Saturday, December 31, 2011

War Horse is full of horse shit!



Okay, so I'm not quite done with 2011 just yet! But, while technically not a bad movie, the more I think about War Horse, the more I just start to hate it. It just feels so artificial, like Spielberg is just desperate for tears, yet doesn't quite know how to go about getting them. It appears to be built entirely around some sort of non-existent emotional investment, yet the movie just completely lacks any kind of genuine heart. It assumes that, just because it's a movie about an animal, that we'll just automatically care about it. But hell, I cared more about the stupid flag that was being passed around throughout the movie than the god damn horse! Basically, it's one of the most blatantly manipulative movies I've seen in a while, and I wasn't about to fall for its shit.

I think where this film falters is that it just tries too hard, and it tries too much. At a little over 2 hours, this movie doesn't go 10 minutes without trying to rise some sort of strong emotional reaction out of its audience. It just wants so badly to be the tear-jerker of the year. And sure, for the easily manipulated, it likely succeeds. But for everyone else, the only reaction it'll get is a well deserved groan.

Looking back in the past couple years alone, there have been some legitimate tear-jerking movies. And you wanna know what they did right? They don't try to get you to cry every 10 damn minutes. They choose their spot, gradually build to it, make you emotionally invested and actually caring about the fates of our characters. And then, when the moment strikes, whether for better or worse, down come the water works. Right now, I'm going to look at four movies from the past couple years that succeeded where War Horse failed so miserably.

(Possible spoilers ahead)


Kung Fu Panda 2


This would be an example of a sad emotional response. I've mentioned before how heart-wrenching a movie that Kung Fu Panda 2 can be. In it, the main character, Po, is trying to learn where he came from, and what happened to his family. We're constantly dropped hints at what actually happened, until finally, Po is able to channel his inner peace and remembers his long lost memories from when he was a baby. It's then that we're taken on his ruthless journey filled with pain and anguish. The movie builds up to this moment from the very beginning, making the viewer truly feel for Po and understand his desperation. And in feeling for Po, as we watch him go through this intense moment, we, the viewer, experience that same pain and anguish that Po is going through. Only when we're completely engrossed with these characters and genuinely concerned about their fates does the movie unleash itself.

But not all tear-jerking movies try to just make you sad...


Tangled


Here's a movie that, instead, encourages tears of joy. In this one, our main characters are out on an adventure, chasing after a dream. The two don't start off on the right foot, but they gradually grow a bond over the course of their adventure. And the stronger their bond becomes, the stronger our bond with these characters also grows. Until, at last, just when their dreams have finally come to life under a sea of lanterns, they look into each others eyes and see that the thing they've been chasing all along has been right in front of them this whole time. It's a beautiful moment, one that fills you with the purest sense of bliss. You just can't help but feel so happy for these characters who've gone through so much in this movie, not just with each other, but with the audience as well.

Of course, War Horse tries desperately for both of these kinds of strong emotional reactions. But where War Horse failed, one movie managed to pull this off quite nicely.


Toy Story 3


Now here's an emotional roller coaster if I've ever seen one! And really, do I even need to explain this one? Even if you ignore the first two movies as the establishment for these characters, this film starts from scratch to make you genuinely learn to love and care about them all over again. Even ignoring the incinerator scene and focusing solely on the final moments in this film, this film sends you home feeling both sad about Andy letting go of his childhood as he gives away his old toys, and yet satisfied that all ultimately ended well for our heroes. It's such a touching and relatable finale, and we've grown such a strong attachment to these characters that we can't help but respond just as strongly for their outcome.

Now, you might have noticed that all these examples have been animated films. Well I've noticed it, too, which is why I want to send us off with a live-action example.


Super 8


In my Top 10 Movies, I called this the best Spielberg film of the year. And one area where this movie out-Spielbergs Spielberg is in the emotions department. Now, I won't go calling this a tear-jerker or anything, but I felt that the final moments were really quite touching, and did register quite a strong feeling of satisfaction regardless. Though to be honest, Super 8 might not be my best example, given the mixed reactions towards its arguably overly sappy ending. But even if War Horse had managed to achieve even that meager level of emotional attachment, perhaps it would have warranted the response that it's going for.

