r6ZueZjnmZ7B2W9HGZxNVvrBtMg BDVR: January 2016

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (Guest review)

*Editors Note*
My buddy Nathan Green has written a followup to his Danganronpa review, and since I've been having some technical issues with The Consuming Shadow after its latest update, so I wasn't able to get the review done in time. Meanwhile, enjoy this guest review!


IMPORTANT:
Please go and read my Danganronpa review first before reading this one. A lot of stuff isn’t gonna make sense if you haven’t. This review is long enough already, and I don’t want to have to explain everything that I did in the first review as well haha. To those of you who have read that review, Enjoy!


Welcome to Jabberwock Island! An island of sunny beaches, fun attractions and high school students trying to murder each other!
Yup Danganronpa is back for another round of class trials, investigations, epic music and more pepto bismol blood than you can shake a monokuma at and oh man it is a wild ride.
I picked up Danganronpa 2 the very day my Playstation Vita arrived in the post , finished it the following week and man... what an experience. I've got a lot to say about this one, so buckle up! It’s time to look at Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. Let's take a little trip to Jabberwock Island!


Danganronpa 2 was originally released in Japan on the PSP in 2012 under the name Super Danganronpa 2. It didn’t see a release in the western market until two years later when it and the original were localised by those wonderful people over at NIS America. The versions we got were based on the updated Playstation Vita rereleases, and are therefore only available on the Vita outside Japan.
Now, I want to quickly touch on the localisation. When the game was localised, NIS changed a few things here and there, some of which make sense, others however are kinda weird. For one, instead of each student having a super duper high school trait they now have an Ultimate trait. Really all the localisation changes are small nitpicks which don’t really effect the game much at all. The translation itself was pretty good, I saw no grammar or spelling errors ,however I did spot a few typos in the script. Overall the localisation is certainly one of the better localisations of recent years. NIS also added a full English voice cast to the game, which I will talk more in depth about later.
Anyway, onto the story.


Like my review of the first game, I'll only be giving a basic plot summery and setup overview to avoid spoiling the game (and trust me, you don’t want it spoiled).
For starters, Danganronpa 2 does NOT take place right after the first game. In fact, you play as a completely different character by the name Hajime Hinata. He, along with fifteen other students have been chosen to attend Hopes Peak Academy (Note: I incorrectly called the school Hopes High in my previous review. Whoops)
However, upon walking into the school our hero passes out and finds himself on a tropical archipelago with fifteen other students. The only way to get off these islands? Kill a fellow classmate and get away with it.
I really can’t do the story justice without spoiling something. This game, like the previous game is masterfully written and full of plot twists, character development, insanity, and a bit of humour as well. However, Danganronpa 2 really turns it up a notch with the story when compared to the first game. You thought the original had a good story? Somehow Danganronpa 2 manages to top the first game and then some. It’s amazing. If you liked the story that the original had then you will be right at home with the second games story.
10/10
Gameplay:
Gameplay for the most part remains largely the same, however there've been many tweaks and refinements made to the game to spice things up a bit.
The first of these changes is in the exploration. Like the first game, you explore the archipelago from a first person perspective. However, due to the scale of Danganronpa 2's islands they've added a sort of overworld where you control Hajime from a sidescrolling perspective to move about the archipelago. You're also given the ability to quick jump to different buildings that you can enter in the overworld by using the directional buttons, which is a nice addition if you just want to get from point A to point B fast.
First person freeroam sections remain from the first game and are basically just like they were in the first game. Fixed First Person exploration sections are also present and again, remain basically unchanged.
Your electro-ID’s (called E-handbooks in the official localisation) have received a few tweaks. You can still warp around the islands like you could in the previous game using the map but I found I never used this feature due to being able to quick jump in the overworld. A whole new feature/mini-game has been added to the E-handbooks which has you taking care of a sort of Tamagotchi like virtual pet which levels up and grows as you run across the archipelago. Personally I find this feature pretty pointless and it only really seems to exist for trophy hunters to fiddle with to get the bronze and silver trophies attached to it.
The visual novel sections are still here obviously and again, remain largely unchanged although they did remove the Re:act system from the previous game (Basically if a certain purple section of text popped up in a diologue box you could hit triangle and ask about the topic that was written in the purple text). I have no clue why they removed it.
Most of the gameplay changes however are present in the class trials. Almost every mini-game that was present in the previous game has had something changed about it. Like my previous review I will be going through these mini-games one by one depending on how often it appears.
Non Stop Debate:
Like the previous game, this mini-game appears the most by far. The base gameplay is pretty much identical to the previous game, but there have been some additions to make things more interesting.
Now not only can you point out and shoot down peoples contridictions but you can also do the opposite and provide relevant evidence that backs up someones point. These points are differentiated from normal weak points through the use of blue text. Yellow weak points act the same as the previous game. The ability to pick up weak points and use them to knock down another weak point returns in this game BUT you cannot pick up a weak point and use it to try and backup someones statement (i.e pick up yellow text and use it on blue text)
White noise returns (although the text is ironically purple) with a vengeance. Some pieces of white noise take multiple shots to go down, which can be a little irritating at times. However, you can tap the Vita’s rear touchpad to shoot down white noise, which is my preferred method because it auto targets.
The rest of the debates are the same as they were in the previous game, although these twists certainly add more to the mix.
“Improved” Hangmans gambit:
And here lies one of my only major gripes with this whole game. “Improved” Hangmans gambit is HORRIBLE. Sure Hangmans Gambit from the previous game was pretty bland but in this game is it just BAD. You have to pick up letters using the X button and drop them on another of the same letter (I.E pick up and O and drop that O on another O). Problem is, the letters are constantly moving all over the screen from all corners and if 2 different letters collide then you take damage. In the later class trials you will see your life meter drop like a god damned BRICK due to how many letters are on screen.
You can destroy paired letters by using the X button and send them down into the hangman thing at the bottom of the screen using the triangle button, but half the time you either have no idea what you are supposed to be spelling or there is so much crap on screen that you can’t keep up. This mini-game is just CRUEL and is by far one of the worst things about this game. It doesn’t help that unlike hangmans gambit from the first game you are given NO HINTS this time round. In the first game a few letters would be done for you but you don’t get that here. Even worse is that the words you have to spell will usually be very long! It just doesn’t work at all. By far the worst of the new mini-games and the fact that it appears often doesn’t help matters.
Oh and you can’t check any of your evidence while you are playing this game just to add insult to injury.


Logic Dive:
And here we have a brand new mini-game which unlike hangmans gambit is actually pretty fun.
Logic Dive has you controlling Hajime on a snowboard (yes a snowboard) down a tron looking halfpipe avoiding obstacles and stuff like that. The logic part comes into play when you have to answer 3 questions about the murder. You are given pre-written answers which each correspond to a different coloured path. Pick the path that you think is correct and you continue on. You control Hajime with the Left Stick, make him accelerate with the X button and Jump with the L button. You can also brake by pulling back on the right stick (useful if you need some time to think about an answer).
Logic Dive is by far the most entertaining of the games. It may seem odd seeing an action centric mini-game in a puzzle/mystery game but Danganronpa 2 implements it very well. It also helps that the music track that plays during this mini-game is extremely catchy. I only wish that there was an option to play a sort of infinite logic dive without the questions as an extra as that would be a fun distraction.
Rebuttal Showdown:
Another new mini-game! This one has you in a one on one battle against your opponent with you literally slicing away at their words. You can slice by using the directional buttons, the left stick or the touchscreen (although the latter is a bit unresponsive so I’d recommend the D-Pad or left stick).
A showdown is broken into multiple stages most of the time. To pass one stage you have to make it through the round while taking as little damage as possible. If done correctly the little bar in the middle will have moved in such a way so that Hajime’s space covers most of the screen.
On some occasions, usually when you end a round tied with your opponent, you will have to mash the X button to try and edge your opponent out to move onto the next stage.
Now it is important to know that the technique to playing this mini-game is to try and get as many words as possible in the path of your slice as you have limited slices. It’s all about being as efficient as possible.
When you have advanced to the final stage weak points will begin appearing in the text. Similar to the Non Stop Debates you need to counter these with the appropriate evidence. If you have the correct evidence to contradict the opponents claim you will cut through their statement.
It is also important to know that if text has weak points in it you DO NOT try slicing through it otherwise the opponent will gain considerable ground. If the weak point isn’t the one you want then you just have to leave it and wait for the next piece of text to come on screen.
Overall once you know how this mini-game works properly it becomes quite entertaining. If you have no idea about the techniques though then it can get pretty frustrating.


