doesn't depict everything as perfect, as they so easily could have done is one of the strong points the film has.
Now, the actors.
The cast is made up of both licensed characters and original ones.
The main character of Emmet is played by Chris Pratt, most famous for his work as Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy, and is also starring in the upcoming Jurassic World.
Will Ferrell plays the villain, Lord Business, and actually manages to be tolerable in that role.
Morgan Freeman is Vitruvius, who is one of the funniest characters in a movie full of funny characters.
Elizabeth Banks plays Wyldstye, the female lead. She's great.
And then there's Liam freaking Neeson as Bad Cop. Liam Neeson is awesome, no other explanation needed.
Now let's talk licensed characters. Being a Lego movie, they have a load of characters and sets from stuff they made in the past. They've got DC stuff, Ninja Turtles stuff, Star Wars stuff, Harry Potter stuff, Lord of the Rings stuff, and strangest of all, NBA stuff.
For some things they managed to get the actual actors in the do the roles.
Billy Dee Williams and Anthony Daniels do the voices of Lando Calrissian and C3PO, respectively, and Shaquille O'Neil lends his voice to his minifigure counterpart.
Unfortunately, you can tell which actors they couldn't get. As you might have guessed, there's no Harrison Ford as Han Solo, no Ian McKellen as Gandalf, despite the fact that they could get him in to do voice-work for the Lego Hobbit games, no Christian Bale or Ben Affleck as Batman,, no Henry Cavill as Superman, no Michael Gambon as Dumbledore as far as I can tell, and no famous Wonder Woman voice-actress as Wonder Woman.
And finally, no David Boreanaz, Nolan North, Ryan Reynolds, Nathan Fillion, or Christopher Meloni as Hal Jordan.
It's unfortunate that they couldn't get the right people in for the right roles, but in the case of Batman, the guy they did get, Will Arnett, does a pretty good Batman/Bruce Wayne voice.
The other licensed characters voices are okay I suppose, but Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum wouldn't be my first choices for Hal Jordan and Clark Kent, respectively.
And there's a noticeable lack of Marvel characters. No Tony Stark, no Bruce Banner, no Peter Parker, Nick Fury, Black Widow, Wolverine, Deadpool, Thor, Hawkeye, Phil Coulson, or god forbid Steve Rogers.
And do you want to know why? Because the film was made by Warner Brothers. Warner Brothers, who owns and makes all of the DC movies. Because they didn't want to have Disney involved in the project. Never mind that Lego had Marvel licences long before they had DC ones. Hell, I remember looking in the Lego catalogues as a kid and seeing all the Spider-Man sets they had and wondering where all the DC ones were. Never mind that it just would have been cool to see them in the movie together, because Warner and Disney have been at each others throats for decades, they probably never would have come to an agreement. And WB and Disney acquiring DC and Marvel respectively has only helped fuel the degree to which they'll probably never work together. The only way it could get worse was if Disney bought out Capcom and started making Street Fighter games.
Yes, Marvel and DC characters have been in the same media before. Yes, Marvel and DC can work together. And yeah, there might have been some issues with timing and licensing and whatnot, but at the moment, unless I can find any other explanation, I'll just chock this up to petty intercompany rivalry.
Anyways, I remember when this movie was new wondering if it would be any good, and it was.
It could have just been an advertisement for everything Lego's ever made, and it wasn't. It was easily one of the funniest and most thoughtful films I've ever seen.
And I wish I'd watched more new movies in 2014, because I would have given this a movie of the year award if I did. That wouldn't have made up for it not winning (Or even being nominated for) Best Animated Film at the Oscars.
Honestly, the only way this movie could have been given all the praise it should have been would be to win every single award there is for cinema that year.
So, I retroactively name The Lego Movie my movie of the year for 2014.
Oh, and I'm just gonna drop this perfect score right here: 10.1*

Image from impawards.com

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Until I watched Michael Bay's Transformers movies, I was not a Transformers fan. Sure, it was something I knew existed, but as I mentioned in the Transformers review, my main exposure to the franchise has been the toys and the live-action films.
Having not grown up with Transformers, some would say that I only liked the two live-action movies I did because I've never seen anything better in relation to the franchise.