But in the end, despite my negative feelings towards the movie, War Horse still wouldn't have cracked my list for worst of the year. Because like I said, technically, it's a good movie, and there are certainly things here worth praising. It's just that the movie's so full of shit. Basically, if you're looking for a nice, moving film, then check out one of the other movies mentioned above. But if you're just in the market to see a good new Spielberg movie, then don't even bother with this one. Instead, go see The Adventures of Tintin, you're guaranteed to have a blast with that!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Top 5 WORST Movies of 2011

So now that we covered the best of the year, it's time to take a look at my picks for the worst movies the year had to offer. Sorry, no pretty pictures for this one.

#5
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
(Michael Bay)

Now I'm someone who actually likes and enjoys the first two Transformers movie. Yes, even the universally panned second movie. But this, this one was just unbearable. Perhaps if the movie hadn't spent 90 minutes following around Shia LaBeouf as he acts like a pompous little ingrate and tries to find a job. Or maybe if the movie hadn't tried to completely re-write Optimus Prime's character (who should be the main protagonist in a freaking Transformers movie!), giving a big ol' middle finger to all prior Transformers continuity, the previous two movies included. Or possibly if the movie had actually focused just a tiny little bit on the actual transformers themselves instead of the boring human characters. Maybe, just maybe, this might be a half decent movie.

But in the end, Shia LaBeouf is insufferable, we have to sit through the obnoxious antics of Ken Jeong, and all of the action fails to impress in the least. The whole damn movie just falls completely flat, not to mention it's one of several utterly boring movies that make up this list. How this steaming pile of crap somehow received an applause from the audience in attendance still baffles me to this day.

#4
The Green Hornet
(Michael Gondry)

Now here's a movie that just never knows when to get to the damn point. Every single scene overstays its welcome, and just drags on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. And just when it looks like they're finally getting somewhere, guess what? They don't! Nope, just keeps on dragging on! Hell, this whole movie can be summarized by that scene in the trailer, where Jay Chou snaps off a bottle cap, and it flies into the camera all stylish. In the movie, when this happens, we follow the bottle cap as it continues to fly, just waiting to see where it might land, and what it might do. Except, it doesn't do anything. We just sit there and continue to follow as it slowly drifts to the ground. And that's pretty much how every single scene in this movie can be described.

The fact that the movie suddenly chooses to hold the audience's hand and treat them like a moron near the end, summarizing up the entire plot in a misplaced 5 minute segment (I guess for everyone who was texting during the movie instead of paying attention) is just one last slap in the face before it finally wraps things up.

#3
The Tree of Life
(Terrence Malick)

Unlike the first two movies on this list, I can actually understand how someone might like this movie. If you're into all that artsy-fartsy mumbo-jumbo, then this one's right up your alley! But for me, this movie was so over-the-top obnoxious and full of itself, it almost felt like a parody of your typical pretentious arthouse film. But honestly, despite being further down on the list, this movie actually does have more going for it than the other two thus far. Brad Pitt gives us an incredible performance. It's just a shame that his role in the movie is so short compared to all the other crap.

And it's all that other crap that makes this movie place as far down the list as it is, because my god, this is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the absolute most boring movies I have ever seen. I'm actually surprised that I even made it all the way through without walking out. But it's certainly a love it or hate it kind of movie, and if it's not your thing, as is the case with me, then you're not gonna like this one at all.

#2
Bridesmaids
(Paul Feig)

And here's what's likely to be another unpopular inclusion in my list, but, again, what can I say? I just don't get the hype for this one. And it's not because I'm a guy, like several people have told me. No, I know a lot of guys who really enjoyed this movie, too! But I dunno, I just didn't think the movie was funny, save for the scene on the airplane. It was just really long and overly drawn out.

And most of the characters weren't even the least bit likable. Hell, I hated them, and they deserved all the bad crap that happened to them. And even the movie itself apparently didn't care too much for some of them, as there's several characters who just drop off the face of the earth about halfway through, never to have their story arcs reach any kind of actual resolution. Makes you wonder why they even bothered to include them at all in this already bloated movie. But I dunno, a lot of people seemed to like this, so maybe they're just seeing something that I'm not.

But while some of the movies on this list I can sort of see how someone might find enjoyment out of it, the same can not be said for my #1 pick for the absolute WORST movie of the year.

#1
The Hangover: Part II
(Todd Phillips)

Mother of god. This movie is ABYSMAL! Not just the worst of this year, but one of the worst I've ever, ever seen. I don't have one kind thing to say about it, there is absolutely no redeeming value in this horrifyingly awful movie. There is not one laugh to be had in this supposed comedy, not one little chuckle. Nothing.