Panic Talk Action:
The rhythm game returns but it has now been revamped. The core concept is still the same but instead of pressing the X button in time with the music you now have to hold it. Holding it locks onto statements and releasing fires. Holding the square button reloads and the R button puts you into fever mode which gives you infinite ammo and ups the tempo.
These changes do help make things a little more interesting I will admit but sometimes timing your press and release can be a little more difficult than in the previous game. Either way this one isn’t bad.


Closing Argument:
Like the previous game this mini-game has you reconstructing the events of the murder in order in a manga style. Unlike the previous game however you now receive panels in “stocks” of 5 (up to 3 of the panels are correct panels and the remaining ones are dummies) and are judged on if you placed a panel correctly or not immediately. This change isn’t bad but I personally preferred having access to all the panels at once like in the first game.
What is also worth noting is like in the first game if you happen to lose all your life you can restart on the spot with a full lifebar and try the mini-game again.
PHEW that was a lot of mini-games to cover. As you can see most of the mini-games have either received a change, tweak or complete overhaul from the previous game, most of which are pretty good (except blooming hangmans gambit)
One other thing to mention about the class trials is how they are MUCH longer than the class trials in the previous game, so long in fact that halfway through the trial they have an intermission. Personally I am really happy with this change as I found the class trials in the first game were a little short.
On the other hand, the sections leading up to the class trials are also longer and particularly at the beginning of the game can drag for a little longer than you really want them to. Also due to how the archipelago is so much bigger than hopes peak academy from the first game you will probably feel that some of the islands are just… well a bit empty. Granted that is kinda true as Hajime and the rest of the slowly dwindling cast are really the only people on the archipelago, but this means that you will be doing a lot of running around to get to relevant places.
Also, while each island is chock a block full of buildings, some of these buildings never get used for ANYTHING. Like you will go into them to check out what is inside them when you first explore the new island but after that they are never bought up again. This is a shame really because in the first game each room was at least relevant to something while here some buildings and places just seem to exist for no reason whatsoever. To me it feels like a missed opportunity.
However the fourth case in the game certainly harkens back to the first game mainly because the setting is completely different. Basically all the rooms are used for something in this case and it is refreshing to see especially when some buildings just sat around being as useful as a chocolate frying pan the entire game.
While I appreciate what the developers were going for here I feel that they ended up just making the game a little too expansive, leading to some redundant landmarks and buildings as well as giving the player tons of opportunities to use the quick warp feature on the overworld. Bigger does not always mean better. Here’s hoping that Danganronpa V3 has realised this and has attempted to hit a sweet spot between the first and second game in terms of size.
Overall I appreciate most of the tweaks made to the game and the wider variety of mini-games is really nice but some things such as “Improved” hangmans gambit and a lot of unused buildings and areas does prevent me from giving the gameplay a perfect score.
9/10
Graphics and Sound:
The graphics for Danganronpa 2 look pretty good. The setting of Jabberwock Island allows for richer colour palletes and more varied and unique environments that weren’t possible in the first game. However you'll be seeing A LOT of yellow and blue due to the Island setting.
Danganronpa 2 was originally a PSP game, so basically all of the assets are from the PSP version albeit they have been rendered in higher resolution. 3D models are used every now and then as well, usually on the overworld and these look quite nice and maintain the games unique art style despite being in 3D.
Speaking of which the art style is just as gorgeous as the first game. Danganronpa's art style is very distinct and even transitions well to 3D.
I was playing the game on my Vita 1000 and it looked lovely on the OLED screen, it is certainly a lot more colourful and varied in its style than the first game was which works in its favour.
Unfortunately, the game is not without its flaws. I was kinda disappointed in the performance. While Danganronpa 1 on the PSP ran perfectly with no frame drops at all, here I spotted a few performance issues throughout the game. Mainly when I was opening my E-handbook, which took a few seconds to do and ESPECIALLY when I was scrolling through text in the transcript log. The game also runs at 30 FPS and while it usually keeps up with that frame rate there were a few times when I saw the frame rate dip a little below that, namely when there was a lot of stuff on screen.
What is really odd though is that the game is in fact able to run at 60fps. Through the use of a glitch it is possible to get the game running at 60fps until you open up a menu and it runs really well, which just makes everything even more odd especially because the Vita is way more powerful than the PSP, so it should be able to handle this kind of game without a hitch.
However, as this game came out on the PSP first it's most likely they either didn’t put in enough work properly porting up the engine to the Vita ,or they just didn’t know how to do it as well and cut some corners which is disappointing. It's not a deal breaker, don’t get me wrong, but it certainly does make stuff like scrolling through some menus a total nightmare due to the lag. Here’s hoping that Danganronpa V3 performs better as that game will be Vita exclusive handheld wise (it is also coming out on the PS4).
Sound wise the game sounds amazing. Masafumi Takada returns at the helm of the music and as usual he delivers. Tunes such as Kill Command, Tropical Despair, Trapped by the Ocean Scent, Dive Drive and others really make for an awesome soundtrack. Other tunes such as Sing the Empty Happiness really provide an errie feel to fit the mood in some areas. On top of that tunes from the first game return in full force. It’s great hearing tunes such as New World Order, Break, Turn up the Heat and Closing Argument return from the first game, as well as other standout tracks. This really helps power Danganronpa 2’s soundtrack into the relm of outstanding. And just like the first game you can listen to the entire OST in the game itself which is something I really appreciate.
Since this is the official English localisation of Danganronpa 2 I am talking about the game received a full English voice cast. While I played the game predominantly with the Japanese voice track (which is an exceptional voice track and really captures each of the characters personalities perfectly) I did give the English voice track a shot and to my surprise, it’s actually pretty good! It isn’t as good as the Japanese voice track in my opinion, but as far as English dubs go this is by far one of the better ones. Then again this game was localised by NIS so that is kind of expected from them. Although Brian Beacock as Monokuma is positively ear grating. Hearing freaking Johnny Yong Bosch as Hajime is flipping amazing though. He does one excellent performance along with Derek Stephen Prince as Fuyuhiko, Kyle Hebert as Kazuichi, Carrie Keranen as Mahiru and Julie Ann Taylor as Ibuki. This is one all star voice cast in this game and it works quite well. A few performances are a bit naff but most of them are very good and make the English voice track a valid option if you prefer your games in English.
Overall while the framerate on the graphical side has a few issues the soundtrack is still amazing and a solid Japanese and English voice cast certainly help outweigh that minor issue.
9/10
Extras:
Before I move onto enjoyment I’d like to quickly cover the little extra goodies that Danganronpa 2 has up its sleeve.
First is Magical Miracle Girl Monomi. A side game which has you controlling the character of Monomi (basically female Monokuma but a rabbit instead of a bear) in a quest to take down a bunch of monsters and stuff. I haven’t played much of this one but it is quite entertaining from what I have played.
Secondly there is Danganronpa IF, a light novel story that is unlocked upon finishing the game. This basically details an alternate timeline that focuses on what would have happened had the cast of the first game found out how to escape Hopes Peak Academy earlier in the game. It’s a good read.
Finally there is Island mode. This basically is the free time sections where you interact with your fellow classmates to learn more about them expanded into a full extra game. For trophy hunters it’s pretty good as it has quite a few trophies attached to it and also helps you learn more about characters and their backstory.
It also solves the problem which plagued the first game on the PSP where you had to replay chapters of the game in order to fill the report cards of each character. It’s an optional mode but it is there if you want it.
Finally hiding under the extras menu are galleries where you can view events, movies and listen to music from the game. Danganronpa 2 is certainly not short on the extras and these extras are exclusive to the Vita version as well.


Enjoyment:
OK so did I enjoy Danganronpa 2? Silly question. Of course I did. Despite some minor gripes with the game being a little “too” large as well as the pain that is “Improved” Hangmans Gambit I still enjoyed the game a ton. The story manages to somehow one-up the first games story, and on top of that the game is LONGER than the first one. They actually increased the length of the game in ways that weren’t artificial which I am super happy with as I always found the first game a bit short.
The extras that the game has will be keeping me occupied for a little while longer I’d say and the addition of trophies to the Vita version are good if you like that kinda thing.
I finished Danganronpa 2 in around fivedays. On the final two days I was playing for around four to five hours straight if not more due to how gripping the story was. Again, like the first game the story is what really makes Danganronpa the awesome time sucking game that it is. Sure once you have finished it there isn’t much need to go back but on your first playthrough you will most likely find it difficult to set the Vita down unless someone forcefully crowbars it out of your hands. You don’t want to put Danganronpa down until you have seen those credits roll. It’s that good.
The puzzles are more complex and clever, the class trials longer and more engaging, the music even better, the story is one of the best I have seen in a video game, I can’t call it the best story I've seen because 999 on the DS edges Danganronpa 2 out by a decent amount but it is still damn good.
10/10
Final Verdict:
If you liked Danganronpa 1 then… ok well you will have most likely played this game already, BUT if you haven’t you need to go and buy this game NOW. Go, now. It’s not too expensive on PSN and at the time of this review there are discounts on the game on in Europe so what the heck are you waiting for?
Like the first game I give Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair a highly recommended.