And when it was announced that Micael Bay would be working on a movie based on something that I am a lifelong fan of, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I had people telling me that I'd change my tone once I saw him "ruin" something I loved.
I've read the comics, I've watched the '80s series and the '03 series, the '07 movie, and all three of the previous live-action movies.
I haven't seen the live-action TV series or that weird "Coming out of their Shells Tour" thing, or the Japanese OVA where The Shredder looks like Wolverine, but my love of Ninja Turtles is still unwavering.
To be clear, I don't think this is a bad film. It's got some issues, but it's a decent movie. Certainly much better than the 2007 movie, and I'm not sure which continuity that's supposed to fit into.
I remember thinking that Jennifer Lawrence would have made a better April O'Neil than Megan Fox would have while I was watching Mockingjay, and while that's true....
Well, I'll go ahead and talk about the film now.
For you Ninja Turtles fans in the audience, let's round up the changes they've made to the origin. Or rather, what kind of origin do the turtles have this year?
First off, they're not going with the 1980's cartoon origin. Splinter is not Hamato Yoshi in this. Unfortunately, he also wasn't Yoshi's pet rat, and as such, the entire revenge-angle he has with The Shredder has been removed.
The only reason I mention this is because it's always been a huge part of the character. In the comics, Shredder killed Yoshi and Splinter wanted revenge for his friend's death. In the '80s TV show, Splinter was Hamato Yoshi, but called himself Splinter while he was a rat, and The Shredder had killed their Sensei and pinned the murder on Splinter. In the movies and 2003 series, Splinter was Yoshi's pet rat, who had learned Ninjutsu from watching Yoshi practicing.
In this, Splinter is just a regular lab-rat. He's got no connection to Oruku Saki, and yet he still knows all about what Shredder is and what he can do.
Yes, this is the internet-age. Yes, the Turtles are shown to have access to the internet, and television, and lots of technology. But without Splinter's Shredder history, I don't know what the point of him knowing as much as he does about The Foot in this film is.
The Turtles aren't just pet-turtles that got dropped into the sewer and exposed to mutagen, they were raised in a lab alongside Splinter, having been exposed to the mutagen by April's father.
This means that Splinter had to learn Ninjutsu from a book that was dropped into the sewers, instead of having mastered it prior to becoming somewhat human-sized.
What was the point of that, anyways? Yeah, you can make the Turtles lab-experiments. That makes some kind of sense. But Splinter's whole origin is inextricably tied to Oruku Saki, you can't just remove something like that without making something look kinda stupid.
Speaking of stupid, the voices. Splinter is voiced by Tony Shalhoub, who I really like. But the voice he uses for Splinter doesn't sound anything like any of the other Splinter's.
That's not the only issue with the voices. The Turtles themselves don't always sound right. Raph and Mikey's actors are the only ones I noticed were able to consistently keep their voices similar to previous actors.
Leo wavers back and forth, sometimes sounding like his '03 counterpart, sometimes not. And Donny hardly sounds like he should.
I hypothesized that, since this movie is a Platinum Dunes/Nickelodeon Pictures co-production, that maybe they were using the voice-actors from the 2012 Nick CGI series, but that's not the case.
Quick note about the TV series, they have two former Raph actors voicing other characters in that series.
And that leads me to this criticism. Younger fans of the current TV show will be left wondering why the characters sound different in this movie, let alone why they look so much different.
Just like I was when I saw the '07 movie. While some of the voices sounded similar, there were enough subtle differences that my ear for sound was able to tell that they weren't the same.
Hell, even fans that have less interest in the film-making process or the behind-the-scenes will probably wonder why these guys don't sound like The Turtles are supposed to.
My favorite series are the live-action movies and the 2003 TV series, so of course I wouldn't be entirely pleased unless Mike Sinterniklaas was playing Leo, Sam Riegel was Donny, Frank Frankson was Raph, Wayne Grayson was Mikey, Darren Dunstan was Splinter, and Scottie Ray was Shredder.
Hell, I'd settle for the cast of the 2007 movie.
That's not to say this new cast is bad. Far from it. They do manage to capture the personalities of The Turtles without over-doing it. My main complaint is Tony Shalhoub's Splinter, as I said before. He doesn't sound anything like any of the Splinter's I've ever heard, and as such, sticks out like a sore thumb.