Now, everyone keeps saying that this is just the same movie as the first, but no, that's not the case here. This movie spends its entire run-time merely referencing the first movie. "Hey, remember when we did that before?" Yeah, that's this entire movie, just three guys wandering from one unfunny situation to another, all the while just reminiscing on the last time all this crap happened to them.

But you wanna know the difference between this time and last? It was actually funny the last time! It was actually something new, something fresh, and something worth watching! Something that I can't say about this movie at all. Sure, the first movie's worth talking about, but not for the entire duration of your sequel! Top it all off by making all of the characters completely unlikeable this time around, and you're in for a movie that'll do nothing short of piss you off.

So there, that's it. Oh, and I suppose I should make a few dishonorable mentions as well. Cowboys & Aliens, Killer Elite, Limitless, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides are all great big pieces of doo-doo as well.

Basically, all of these movies are just one big, unfunny joke. And, going off of that horrible transition, I'm now gonna share with you the actual funniest jokes of the year, to end things on a brighter note. Sure, they're out of context, but screw it!

Top 3 Funniest Lines of 2011:

#3: "I'm not kissing ya!" -Tommy Lee Jones, Captain America: The First Avenger

#2: "Go fuck yourself." -Hugh Jackman, X-Men: First Class

#1: "Honestly guys, I never thought I'd die like this. I always thought I'd meet a nice girl and settle down, and then she'd eat my head. So sad." -Seth Rogan, Kung Fu Panda 2

My Top 10 Movies of 2011

So it's about that time of year again. Time for the yearly countdown of my favorites movies from the past year. It's been an alright year overall. Not a whole lot of movies I'd necessarily say were great, but there's been quite a few good to decent movies. First, I suppose I should start off with a couple honorable mentions that didn't quite make the cut: The Adventures of Tintin and Martha Marcy May Marlene, both of which are really good movies, and are certainly worth checking out. Now then, onto the first movie on this countdown...

#10

Captain America: The First Avenger (Joe Johnston)


In a year filled to the brim with comic book adaptations, the one that stood head and shoulders above the pack was none other than Captain America. The latest in Marvel's Avengers series of films is also, by far, the best thus far. Chris Evans does an awesome job playing the Cap, and is supported by equally impressive performances from Tommy Lee Jones and Hayley Atwell. This is just a fun, colorful throwback to really old school propaganda comics, and one of the better entries in the superhero genre.

#9

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Guy Ritchie)


As much as I loved the first movie, this one is better in every way imaginable. It's every single thing that made the first one great, only expanded on and delivered to their fullest potential. But above all else, the bromance between Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law is alive and well, and better than ever. These two just have the best chemistry of any on screen couple I've ever seen. I could just sit back and watch these two banter for hours, and never grow bored! And as great as their interactions were in the first, they're just as good here, and they share so much more screen-time than before.

I also really enjoyed the actual plot this time around, too. The mystery was much more intriguing, and Moriarty was a far more interesting villain. The final face-off between Holmes and Moriarty was especially glorious to watch. I just had so much fun with this movie. It's often humorous, it's action packed, and the story is overall intriguing. Add in the inclusion of Holmes' brother, played by Stephen Fry, and you've got the makings for just a lovely movie-going experience!

#8

The Ides of March (George Clooney)


Ryan Gosling is on a roll this year! I didn't expect much from this film, but it more than delivered, far exceeding my expectations. In this political thriller, Ryan Gosling gets caught up in a scandal involving presidential candidate Mike Morris, played by George Clooney. With careers on the line and an ever looming feeling of distrust, this really was just a captivating movie from start to finish. The performances are great, and the direction is spot on in this cleverly written adaptation.

#7

Kung Fu Panda 2 (Jennifer Yuh Nelson)


Without being weighed down by an origins story, this one surpasses its predecessor with one of the most emotionally fueled stories of the year. Seriously, this movie is just heart-wrenching. But intense as it can sometimes get, it's also one of the most light-hearted films of the year, and really just an all out fun movie to watch. This one brings the humor and the action in full spades, and is just absolutely gorgeous, quite possibly the best looking 3D animated film to date. Like the first movie, despite the fact that Kung Fu Panda 2 has all of the ingredients present for a potential disaster, it turned out way better than it ever had any right to be. Please don't pass up the chance to see it, and check out the original, too!