PHEW. That was one long review. Guess I got nothing else to do now but wait until Danganronpa V3 rolls out so I can review that eh? Oh wait…
Yup we are still not done with Danganronpa yet. We have one more game to look at before I move onto reviewing other Vita games and it is certainly the oddball of the series for many reasons. Namely because it’s a Danganronpa themed third person shooter. Wait what?
So join me next time when I review Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls! As soon as I finish it that is…
This is Nathan Green, signing off.


Age ratings:
OFLC: M (Unrestricted)
ESRB: M
PEGI: 16


Image from Atlus.com

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Top Five Songs of 2015

Well, this is a first for me. This year I'm writing up top five lists for more than just videogames! We're starting off with the top five songs of the year!
In the following lists, I'll be covering my top five favorite hit songs of 2015, my top five best songs that saw a release in 2015, as well as my top five worst songs of the year. I separated my "best" lists since the releases list features a lot of songs that never even cracked Billboard's Hot 100, while my worst release list would be completely identical to my worst hits list of the year. There are a few repeats on the best list, but it's nowhere near as identical as the worst lists are. Let's start out with the best hits of the year, shall we?

#5: The Hanging Tree by James Newton Howard and Jennifer Lawrence
After I finished the rest of this list, I was wondering if I really wanted to put this song here. In the end, I couldn't really think of any other song that hit it on the Hot 100 that I thought Deserved to be here. One Direction had a good showing this year, but I didn't like Drag Me Down enough to put it on this list. If it wasn't for the fact that the top twenty this year was filled mostly with either middle of the road blandness or overrated garbage, this probably wouldn't be here. Yes, Adele had her new album this year, yeah The Weeknd had some good tracks, One Direction had a good showing this year, and Justin Bieber wasn't the worst thing in the world for once, but I wasn't terribly moved by any of those songs. And unfortunately, I don't listen to a lot of hit songs, I mostly stick to music from artists I like. In the end, I felt more comfortable putting The Hanging Tree from Mockingjay Part 1 on this list than any of them, mostly because I feel it represents something we need to see more out of movies. Decent soundtrack singles. It's a good song, and while I keep hemming and hawing over what to put in this slot, I've got to make my mind up eventually, and this is as good a song as any to put here.
#4: Immortals by Fall Out Boy
I was able to populate the other four slots on this list easily, but it took me a while to find a fifth song I thought was good enough to be on this list. Hanging Tree was originally at #4 until I realized this song managed to stick around the Hot 100 into January. If you remember my review of Big Hero 6, you'd know that I loved that movie. And if you remember my review of Selma, you know how much I liked this song. As you can probably tell by the single cover, this was the theme-song for the aforementioned animated Marvel superhero film. It's just a shame that it didn't win "Best Original Song" because this was oh so much better than Glory was.  Fall Out Boy's music tends to go back and forth in quality, but they're never making anything as bad as what's on my "Worst" list. And Immortals isn't bad, it's good. Very good. Go listen to it, this is a song you need in your life. Or maybe you don't

#3: Love Me Like You Do by Ellie Goulding
This is probably the only good thing to come out of Fifty Shades of Grey. As a book, it's cool to read in funny voices. As a movie, I don't even know. Maybe you could get some fun out of watching it with Rifftrax playing in the background. Other than that, nothing right? Well, at least we got an elegant piece of music out of this terrible piece of pop-culture phenomena. I have a general rule that if something gets into the top ten, I listen to it, and that's how I found out about this song. Ellie Goulding has made some incredibly good music in her career and this song is no exception. It's classy, and it's pleasant to listen to. Just a shame that it's associated with such a stupid franchise. It doesn't take a professional critic to tell you what's wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey, but it doesn't take one to tell you that this song is good, either.

#2: Nothing Without Love by Nate Ruess
For the uninitiated, Nate Ruess is the lead-singer for renowned indie-rock/pop group fun. No, you didn't read that wrong, the band's name is officially stylized as lowercase "fun" with a period at the end. fun. has been on hiatus since February of 2015 while its members do their own things. Nate Ruess released his first solo album midway through 2015 with four singles leading up to it, the first of which was this song. fun. hasn't tried to hide the fact that they take a lot of influence from the works of Queen, going so far as to perform with them at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas. This influence especially shows itself in this song, and it's great to see that this album was doing pretty well, peaking at #7 on the Hot 200. This song peaked at #77 on the Hot 100, which is unfortunate, since this is an amazing song. And the music-video is a work of at in and of itself. If this is the closest thing we're getting to Queen on the pop-charts, I say we embrace it. Besides, it's good in its own right, and if Freddy Mercury was still alive, this would be a great companion piece to whatever Queen would be making now. Always nice to keep the club crap and R&B pop off the charts.

#1: Uptown Funk! by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars
Todd In The Shadows named Uptown Funk! the best hit song of 2014. That's kind of funny, since it didn't even crack the Hot 100 of 2014, but has become the biggest song of 2015. Let's just reiterate what I hope everyone has been saying about this song since its release; Uptown Funk is awesome. If you haven't listened to it, go to YouTube and watch the music-video. The video is just as good as the song. Bruno's vocals are great and Mark's music rocks. Uptown Funk is easily the best hit song of 2014 and 2015 alike. We need more music like this on the radio, but considering what bumped Uptown Funk off the #1 spot, I'm not too enthused about the future of popular music. If we can get even one more song like this every year to #1, maybe we could change things on the pop-charts for the better.


Now we come to the worst hits and releases of the year. Like I said before, I've combined these two lists because they were literally identical to each other. Hell, I only know about a lot of bad songs because they become hits. Before we begin though, I'll throw out a few honorable mentions. Girl Crush by Little Big Town almost made it onto the list because of the fake controversy, and the sampled chord-progression and melody, but in the end it was just too bland to care about. Only by Young Money is a good choice for incredibly irritating, but I don't think anyone actually cared enough about that song for it to stick around. There were plenty of other bad songs this year too, but the ones I put here are all incredibly popular, and all irritate me in some specific way. So, here we go with the worst hits/releases of 2015:
#5: All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor
Am I the only one who's completely irritated by the term "booty?" It's incredibly childish, incredibly silly, and it diminishes whatever the person is trying to say because of the aforementioned childishness. No, I didn't put All About That Bass on this list solely because Trainor says "booty" but that's part of it. The main reason is that I despise the retro doo-wop style the song is made in. And because Trainor is essentially the discount dollar-store knockoff of Adele, without any of the songwriting or vocal talent that makes Adele good. Meghan Trainor has essentially produced a doo-wop, passive-aggressive version of Nikki Minaj's Anaconda, minus the Sir Mix-a-lot sample. I didn't like Anaconda as it was, but to essentially remake it with an irritating fifties aesthetic lacking anything even remotely resembling bass is almost as bad. Not as bad though, because at least Trainor didn't ruin a hip-hop classic by sticking an unrelated sample into her chorus.

#4: Hotline Bling by Drake
Where to begin with this song?
The chorus is utter nonsense, the melody sounds like it was sampled from the Wii Shop Channel, and Drake sounds like he was sick when he recorded this. Then again, he sounds like he's sick on most of his recent output, so that's not really a step-down for him, just a step to the side. Drake also sounds incredibly bored on this song, almost as if he didn't care about what he was singing/rapping in the slightest. Then again, he admitted himself that he was trying to engineer a #1 hit, so maybe he didn't
The fact that Drake was "disappointed" that Hotline Bling only made it to #2 on the Hot 100 would be bad enough if this was a good song, but it's made even worse by the fact that this song is just boring to listen to. This might have been higher on the list if not for the next item on the list.