Speaking of which, the new designs. I don't hate all of the new designs, but Splinter doesn't look his best here. Yeah, the Turtles look a little over-muscled and a little too big, but they look distinct, and they don't look bad.
And this brings me to The Shredder.
Oruku Saki is essentially Iron Man without the flight capabilities. The Shredder outfit is a mechanically powered suit with a lot of weapons. Yeah, it diminishes how threatening Shredder actually is, since usually Shredder has nothing but armor on, and he's still a force to be reckoned with. But I love this suit. It's glitzy and flashy, and it's a little garish, but it looks awesome.
Yes, a more tactical suit in the second movie would look cool too. But this serves its purpose as an awesome-looking suit that can stand toe-to-toe with the Turtles and come out on top, especially since they've made the Turtles super-strong.
By the way, despite The Shredder speaking a ton of English in every single appearance, he primarily speaks Japanese here. I'm not sure why. Yeah, he's supposed to be Japanese in pretty much every appearance, but he's also a crime boss in the United States.
And yes, he does speak English in this movie, but he's also got very few lines, he doesn't gloat, and he doesn't have the right kind of charisma that Shredder is supposed to have.
In fact, the main villain is't even really Shredder, it's an original character.
The weird thing is that in the original version of the script, that original character was supposed to actually be Oruku Saki, but for some reason they changed it. I don't know why, because that seems like something that would make sense. That character even killed someone who Splinter could have feasibly looked up to.
All they'd need to do is make April's father some sort of martial-arts enthusiast, and have his dojo next to the lab that Splinter and the Turtles were housed in, and that would solve all the problems with the plot. It reinstates Splinter's ties to Shredder as a plot-point, and means that they don't need to hand-wave why Splinter knows martial-arts.
Hell, to top it off, make April's father's first name Josh and make him part Japanese and you'd have the entire origin down pat.
The good thing is that they never actually identified the character of Shredder as Oruku Saki, so they might be able to still have that original character become the new Shredder eventually.
Probably not in the next film, since it looks like they've already cast the new Shredder for TMNT: Half Shell, and that original character isn't going to get any kind of payoff on that angle.
So, while it seems like they had a couple of last-minute rewrites and re-casts, the movie itself is solid, and it's well worth the hour and forty-minute runtime.
As with all the Turtles media, the movie is a hodgepodge of concepts from other Turtles media and original ideas. Some things make a little more sense than others, and some don't make sense at all.
The good thing is that I pretty much got what I expected out of a Michael Bay Ninja Turtles movie. There are a lot of good moments, great-action, and some good story to behold.
While the story has been changed a bit to make April a little more involved in the Turtles' back-story than she has been before, she was always a big part of the Turtles franchise, and she was always useful to the plot.
Sam Witwicky was an original character with an established family name who was useful for a total of one film and then lost all character as time went on. Since April has history as a character, then could mean that she's got less of a chance of having her character ruined.
All in all, while the movie has some small issues, most of which have to do with the weird production history of the film, it's still a fun movie. The Turtles are pretty faithful to their established personalities, Megan Fox actually proved she can act and be funny without making me cringe, and everything manages to keep a decent pace.
I give the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot a 9.8* rating.

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Splatoon infographic

So I woke up this morning, checked my eMail, and found this Infographic from Nintendo waiting in my inbox. It details some features of the upcoming Wii U game, Splatoon.
I wish I could say I was excited, but I don't have a Wii U, and I'm unlikely to get a game for a system I don't have.
That doesn't stop you guys from being excited, though! What do you think? Are you looking forward to Splatoon? Why?
Got any complaints about the lack of online voice-chat?
Let us know down in the comments!

Source: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20150528005457/en/

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

So, Mockingjay. The last book in the Hunger Games series has been made into two movies.
It finally happened. Lionsgate finally figured out that there's not enough room in one film for all of the detail, character development and intensity of The Hunger Games.
Unfortunately, they haven't taken a page out of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy and decided to turn this into three movies, because apparently there wasn't enough space in two movies to tell the story of Mockingjay unabridged.