#6

Super 8 (J. J. Abrams)


Who woulda thought that, in a year where we got two new movies from Steven Spielberg, the best Spielberg movie of the year wouldn't even be directed by Spielberg himself? In this homage to Spielberg-style classics, Abrams delivers a nice, heart-warming tale, made all the more special by the surprisingly spectacular performances from the mostly child cast. I really can't say enough just how awesome the kids in this movie are. Top it all off with awesome effects and all of the lens flares that one can ask from a J. J. Abrams flick, then you're really in for a good time with this one.

#5

Hugo (Martin Scorsese)


And moving on from one homage to another, Hugo was also quite a magical movie. The cinematography was especially phenomenal, as this is one of the most visually appealing films of the whole year. The kids were, again, great, as was the rest of the cast, who know how to have fun with their roles without going overboard. And it's just a wonderful journey to witness as the movie unravels and delves further into the history of cinema itself. You could just tell that this was a deeply personal film for Scorsese, and it shows in its marvelous execution.

#4

Another Earth (Mike Cahill)


This feels like the oddball choice of the bunch, being not only a limited release arthouse film, but one that even several film buffs opted to ignore. But when I saw this playing in town, I just had to check it out, if only out of sheer curiosity. And boy was I glad that I did. It's a fairly simple drama with a light sci-fi backdrop, but it's a totally engaging, if tragic, story about a girl coming to terms with the terrible mistakes of her past. Meanwhile, a second Earth has been discovered, which looms gracefully in the background all throughout the story. It's an odd film at times, though the ideas it presents are certainly interesting, and leads to some seriously inspired imagery. The final shot in particular is especially satisfying.

#3

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt)


Talk about unexpectedly good, I'm not sure anyone took this film seriously going in, but my god, it really is outstanding. Playing out as more of a drama, despite its action-oriented trailers, this is exactly what the title suggests, though probably not in the way you'd think. We follow the ape, Caesar, played by Andy Serkis in yet another awesome performance, as he rises into power as the leader of his ape allies who seek to live a life of freedom. But the movie is actually quite subtle, and it takes its time to let the story naturally flesh out, and often acts as somewhat of a silent film. The CGI apes all look great, and the movie itself is really quite beautiful as well. It's a touching story, and probably the biggest surprise of the year.

#2

Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)


Refn calls this his gritty, neon version of a superhero movie, and if we count it as that, then sorry Cap, but Drive's got you beat. And holy crap is this movie fantastic! Not only one of the best of the year, but one of the best I've ever seen. Everything about this movie is just outstanding, the cinematography, the soundtrack, the acting, the action! From top to bottom, this movie is just about perfect. And the actors are able to tell us so much while saying so little, none doing this better than Ryan Gosling (I told you he was on a roll this year!). And that elevator scene, just, wow!

I was shocked to see this actually get a wide release, since its definitely more of the artsy kind of movie that typically gets a limited run. But I'm just glad that, as a result, this one was so easy to catch at the theaters, even if the general public didn't quite go for it. And shame on everyone who dismissed it for not being just another stupid Fast and Furious clone! Y'all are really missing out!

Of course, I say that about the general public, but then I make this next movie my #1 favorite of the year:

#1

Sucker Punch (Zack Snyder)


Now here's an unpopular choice, but what can I say? I loved this movie! I raved about it in my review earlier in the year, and though my feelings on it may not be quite as strong now as they were then, I still love this movie for all that it set out to accomplish. But I'm really just baffled at how many people flat out didn't understand this movie at all, especially since it's not exactly the most subtle thing. I've seen so many critics try to dissect this movie in order to point out its flaws, all the while only proving that the film just flew right over their heads. It's a movie that celebrates escaping into your dreams and letting your imagination run wild. Sure, it's also a kick ass action flick with hot girls in skimpy outfits, but that's besides the point! The point is, so many people would have you believe that this is a stupid movie for the lowest common denominator, when in fact, it's actually one of the more brilliant pieces to release in some time. So brilliant, that even a lot of the smart guys didn't get it!

But enough about that. As I was saying, I loved this movie for several reasons. In many respects, it feels like a movie that I would have come up with myself. The way it transitions between dreams and supposed realities, as well as differing point of views between characters, is just seamless. And I also love how it's almost like watching a two hour long music video, with some of the most awesome remixes of old classic tracks. Snyder has perfected his particular style with this movie, and he's given us his masterpiece. It's one of the most hated movies of the year, but I loved it, enough to call it my favorite movie of 2011.