#3: The Hills by The Weeknd
I don't think there was ever a more unpleasant song on the radio this year. I don't see how it's even possible to make a song this incredibly dreary and discomforting all in one. The Weeknd's voice is still utterly as irritating as ever, but the rest of the song is just uncomfortable to listen to. Then again, unless we're talking about "Can't Feel My Face", that's indicative of the rest of his work. God only knows why a guy who makes these dreary, irritating tunes has more than just one hit, much less holding the top three spots on the Hot 100 simultaneously. This is a song about having a drunken affair with a girl that The Weeknd put in the "friendzone" and it sounds about as appealing as staying up for three days straight, downing a handful of Benadryl, hopping yourself up on Mountain Dew, and then trying to play a horror game while also attempting to perform sexually. What I'm trying to say is the scenario presented doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. The Weeknd strikes me as a guy who writes a lot about getting high on weird drugs and trying to get with the girls, which isn't something I listen to music for. If I want to do that, I'll just stay up for days on end during the summer and try to play Dungeons and Dragons.

#2: Watch Me by Silento
There might be more about The Hills which turns me off of it, but Watch Me (Whip/Nae-Nae) is just so god-damn irritating. Silento is essentially the new Soulja Boy, but without the overt awfulness. Silento just sings about copying other peoples dance-moves and is incredibly irritating about it. Whenever I hear this song, it takes me about two days of listening to good music before I can get the stupid lyrics out of my head.
What's odd is that this song is apparently five years old! Wikipedia says that it was recorded in 2010, but wasn't released until 2015 after Silento signed his record deal. Just goes to show that this song should have stayed wherever it was rather than becoming a hit. How the hell did this become a hit? There's already plenty of songs like it out there that do exactly what this song does. Screw this song, and let's just forget Silento even exists so we don't end up with another Justin Bieber situation, shall we?
#1: See You Again by Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth
I know I'm gonna tick off a lot of people by putting this song on the list, but the hell with it. I cannot stand this song. If you remember my little rant on Glory at the end of my Selma review, you've already seen some of my opinion on this song, but it's time to lay out all of my issues with this song right now.
Wiz Khalifa's verses do not belong in the same song with Charlie Puth's chorus. It goes from Puth's heartfelt piano work and vocals to Khalifa's soulless machined attempt at the blues. For a sad song, the entire first verse is way too up-beat, and the tone conflicts with itself. Plus, Wiz spends most of the song rapping about Brian O'Conner, the character Paul Walker played instead of the man himself.
Let's contrast this with "Who Wants to Live Forever," a song written entirely by Brian May for the Highlander soundtrack. Dr. May might not have been writing about the characters in Highlander when he wrote that, but it still applied, because it was a song about outliving your loved-ones, which was how it was used. In doing so, he and the other members of Queen created an emotional interaction between the music and the movie. Plus, the themes of the song applied to the scene they used it in.
This is directly opposed to what See You Again does. The song was meant to eulogize the actor, not the character, and while Khalifa kind of gets in a few good lines about sorrow and death, most of his verses seem like he watched the movies and didn't do any research into the man. That's the problem, Khalifa doesn't seem to have any kind of emotional connection to either the departure of the character, or the death of the man. This brings us back to Who Wants to Live Forever". When writing that song, Brian May was mourning the recent death of a friend, and he poured his emotions into the lyrics of the song. This is relevant because that's exactly what happened to Charlie Puth. A friend of his had died in an accident like the one that killed Paul Walker, and he became emotionally involved with the creation of the song. It was only after Universal picked up his submission that it became the poorly composited machined mess we see today. It's a shame that Puth is relegated to a "featuring" credit, because he is carrying this song all on his own. This might have been the #3 song of 2015, but I have a feeling that if Wiz Khalifa hadn't been dragging this track down, it would have unseated Uptown Funk by a wide margin.
All of the other songs in this top five I put here because there was something about the music itself that I didn't like, and while this song has a lot of deal-breaking issues, I hate what it represents more than I hate the song itself. It's a soulless, designed-by-committee hit that tugs just enough at the heartstrings of the buying public to make them feel sad enough to buy it as a tribute to Paul Walker, while also tapping into crossover appeal from Wiz Khalifa's fanbase. Either because they didn't think people would buy a song by an unknown like Puth or because they wanted to make more money. No matter what, it disgusts me that this kind of thing happens at all, and that's why See You Again from Furious 7 is my worst song of 2015.

Now that I've lost a lot of readers from that last paragraph about one of the most popular songs of 2015, it's time to dig into the final category of the year, my picks for best releases of the year. Don't be surprised if you haven't heard of some of these, since Uptown Funk and Immortals weren't released in 2015.
Honorable mentions would be  Can't Feel My Face by The Weeknd, Nothing Without Love and Great Big Storm by Nate Ruess, Love Me Like You Do by Ellie Goulding, and The Rebellion by Bentley Jones, in about that order. I suppose this has become a top ten releases of the year list at this point. Anyways, let's dig in!
#5: Spinning Wheel by Takeuchi Ryōma, Inaba Yū, and Kotono Taiko
For the uninitiated, this is a battle song from Kamen Rider Drive. It was introduced towards the end of the series, and plays whenever Drive, Mach and Chaser battle together. The song is performed as a trio piece by the three male leads of the show, and that lends a certain credibility to the lyrics, since it's essentially written from the perspectives of the characters.
Kamen Rider Drive has an amazing soundtrack overall, mostly because they didn't shy away from mixing moving and epic orchestra pieces with kick-ass rock and roll battle music. SURPRISE DRIVE is my favorite out of the battle music from the show, but the long version of the song falls down a bit due to some awkward lyricism. Spinning Wheel on the other hand manages to keep a decent lyrical flow going. Plus it has an awesome chorus.
#4: Star Wars - Duel of The Fates Meets Metal by 331Erock
Eric Calderone, AKA 331Erock is one of the premier heavy-metal guitarists on the internet. His covers are great, and his original songs are amazing. Sometimes he even puts out a cover that's even better than the original. And by sometimes, I mean pretty much all of the time.
Duel of the Fates by John Williams is a legendary piece of music from the Star Wars prequels, and it seriously helped to jazz up some of the dumber fights in those movies. Eric has done the impossible and made it even better than it was before. Or maybe it's not impossible, since he does this all the time.
Personally, I would love to see Duel of the Fates show up in Episode VIII at the end during a duel between Kylo and Rey. Know what would make that even better? If this version of the song played instead. It would be awesome to see a heavy-metal tune make it into Star Wars. Might be wishful thinking on my part, but we've got two years until the movie comes out, maybe we could get a petition together for it. Or not. Who knows. Please, internet. Make this happen!
#3: The World by PelleK
I could have populated this entire list with PelleK songs easily. He's a great artist, and he's always making good music, be it original tracks or covers, but I figured it was a good idea to give other artists a chance, so I restricted myself to a single PelleK cover. Coincidentally, it's the theme-song to one of the greatest shows of all time. PelleK is an artist who can make the bad songs good, the good songs great, and the great songs godlike, and that's what he's done here. PelleK works on his covers with his bandmate, Gisha Djordjevic. On this track, Gisha played the lead guitar and the drums, with PelleK playing the piano and bass while also providing the vocals on the song. PelleK has a four octave range, and an astounding singing voice, which he always brings across in his music. Gisha is sometimes a little too loose with the guitars, which occasionally detracts from the quality of the songs, and PelleK is occasionally a little (and I do mean little, he's never had a bad vocal performance) bit off with the vocals, but the two of them are at their best I've ever seen them on this song. The production is incredibly tight, PelleK's Japanese vocals are great, and Gisha's guitars are the best they've ever been. Considering that, plus the fact that The World is a great song overall makes for an absolutely incredible piece of music.
#2: Devil's Cry (Shall Never Surrender) by Bentley Jones
I am eternally grateful to Sega for Sonic The Hedgehog on the Xbox 360 and PS3, which introduced me to a lot of great musicians. I don't care if people dislike the game, you cannot dislike the soundtrack. Speaking of hard to dislike, there's Bentley Jones. If you're not a fan of Sonic The Hedgehog, you've probably never heard of him, which is a shame, since he's amazing. He started out making a lot more techno-oriented music with some heavy T-Pain style auto-tune, but he's gradually transitioned towards a less complicated, more unplugged sound. The original Devil's Cry (Shall Never Surrender) was a demo he released about six years ago. It's sort of a cover of the theme-song of Devil May Cry 4, and sort of a completely new song with a borrowed chorus. No matter how you look at it, it was a good song. Then back in 2014, Bentley released his new album, Defying Gravity, which featured a finished version of Devil's Cry. Considering it came out on an album from 2014, one would wonder why it's at the top of a list of songs from 2015. See, Devil's Cry saw a release on Bentley's YouTube channel this year, and YouTube is really the only platform that matters for music these days. Plus I'm trying to make up for the fact that I didn't put it on my best list back in 2014. Because in case you haven't listened to it, this song is absolutely chilling in how good it is. If you thought the 2010 version of the song was as good as it got, then you're going to be pleasantly surprised, to say the very least. It's just amazing how much pure awesome can be packed into one song. This song is just pure epicness distilled into a single piece of music.
#1: See You Again by Charlie Puth
Before you ask, this song wasn't actually on the album to the left, but it's the closest I could get. While Wiz Khalifa stuck around on the top of the pop-charts sucking the soul out of good music, Charlie Puth released his original demo version on Soundcloud. Not that anyone can prove that anymore, because he appears to have deleted it off his page. That's a shame, because this song is brilliant. It's touching, it's emotional, it's elegant. It's everything Wiz Khalifa's insipid remix wasn't. This song actually made me cry, and I'm not usually one to cry at music.
I don't know if Puth used any kind of vocal-enhancing software, but it might as well be an unplugged version compared to the version Wiz Khalifa put out. It's breathtaking to hear the original vocal track without the hip-hop beat or all the post-hoc editing. See You Again by Charlie Puth is a good song, and it deserved to hit Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 instead of that insipid, watered-down remix the studio put out.