It's not as badly butchered as The Hunger Games was, but it's still had obvious bits chopped out of it. My memory of the Mockingjay novel isn't as clear as my memory of The Hunger Games was when I reviewed its movie adaptation, but I'll do my best.
My first criticism of the movie is this poster. The imagery of Katniss with the flames and silver wings behind her is cool looking, but all they did was edit Jennifer Lawrence in front of the original poster, and they didn't even bother removing the birds beak.
Fans of Agents of Shield might notice that Katniss's Mockingjay suit looks a lot like Melinda May's outfit. Also, since this poster is in high-definition, you might also be able to tell that all of Katniss's arrows are all fletched black, like her normal arrows are in the film.
When Katniss puts on this suit in the movie, she's never seen without some yellow and red arrows in addition to her regular black ones. The only time she's seen with a quiver of all black-arrows is one time when she's hunting. And that time she was hunting, she wasn't wearing this outfit.
And that brings me to another issue. Katniss only has around nine arrows in her quiver. Three regular, with three incendiary, and three explosive arrows. And that's all the weapons she's shown having in the film.
As far as the audience knows, she's only got a single quiver of arrows, without any refills, without any backup weapons, and therefore under-prepared.
Katniss's primary strength is her ability to go unseen and unheard, and survive to fight another day. And even though her main purpose as The Mockingjay is to be the poster child for the rebellion, she's still a target for The Capitol. And as such, needs the ability to defend herself in any situation.
In the novel, it was explained that she had weapons hidden all over the suit, along with light-weight armor plating around the suit, with extra reinforcements to protect her vital organs.
Something else they cut out was the fact that Cinna, the guy who designed the suit, had included a suicide pill in the collar of the suit in case Katniss was ever caught and tied up by Capitol operatives, and rescue was impossible.
And since she's a stealth operative, it doesn't make any sense why she's only got three arrows that don't blow up, or spurt fire all over the place, both of which will reveal your location. And we know that the explosive arrows are pretty powerful, since the one scene from the trailer that everyone remembers is where she shoots down a Capitol gunship with a single explosive arrow.
I know where this plot-hole originated. In the book, Katniss had a lot more arrows at her disposal, and she also had a system for recognizing what arrows she's looking for. I had originally thought that she had a voice-activated arrow-dispenser that gave her whichever of the three types she asked for, but I'm not sure where that idea came from, since upon re-reading the book, I didn't find anything that even resembled that.
They also left out Katniss's combat helmet, as well as certain suit details from the book, but that's a bit of a nitpick.
Now, let's talk effects. They've obviously got more to spend on effects than they did in the first movie, since they spend a bit of time showing it off. While the budget is slightly smaller than that of Catching Fire, they do manage to keep the effects looking good. While I think they might have been better off with a few hundred-million more in funding, they did well with what they had.
Anyways, I might as well tell you guys what's been cut.
Most of the evidence of District 13's tight-fisted totalitarian management has been removed, along with most evidence of their bigoted attitudes and manipulative schemes. I say most, because there are some bits and pieces left of 13's evil left. But as far as I can tell, most of their evil intentions and actions have been erased. We'll have to see how Mockingjay Part 2 turns out before judging to what extent Lionsgate has whitewashed the plot. And let me just say that if they keep this up, they're looking to ruin the whole point of Mockingjay's ending.
If you'll think back to the first movie, then you'll remember that Peeta's parents were all but cut from that film. And even though they're implied to be dead in this film, the fact that they were complete non-entities in the last two movies means that their deaths are utterly pointless in this movie.
The good thing is that the display of all of the dead spread out on the road in District 12 is still a sickening sight. Unfortunately it lost some of the impact it could have had if they'd developed (Or just included) a few more characters that were killed. I remember how I felt when I first read that District 12 had been leveled. I remember exactly how I felt when I found out who all was among the dead. It was hard to read.
And again, while I do really like this scene, I feel that if they'd done a little more character development in the first movie, instead of rushing to get to the titular Hunger Games, then this whole sequence would have had an even better impact.
A lot of scenes with Gale have been cut, or shortened, as they were in the last two movies. And at this point, I know I've been banging on about this in my reviews of the last two movies, but shifting from Katniss's perspective, without any voice-over from Jennifer Lawrence to fill the gaps means that a lot of the character the made the books interesting is just lost.
At least they're not doing what they did in the first movie and having the sports commentators tell you what's going on, because that seriously broke flow.
The good thing is that there aren't a whole lot of cuts away from Katniss to what other people are doing. The one that I really hated was left in the deleted scenes, fortunately.
Just to make a quick note, I don't totally dislike the idea of cutting away from Katniss's point of view. It can be very effective if used correctly. I'll get to that in a minute.
If you'll think back to last year, you'll remember Philip Seymour Hoffman died nine months before the release of this movie. Fortunately, all of his scenes in this movie were recorded before his death, and most of his scenes in Mockingjay Part 2 were finished by the time he died. Time will only tell if his death negatively affected the quality of the last film in the series.
One of the only cutaways from Katniss's perspective in the movie is to a scene with Hoffman's character, Plutarch Heavensbee talking with a pair of other characters about the propaganda shorts they recorded. And for what it's worth, that's not a bad scene. Especially since it's one of the few scenes that actually illustrates the manipulative motives of the operators of District 13.
I remember that most of the cutaway scenes from Catching Fire were to Heavensbee making deals with President Snow, which helped illustrate what District 13 was up to, and how little they really cared about their own people.
As always, I'm sure that this movie could do with an extended cut. Unfortunately there's no way they could shoot more footage after the fact with Heavensbee, since Hoffman's dead.
And unless I'm remembering incorrectly, I believe that there were a few action scenes cut or shortened.
Now, let's talk about one of my favorite scenes in the movie.
While Katniss and her camera crew are showing the Districts what The Capitol did to District 12, Gale tells them a story about the evacuation. About how after the feed from the arena was cut, they saw Capitol bombers inbound, and he rounded up as many people as he could to break down the fence, and flee to the woods.
Some of the residents of District 12 decided to go a different route, and after Gale got all of his people into the woods, the bombers let loose, blasting buildings to rubble. And then they doubled back, and bombed the road. And then they pan over to the burned and blackened corpses.
After that, they stop for a break by a lake, and at the urging of the camera-man Katniss sings a song to the Mockingjays that was a continuing feature of the books, "Hanging Tree"
My first comment has to be that Jennifer Lawrence sounds amazing. Her voice lends a great deal to that song, which hit at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100.
That song becomes the anthem of the rebellion, and after they show a few scenes from the completed short of Katniss and her crew walking through the ruins of District 12, they cut to a rainy night in District 5, with the rebels marching through the darkness, while singing Hanging Tree, and charging the Capitol guards.
This scene is powerful, and is one of the best pieces of the entire film.
Speaking of which, the propo short they filmed in District 8 was an awesome short. If they didn't use that as a trailer for the movie itself, then they should have!
The level of emotion and power that Jennifer Lawrence can convey in a scene like that is part of what makes this movie good. The fact that she can bring across both the anger and frustration of Katniss, and then shift right to spent, weary sorrow in the same scene is why she's able to pull off the role. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see much of Katniss's thunderous personality in the first movie, and it's good to see both Catching Fire and Mockingjay making up for that. The fact that they're willing to show her weakened and injured means that they've finally realized what made Katniss a great character. The fact that she took a ton of abuse, survived even the harshest of situations, and was able to come back and keep going. That she could find a spark of defiance even after being put through the wringer.
And when she came back, she came back a changed person. Not the same as when she started.
I might as well make this clear, I'm putting all of the blame for the failure of the first movie to capture the personalities of the characters on the shoulders of the film-makers. The actors are all great, and they put on great performances in this film and Catching Fire.
For instance, Josh Hutcherson was great in the few scenes he had as Peeta. His performance really captured the essence of how those sections of the book went.
And while Sam Claflin wasn't given a whole lot of screen-time in the film, what he had was excellent. When Finnick is telling the districts about what Snow forced him to do, and how he got the Capitol back for it, I could have sworn the words were leaping right off the pages and making that scene.
There's a lot to like about this movie, but it does have some issues.
All in all, I don't necessarily think this was a bad movie. It's got a lot of good moments, but it's a little too short, and it doesn't have the same density of awesome that Catching Fire did.
In the end though, I'll give it an 8.0* rating. I might wind up going back and updating Catching Fire's rating at some point, but don't hold your breath.

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