Images from charlieputh.com, meghan-trainor.com, cashmoney-records.com, republicrecords.com, capitolrecords.com, brunomars.com, nateruess.com, www.polydor.co.uk, amazon.com, disney.com, and warnermusic.com

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Smosh: The Movie

This takes me back, all the way back to 2005 to be precise. Seems like just yesterday that Smosh was the most subscribed channel on YouTube. As I was sifting through last years releases trying to populate my end-of-year lists, I stumbled across Smosh: The Movie on Netflix, and figured I might as well watch it. After all, I've got fond memories of watching Smosh videos, although I haven't watched any of them lately thanks to my rather insane work schedule as of late. Hell, I can't even remember if I'm still subscribed to Smosh, it's been so long since I've seen one of their videos. I figured it might be a good time to see what Smosh have been up to lately. Maybe they'd still be funny, maybe the movie would be funny, and maybe that Ghostbusters remake will be good, and maybe I'll live to be a billion years old so I can destroy every single copy of Glacier 2 in existence. Or maybe that's all just fantasy because this movie suuuuuucked.
The plot is as follows; Anthony Padilla, a man famous solely for doing stupid things on the internet, did something stupid that got put on the internet and got embarrassed by it enough to want to have it removed from the internet. Wonderful. Not only is the plot utterly unbelievable, it falls flat as soon as you explain it.
I have absolutely no idea how this movie connects to the ongoing Smosh series, or if it does at all. Are Anthony and Ian playing the characters from their show in this movie, or are they doing something completely different? Who knows? Who cares? Certainly not Smosh, or they would have established it.
I bring this up because people will inevitably say that the story doesn't matter since it's a comedy movie. If you're making a good comedy, if you don't have a good story, then you should at least make the jokes funny. If you can pick up any subtext at all, you would probably be able to tell that I don't think this movie is very funny. Which it's not. Even if you've got a GOOD story, a comedy at least needs to be funny. Surprisingly, this movie doesn't have a good story either.
Let's summarize the plot, shall we?
Anthony Padilla, former slacker, has finally gotten a job as a pizza deliveryman, and his friend Ian Hecox resents his lack of free time and holier than thou attitude. On the one hand, he's got a good point. Anthony is a bit of a douche. Then again, he was a penniless douche before, so if anything, this is an improvement. Ian has remained a penniless douche, watching butt-massage videos on the internet, thinking the girl in the videos is his girlfriend, and being a generally creepy, unlikable, insufferable dude.
Anthony drops Ian off at the arcade after meeting a group of pre-teen stereo types. Before he leaves, Ian gives Anthony crap for having become a square and not liking a game they used to play when they were kids. We are then introduced to the latest volley in Smosh's ongoing feud with Nintendo, the game Ian and Anthony used to play as kids is called "Magic Pocket Slave Monsters." This gag goes on for about twenty seconds longer than it should have been initially, and then winds up coming up throughout the rest of the freaking film.
Let's go over why this joke doesn't work. First off, like I said before, the "Joke" goes on way too long. Second, they do their damndest to hammer their point home, that Pokémon is essentially about animal abuse, which is just not true. Third, everyone's already made that joke! Smosh probably made that joke at one point! Fourth, Smosh has made like ten Pokémon videos that were all individually and collectively funnier than their movie in general and this joke in particular! Even the last video was funnier than this movie, and that one sucked! I know Smosh don't hate Pokémon, if they did, they never would have gotten into their little feud with Nintendo in the first place. News flash guys, it's been a decade since Nintendo took your video down. You are literally the only people who still care about this! I know Nintendo has been building up a lot negative heat with the internet over the years, and lately more than ever. That could have made for an amazing joke if executed properly. But it wasn't. For one thing, they go to the arcade to play the game, when everyone knows that Pokémon was a handheld game. Second, they use a parody of the American Pokémon intro in the attract-mode of the game. The show and the games are two very separate entities, as any casual fan could tell you. Finally, the implications of the game are just absurd. They swear a lot in it, there's obvious animal cruelty in the attract-mode animation (With the Ash Ketchum stand-in hammering home that he's abusing his Pikachu knockoff) which wouldn't have flown in the '90s at all! Supposedly Ian and Anthony played this game as kids, and since they're in their twenties, they would have played it in the '90s. You know, back when people were going crazy about the "nudity" and "violence" in Night Trap of all things! This was the era of overreaction to little things! And when things were not so little, people freaked out even more than they probably should have. If this game was out in the '90s, arcades would have refused to have the cabinet on the floor! Stores would have refused to stock the game! It's called "Magic Pocket Slave Monsters" for gods sake! People would have refused to stock it based on the name alone! That title wouldn't have made it past the marketing department! The worst part is that this sounds like it was purposefully made to sound like badly translated Japanese. As if they don't change weird titles when bringing them to other territories. How does this world even work, anyways? Do they not have any issues with animal abuse in this world? Nobody seems too put off by the lyrics of the song, they just sorta react to it like someone started singing the Bob The Builder theme-song in public at karaoke night. So is animal abuse tolerated generally, or just in the part of the world where the Smosh duo live. Or maybe they couldn't figure out how to not get sued by Nintendo if they referenced Pokémon directly in a theatrically released movie. How does such a stupid joke raise so many questions? Am I just over-analyzing this, or did everyone else come to this same conclusion?
Finally, let's cover the final reason why this joke sucks. It's unnecessarily cruel. Pokémon is a worldwide phenomena, beloved by millions of people across the world, myself included. I'm not the hugest fan of the franchise. I haven't played the card-game in years, I've never watched past Johto, and I haven't played any of the games past G1. But every now and again, I feel like standing up for it, and this is one of those times. Smosh is supposed to be goofy comedy, not mean-spirited dick-waving over something that happened a decade ago. I thought this was dead five years ago when they dropped that dis-track on Nintendo, but I guess I was wrong!
So, that little tangent went on way too long, which is still shorter than the amount of time this joke went on for. Hell, I don't even know if that was intended as a joke or just a straight-up dis on Nintendo's biggest franchise. I can't tell, because this movie jumps around so much.
Anthony leaves the arcade to find the juvenile delinquents from earlier defecating on his car without actually leaving anything on his car. Instead of calling the police, Anthony just drives off.
Later, the boys (Who live in the same house because Anthony moved out of his parents house and into Ian's parents house for some reason instead of just staying in his own parents house for no adequately explained reason) find out that their high-school reunion is tonight. Ian doesn't care about going, but Anthony wants to go there to meet the girl he's crushing on, Anna Reed. Later, they then also find out that an old video of Anthony attempting to sing the "Magic Pocket Slave Monsters" theme-song at their high-school graduation, flipping over, falling flat on the entire front of his body, then falling off the stage onto the microphone. The movie acts like Anthony got a microphone shoved into his anus after he fell off the stage, but the only visible microphone was in his hand at the time, and it's not like he fell off the stage back first. If anything, he'd have been hit in the head with it.
Anyways, Anthony wants to get the video removed so that the girl doesn't see it and be reminded of how lame he thinks he used to be. So, rather than reporting the video through the usual channels, Anthony calls up YouTube (Can you even DO that?) for some incredibly forced "humor" about the YouTube takedown policies which would be funny if Anthony and Ian weren't incredibly rich and successful. Another joke which has been beaten into the ground by better comedians. And by Smosh themselves years ago. Seriously, what the hell? Even if their observational humor wasn't all that original before, they were at least still well timed, well executed, and funny back in the day!
So anyways, Anthony and Ian go down to the local YouTube offices because they think that they can just talk to the CEO of the company directly. Having apparently missed the memo that Google bought YouTube years and years ago, they keep going, despite Ian's protestations (In which he brings up plenty of valid reasons the CEO of YouTube wouldn't see them), to see Mister YouTube.
No, I didn't make that up, and I'm glad I didn't. I wouldn't want to be responsible for more than one specific joke in this movie, but we'll get to that later.
Even though that's incredibly absurd, and obviously wouldn't work because YouTube is a made-up word, not a name! Maybe it's supposed to be one of those old-timey occupation names or something. Who knows. Anyways, they meet a guy named "Steve YouTube". You'd think they would have saved the "Steve" for the guy in charge of Apple, but whatever. Steve tells them that they need to go into YouTube like this is Tron or something, and edit the video from within. He gives them what appears to be a pair of iPhones (Yeah, like a Google subsidiary wouldn't be pimping their Android gear) and send them into a terrible greenscreen effect that looks like the Time-Vortex from Doctor Who, before dumping them into an incredibly forced journey through viral videos. Along the way, their assistants in their phones keep misunderstanding what they're saying. For some reason it's called "Diri" like Siri. Yet another joke that everyone's already made like three times a day on average.
The first video they wind up in is an insurance ad, they then teleport out and wind up in a bear-attack video. They then teleport out of that video into something from a legitimately funny YouTuber. The following minute or so is probably the funniest scene in the entire movie. You see, our idiot heroes spend the next minute of the movie trying to avoid getting killed by a chainsaw-wielding Markiplier. It's the only genuinely funny thing in the entire movie, and I'm not entirely sure why. It might be the fact that our heroes are, as I said before, a pair of idiots in an incredibly stupid situation that's nobodies fault but their own. The general negative comedy of the rest of the movie helps this scene a lot, but it would have been funny no matter what due to Mark's incredibly delivery of his lines. He shows up again later in another attempt to kill the two, and that's on my top four best scenes in this movie. Yes, out of an hour and twenty-one minutes of movie, only four scenes were any good! Even if I was being generous, I could maybe add one more scene. That's how bad this movie is!
After finding out why the mailman doesn't deliver to their house anymore, Anthony and Ian find out that anything uploaded to YouTube can be edited from within, despite the fact that Steve YouTube already told them they could do that! That's the whole reason they went into YouTube in the first place!
They then wind up in a video by someone called Jenna Marbles who's apparently stuck inside YouTube with a copy of herself. I'm not sure who she is, and I don't particularly care. She's just here to tell them that when their phones run out, they'll be stuck inside YouTube. Utterly forgetting that they could just teleport to a video with an iPhone charger in it and plug their freaking phones in!
They decide to split up to cover more ground, and don't think of just logging into Ian's account so they can access his viewing history and go directly to the video because we need to pad this movie out to a decent running time.
Ian teleports to talk to his crush, Butt-massage girl, while Anthony gets stuck inside a furry party. Ian sticks around with the girl, while Anthony winds up in an ice-cream ad featuring Stone-Cold Steve Austin, one of Anthony's idols. Anthony tries explaining his situation to Austin so he can get some kind of advice. Austin tells him to physically beat the girl up, which is funny for all the wrong reasons, while Anthony misinterprets Austin's advice as some kind of metaphor. Austin is left mildly confused by this, like anyone would be in the situation, but gets back to filming his commercial. Anthony winds up in vlog by Anna, where she confesses her love for him. Anthony teleports to where Ian is and admonishes him for wasting time. With only a bit of battery left, they finally show up in the video they were shooting for this whole time. There, Anthony makes a fool of himself, he finds out that Ian was the one who shot and uploaded the video, and they have a fight-scene that consists of their entire viewing history. Forgetting that YouTube doesn't log viewing history if you're not logged in. Which you wouldn't be on a fresh phone.
Ian decides that he needs to stop the video by beating up Anthony's younger self, but Ian's past self intervenes, forcing current Anthony to fight him. Then, the whole graduation party turns into a mosh-pit.
Diri reveals herself to be Steve YouTube manipulating the boys, so they teleport out of the graduation through their viewing history to try and get back to The Time Vortex. Steve YouTube spends like thirty seconds fumbling with his Oculous Rift and VR suit (Couldn't he have just said "We Are VR?") and shows up in the Bear Attack Video to keep the boys from getting out of YouTube. For some reason.
Fortunately for them, the bear attack Steve and they hop into the portal and out of YouTube.
Out in the real world, Ian and Anthony find out that they've essentially become their real-life counterparts. They're rich and famous, they've made a movie, and they have some of the most-viewed videos on the internet. Ian's in a relationship with the butt-massage girl, and Anthony has his own harem. Which he dismisses because none of them are Anna.
They get their tuxedo's on and head to the reunion. Anthony pulls off everything he failed at five years ago, gets the girl by proving he can still be a dork, and Ian marries the butt-massage girl, whose name is Brad.
I started this review by writing "Dead Horse: The Movie" at the top of the page and working from there. Nearly all of the jokes in this movie have been beaten into the ground, either by Smosh themselves, or by other, better comedians. If they're not beating a dead horse joke, they're stealing someone else's punchline. They actually copied "Dick In a Box" verbatim, and Stone Cold basically plays the part of the magic mirror in this movie. If anyone else is reminded of Fred: The Movie, then that would be because that movie also had a wrestler in it as a role-model for the main character.
Smosh used to be famous for their bizarre take on observational humor, but they don't make any funny observations in this film. Smosh, a comedy duo known for pointing out how stupid a lot of movie plots and storytelling devices are, have resorted to those same hackneyed cliches they lambasted so long ago. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Even if Smosh wasn't 100% original before, they were at least funny! In this movie, they steal jokes, the setup, and punchlines from SNL, The Lonely Island, Zero Punctuation, Back To The Future, Bill and Ted, Dragon Ball Z Abridged, Yu-Gi-Oh! Abridged, themselves, and probably a bunch of others I've missed. This whole movie is basically a list of slacker comedy cliches tossed together with internet references, and inside jokes which you wouldn't get unless you remembered every single thing Smosh has done over their decade-long careers. Hell, I've been doing this for four years and I don't remember everything I've ever done.
Also, I'd just like to point out that Ian is using some piece of crap, decade-old Dell PC with a CRT monitor early in the movie. This movie was made in 2014 (To the best of my knowledge) and released in 2015, how did they even get ahold of computer gear that outdated? I'm poor and I've got better gear than that! I haven't owned a CRT monitor in well over a decade. Plus, I actually own one of those old Dell Dimension's, and they can barely play video in 480p. And as far as the onboard sound-chipset, it's a piece of crap. I pretty much only use it for pulling up Wikipedia articles while I'm playing a game on the real computer. Or if I need two things side-by-side without them being squashed. What I'm trying to say is that unless Ian has stuck hardware designed to support something other than Windows XP into that case, he wouldn't be watching videos in high-def.
Also, for a movie released in 2015, they're still using the old YouTube green/red bar for dislikes instead of the new blue/grey bar. I don't know why that is, and I wouldn't be bringing this up if this hadn't been an actual theatrically released movie.
All in all, this movie sucked. It fails as a comedy, it fails as science-fiction, and it fails to not waste eighty minutes of the viewers time. Unfortunately, I find it hard to bring up much active hatred for this movie because it's just so boring! All of the issues I've brought up with the jokes and the story still stand, but above all, this movie was way too slow and way too uncreative.
In the end, this is a solid 2.0* movie. Hopefully next week I can get The Consuming Shadow finished so I can review something good for once. I'll see you then. Sorry this article took so long to get out, I was having a hard time getting anything done on Sunday, and I worked flat-out on Monday and today to get this done.

Image from impawards.com

Monday, January 4, 2016

Fant4stic

You know Fox? I used to be on your side. When Marvel swallowed up the rights to Spider-Man and decided to reboot it again, I thought it might not be such a good idea for Marvel to get their properties back. I liked The Amazing Spider-Man, and I like Fox's X-Men series, so I figured it was just better to have everything stay like it is.
Then Fox dropped this movie on us, and I began wondering what went wrong between this movie, and last year's incredible Days of Future Past.
So, how about that title? Fant4stic. Wikipedia lists the films name as Fantastic Four, Impawards (The place where I get most of the posters I use during my movie reviews) lists it as The Fantastic Four, the title-card within the movie says that it's titled Fantastic 4, and the box-art, the disc, the slipcover, and the voucher card for the digital copy inside the case all call the movie Fant4stic. Let's just get this out of the way right off the bat, that's an incredibly stupid title. I know it's supposed to be pronounced as "Fantastic Four" but that four looks nothing like an A. Even if it did, the title would just be "Fantastic." Did the people at Fox not realize that we stopped replacing letters with numbers around the time of F3AR? Or did they just not notice that everyone hates that as a concept and will mispronounce the name on purpose just to make fun of it? You know, just like I've been doing in my head whenever I write the name of this movie.
This movie supposedly starts off in 2004, but it seems to have borrowed most of its ideas from the sixties, back when the Fantastic Four were created. Reed Richards (Played by Miles Teller) is a smart kid who's criticized by his teacher for wanting to make a teleporting machine.
The people at Fox realize that Star Trek is a thing, right? An incredibly popular and influential thing at that! The TV series' were popular, they were making hundreds of millions on the movies, which were coming out every two to three years! I think it's probably safe to say that Star Trek was mainstream by the '90s, if not by the '80s. Not only is it entirely unbelievable that anyone would be making fun of him for wanting to build a teleporter, the teacher says that it's not "real science" I'm sorry, what? We've got actual scientists working on this stuff right now in the real world! Watch an episode of Nova, my god!
Reed Richards makes friends with his classmate, Ben Grimm (Played by Jamie Bell) when he's scavenging materials from Ben's family's junkyard. They go back to Reed's house to build the teleporter, and they wind up blacking out all of Manhattan after teleporting a toy car... Somewhere. They get a pile of sand back in place of the car.
Let's deconstruct this scene bit for bit. For some reason, Reed is using a bunch of Nintendo 64's wired into each other as processing power for his teleporter machine. A ton of multicolored N64's with a few controllers.
Question: Why are controllers necessary if you're just using the consoles for their processing power? And then we get to a statement. Even back in 2004, you could find computers as powerful as at least two or three N64's that people were throwing away. Then we come to the realization that most of the N64's are the rare colored variations which are incredibly difficult to find, and are usually expensive if you do find them. Even back then, it would still be cheaper and more efficient to buy or scavenge old computers than to use a bunch of N64's wired up in parallel. I also happen to know that the Nintendo 64 wasn't the easiest thing to code for, so there's another reason why a hobby programmer, even back in 2004, wouldn't be using them in anything as complex as this. Speaking as a hobby programmer, I can only assume that Nintendo must have paid Fox for product-placement. And if that was the case, why didn't they use GameCube's instead? They're easier to program for, and significantly more powerful. Then again, that would raise a whole 'nother problem. Honestly, it should have just been a bunch of old PC's wired together if they wanted it to be believable to actual nerds like myself.
Flash forward ten years, and despite having a literal working teleportation machine, Reed and Ben's teacher still doesn't think that it's actual science, which is even more ludicrous now than it was back in 2004. How does a science-teacher not stay up-to-date on... Science?
Ben and Reed are disqualified from the competition for absolutely no reason, but Sue Storm (Played by Kate Mara) and her (adoptive) father, Doctor Franklin Storm (Played by Reg E. Cathey), drop by their booth and explain that they've been working on the same kind of machine, but haven't been able to figure out how to get things to return. Reed and Ben have (off screen because developing characters and technology over the course of a decade is hard) so they give Reed a scholarship to The Baxter foundation. Apparently it's a government-funded institute for gifted youths, but Dr. Storm is having a hard time securing funding.
Question #1: Why are Dr. Storm and his daughter hanging out at a high-school science-fair? There are more efficient ways to find genius kids than by running around random science-fairs looking for kids with good ideas. These days, genius kids become internet stars.
Question #2: Why didn't they also give Ben a scholarship as well? Ben was the engineer on the project, and as far as the audience knows, he was crucial to them not blacking out the whole city more than once. As it is, after the first ten minutes of the movie Ben doesn't show up again until around the halfway point.
Question #3: Why the HELL didn't anyone notice that Reed and Ben blacked out Manhattan a decade ago? That alone should have put them on the map. It's not like New York City is some teeny town in the middle of nowhere, it's one of the biggest cities in the country! People would notice if the power went out in the whole city!
Dr. Storm goes to talk his old apprentice, Victor Von Doom (Played by Tody Kebbell) into rejoining the "Quantum Gate" development team. Victor is apparently infatuated with Sue, so he decides to get back in the game. I kinda feel like Ben was written out of the story just so they could shoehorn Doctor Doom into the main cast. Just like they did back in the last Fantastic Four movie, and it didn't make much sense back then either.
If you know anything about Doctor Doom, you know he's the ruler of Latveria and that he's the arch-nemesis of the Four. Notice how there's nothing in there about him being a whiny teenage genius from New York. I know his resume says he's from Latveria, but he doesn't have an accent, he doesn't seem to have any family, and they never actually mention Latveria in any of the dialogue. For all we know that shot could have just been added in at the last second with CGI.
Sue, Reed, and Victor work together for a while on the Quantum Gate (Which can take them to an alien planet they call "Planet Zero") before the movie realizes that we need a Human Torch, and decides to cut to Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) streetracing in a scene lifted straight from The Fast and The Furious. Johnny gets arrested and Franklin bails him out, confiscates his car, and forces him to work on the Quantum Gate project if he wants to get his car back. Johnny is apparently this movies equivalent of Mycroft Holmes, he's incredibly smart and doesn't want to do anything intellectual. But unlike Mycroft, instead of being a part-time drug addict and part-time spy, he races modified cars.
The four of them manage to get a much larger Quantum Gate working, but the Baxter Foundations wants to contact NASA so they can use actual astronauts on the expedition as opposed to a group of noodley nerds without the proper training. Reed, Victor, and Johnny get drunk and decide to hop across dimensions in the Quantum Gate pod. Because they need a designated sober-person and because he's been left out of all the other important parts of the movie, they decide to call up Ben Grimm so he can travel to the alien planet with them. It apparently not occurring to them that they should probably wait until they're no longer drunk to do this. It's not like NASA is gonna be sending people to the planet tomorrow, it's gonna be at least six months before they really send anyone. And who knows, you guys might be able to go anyways! Maybe if you'd built a capsule with room for more than four people you guys could tag along with the real astronauts!
They show up on the planet, plant an American Flag, and somehow manage to rappel down a cliff despite being incredibly drunk. They investigate some pulsing green goo down the cliff, and Victor (Like a complete idiot) puts his hand into the goo and causes an earthquake.
This is why you send over trained astronauts and not a bunch of drunken idiots who aren't trained properly!
They attempt to climb back up the cliff and get back to the capsule, but Victor's anchor-rope snaps, and the remaining three book it back. Sue has noticed this by now and has started the return sequence on the pod. Unfortunately the pod has started to malfunction, and they bring a bunch of stuff back with them. Sue gets zapped by the Quantum Gate, Johnny catches fire, Ben gets covered in rocks and Reed is stretched out somehow. They all wake up in a government facility, Reed escapes because he's now made of rubber, and then the movie skips a whole year.
One of the biggest issues with this is the design of the capsule. The reason why Ben turns into a gigantic rock-man is because the hatch on his pod came loose. There's a reason why they use the smallest possible entrance into a larger capsule for the moon-lander, so they wouldn't have that kind of issue! Coincidentally, when Franklin brings in NASA, they design the capsule properly so that kind of thing doesn't happen, and Reed bags on it because it's not "pretty"
From this point on, the movie starts to fall apart even more than it did in the opening ten minutes. IE, when the Fox-mandated reshoots started. Kate Mara is quite obviously wearing a wig in a few of her scenes, and there are plenty of times where The Thing's mouth looks incredibly derpy, although this is a problem with the CGI mouths in this movie overall. There are other issues I'll bring up later.
The government has made the team new suits which react to their powers. Johnny has something that doesn't burn, Sue's suit turns invisible with her, and Ben doesn't get a suit at all. Or pants. Or any clothing at all. Meanwhile, Reed has built a makeshift suit for himself out of a ton of fabric and a bunch of elastic cord.
Reed is in South America trying to rebuild the Quantum Gate, and he's apparently figured out how to shape-shift into other people, which wasn't something I was aware he could do. Thanks to him using an email account that Sue knew about, the government is able to track Reed down. Apparently everyone except for Johnny is mad at Reed for leaving, but there's not really any explanation as to why. This is why you don't skip a year like this, it just raises too many questions. And if you think it's difficult to explain now, trust me, it gets worse!
After they bring Reed back, they finish the second Quantum Gate so they can go back and see if they can control the powers they gained, maybe figure out how to use the stuff on the planet as a power-source or whatever, but they wind up finding a horribly scarred Victor on the planet. Him somehow managing to survive for a year there without any obvious form of sustenance, water, breathable air, medical supplies to repair all the broken bones he must have sustained in that massive fall a year ago. His survival is utterly impossible, and I don't care if he's gotten superpowers, they don't bother explaining what his powers are or how they work. Also, do you remember what I said about the CGI mouths in this movie looking incredibly derpy? Well Doom takes this to a whole new level. At least Ben's face only looked stupid for like one scene, Doom's face is frozen in one expression for the rest of the freaking film. They're trying to paint Doom as a slasher-movie villain, and his incredibly stupid face undermines it all. Imagine how scary Jason Voorhees, or Michael Meyers, or the Alien, or the Predator would have been if they'd been wearing a smiley-face mask and squeaked like a rubber-duck whenever they killed someone. That's not scary. That's a comedy film. Don't do that if you're trying to sell us one of the greatest villains in comic history as an unstoppable killer. And if you've got one of the greatest villains in comic history at your disposal, maybe don't vaporize him at the end of the film! Why the hell would you do that?
Oh, yeah. Spoiler warning. Sorry, I wasn't aware anyone still cared about this movie at this point. This is the same issue that the original Fantastic Four movie had, they introduced Doom too soon, tried to give him some kind of history with the Four, and then killed him off at the end of the movie in an anticlimactic fight which doesn't really make any sense when you think of it. The original Fantastic Four had Reed misusing the term "Supernova" and the Four turning Doom into a metal statue. This movie has the studio abusing physics until they vaporize Doom and barely manage to not get killed themselves. But we're getting way ahead of ourselves here. Let's continue with the summary, shall we?
Doom finds out that they want to try and use Planet Zero as a source of clean energy, and he gets mad and decides to destroy the Earth, even though he made this big speech earlier about saving the planet. This is something I didn't mention earlier, but Doom has this weird environmental shtick that's never really explained. He keeps talking about how they need to save the planet, stop exploiting its resources and polluting it. That's a nice sentiment and all, and if you want to get that across, that's fine. The problem is that they act like the world is going to end in our lifetimes. News flash, we've got a timetable about what's happening and how long it's gonna take, and Doom's whole spiel about saving the planet doesn't make a whole lot of sense in relation to that. Then there's the fact that Doom wants to protect the life on Planet Zero, a world which appears to be utterly inhospitable! Does it support life? Is it completely barren except for all of the mutagenic energy liquid? We don't know! Because the movie never actually explains this to us! Which means we're left to our own imaginations, and since all we saw was energy and a barren wasteland with no life in it, the obvious conclusion is that Doom is being incredibly stupid right now.
Besides, Doom is supposed to rule Latveria, which is a country full of people, not a barren planet! His attachment is to Latveria, not to some planet he's been stranded on for a year!
Anyways, Doom flees to Planet Zero to try and destroy Earth, but The Four follow him through the portal and try to kill him. This is where the movie starts to come together a bit, but it starts to fall apart a bit towards the end of the scene. Doom is practically invincible until The Four manage to work together as a team without actually doing much differently. I feel like I'd be more kind to it if the rest of the movie was better, but as it is it just feels pretentious.
They defeat Doom in a way that he wouldn't be able to come back from, but you know he'd have been back in the sequel. They then travel through the portal back to Earth before it closes, and The Four are given their own base, which is called Central City, which DC fans might recognize as the hometown of Barry Allen in The Flash. This initially threw me, but then I looked it up and realized that Marvel had a Central City before DC did. Even though I know a lot about comics, TV and movies, occasionally I learn something new while researching these reviews.
So, while the ending wasn't 100% terrible, the rest of the movie was just a poorly made Chronicle knockoff. Funny, since Josh Trank directed both movies, and brought one of the stars of Chronicle along for the ride, Michael B. Jordan. Also funny is the fact that both Chronicle and Fant4stic share a lot of the same issues. The difference is that Fant4stic has a much looser focus, and far too many characters. Andrew Detmer's character traits have been split between Reed, Johnny, Ben, and Doom, Matt Garetty's are divided between Reed and Sue, and most of Steve Montgomery's character traits have been dumped onto Johnny, with a handful of them tossed Ben's way. Fitting, since they're played by the same guy. Doom has the same weird transition between hero to villain that Andrew had, except that he's not as interesting or sympathetic as Andrew was. Reed appears to share Andrew's intelligence and possibly his abusive parents as well. I don't know, we don't know anything about him. He definitely shares Andrew's dopey, mopey, innocence. Ben definitely shares Andrew's abusive family, except that it's his brother who abuses him. Then he's got the brute-strength bruiser traits from Steve, except that they've been intensified. Then we've got Sue, who doesn't seem to do a whole lot until the end of the movie. She, like Matthew, is the sweet one who grounds everyone else. She also serves to bring the plot back together after that unnecessary time-skip.
Now we come to the cast. Let's start off with Toby Kebbel as Doom. You might remember him as one of the minor villains in 2010's The Sorcerer's Apprentice. If he'd had a better movie to work with and wasn't playing Doctor Doom and maybe had a better villain costume, I think he'd be able to pull this off. The problem is that Doom in this is essentially a Captain Planet villain from the mirror universe. Kebbel isn't an issue, I think he'd be able to pull this off if he'd had better material. Fant4stic is a good counterpoint to Star Wars Episode VII specifically, and Star Wars in general in that they couldn't make the villain threatening with his mask on, much less without one.
Now we come to Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm. Right off the bat, I didn't get why he was cast as Ben, because he's not tall enough or muscular enough to be believable as The Thing. He pulls off the voice, but I just didn't expect him to be The Thing. Personally, I liked Michael Chilkis's Ben Grimm. He was pretty cool, and best of all, he actually has the look down! It's not much of a stretch looking at him. Bell on the other hand is muscular, but he doesn't really look like The Thing as he's portrayed in the comics.
Now we come to Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm. Jordan's casting caused no small amount of controversy, namely due to the fact that Sue Storm was still white and everyone was wondering how that was going to work. We later found out that Sue was adopted, and in the end it didn't really matter since it was never explored to any ramifications. Johnny and Sue appear to have a bit of a rivalry, but otherwise get along. Is he good in the role? Yes. Does that make the movie better? No. Would I like it if he stuck around for yet another reboot? I don't know. Who cares? At this point I'm unconvinced that The Fantastic Four can even be done correctly in film form, and it might be a good idea to just let it sit for a while.
Finally, we get to Kate Mara as Sue Storm. Sue doesn't really do a whole lot in the film until towards the end except interact a bit with Reed. Then again, nobody does much in this movie.
Something I realized towards the end of the film was that it started ripping off The Incredibles. Which is funny, since The Incredibles was obviously heavily influenced by The Fantastic Four. You know that scene in The Incredibles when Mr. Incredible was enveloped by those expanding balloon-things? Well during the final battle, Doom tossed a bunch of rocks at Ben, and they covered him in much the same manner as the balloons did in The Incredibles. Then there's the time when one of Reed's limbs was pinned in place by something and he had to stretch himself across a distance to get to his goal, like Elastigirl did in The Incredibles. Not to mention the fact that the stylization and presentation of Sue's powers is almost identical to that of Violet's in The Incredibles. Sue in the comics had barely visible force-fields she formed around her hands, Sue in this movie has violet force-fields that she forms as a bubble around her. She also sorta wears her hair the way Violet did. Johnny is pretty much the only one who doesn't have a scene ripped-off from The Incredibles. Fortunately Doom doesn't use rocket-boots or gadget-gloves like Syndrome did.
I've heard that there was a sequel that's now been canceled, which I think is kind of a shame. The way the movie ended, I thought that a sequel might be able to fix things.
All in all, Fant4stic was pretty confused, takes way too long to get to its point, and by the time it does get to the point, you'd be lucky if the audience still cared. I didn't think the ending was bad, per se, but it certainly wasn't a good way to end a movie. Then there's literally everything else piled upon it. If it weren't for the incredible amount of hype we saw leading up to the release of the film. I don't even watch trailers, I have refused to be a party to the hype-train ever since the release of Abduction, and the massive let-down that movie was. The movie we got was less than half of the movie that was promised, and that's one of the biggest issues with the film.
In the end, Fant4stic was an incredibly mediocre film. It's got good moments, and bad moments, and that's why I'm giving this film a 4.3*. Personally, I'd like to see a directors cut of this movie, with all of the Fox-mandated reshoots replaced with Trank's original takes.

Image from Impawards.com