So anyways, those are my top picks for the year, and now, as an added bonus, I'll throw out my choices for best performances in the past year as well:

Top 5 Actresses of 2011:


#5: Carey Mulligan - Drive


#4: Elle Fanning - Super 8


#3: Charlotte Gainsbourg - Melancholia


#2: Rooney Mara - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo


#1: Elizabeth Olsen - Martha Marcy May Marlene

Top 5 Actors of 2011:


#5: Andy Serkis - Rise of the Planet of the Apes/The Adventures of Tintin


#4: Michael Fassbender - X-Men: First Class


#3: Brad Pitt - The Tree of Life/Moneyball


#2: Ryan Gosling - Drive/The Ides of March


#1: Joseph Gordon-Levitt - 50/50

So that's it, and next time, we'll take a look at my least favorite movies of the year. See ya then!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo



So I just got back from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and boy was that an endurance test of a movie! I mean it, the pacing in this movie is an absolute nightmare. I feel like I just got finished sitting through three separate movies entirely. It just didn't know when to begin, and, suffering from Return of the King syndrome, it has absolutely no idea when to wrap things up.

The premise of the story is that Daniel Craig is signed on to investigate the unsolved mystery of the disappearance of a woman from about forty years ago. Meanwhile, the title character, Lisbeth, played phenomenally by Rooney Mara, is brought in to help after Craig learns about the in-depth background check that she was able to secretly conduct on him, and figures that her particular private investigative expertise will come in handy. Their case is the bulk of the main story in this movie, yet it takes forever for us to actually get there.

First, while Craig is getting started with his own detective work, we follow Lisbeth around as she deals with her pig of a legal guardian in order to receive access to her money. Now, though gratuitous, this is all extremely interesting and intense stuff. However, while it certainly adds character, it does little to add to the actual narrative, and feels really clunky once we transition away from that plot-line and into the main story. But like I said, it is all very interesting, but I just wish that its inclusion could have been more relevant, and perhaps condensed a little.

Once we finally do jump to the main plot, the story is all well and good. There's a lot of information thrown at you, and it's at times a little hard to follow all their investigative work, though I wouldn't say that I was ever necessarily confused. Overall, I'd say the main story is well told, which is thanks in no short part to the awesome performances from Craig and Mara.

However, once the story is done and the mystery's solved, we then enter the third movie within a movie, as we now follow Lisbeth around, doing Daniel Craig a favor or something. I dunno, this whole sequence was just overlong and tedious. The story was over, the movie shoulda been wrapping up, but instead we're off on another escapade for a good twenty or so minutes, and I'm just ready to freaking go. It ultimately felt unnecessary, and unlike the opening act, it wasn't even all that interesting. Really a poor note to end the movie on.

And that's another thing, the movie suffers from an all too abrupt ending. Hell, they don't even let the last shot linger a little before the credits start crawling up the screen. It's like, they had no idea when to actually end the movie, yet when they finally do, they just couldn't end it quick enough. These kinds of issues really just soured up an otherwise potentially really good movie.

Then again, looking at the story as a progression of Lisbeth's dark, personal journey and how she deals with the situations brought onto her and the people she meets, if we view this, and not the mystery at hand, as the central core of the movie, then a lot of these added scenes do begin to hold a little more merit. That said, with the exception of my point that the scenes lack relevance, all of my complaints still stand. Basically, it feels like David Fincher was just trying to fit in way too much, and it just didn't work.

Visually speaking, this is a very visceral movie. It's just so magnificently dark and gritty, yet super slick. And with the amount of sex and nudity on display, the film is also borderline NC-17 (I seriously don't know how this one got away with an R rating). It really is one of the better looking movies of the year, though, which is unsurprising coming from David Fincher.

The score is also getting a lot of attention. Trent Reznor returns after his awesome job on The Social Network, and he doesn't disappoint too badly. I didn't think the score was as good as his previous work, as it did feel a bit intrusive at times. But overall, the music was fine, and that heavy rock song from the trailer was actually quite fitting in the opening sequence (unlike in said trailer).

So in the end, the movie was okay, but it could have been so much better. And David Fincher is certainly capable of delivering so much better. And I dunno what happened, but something just went terribly wrong in the editing room. The core of the movie is fine, and Craig and Mara are both great (and I really liked the cat, too!). It's just such a shame that the movie released with so many flaws intact. However, it's definitely worth checking out, and despite its many flaws, I'd still be totally on board to revisit this film in the future, as there's a whole lotta good here to digest, too.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Muppets

So I ended up seeing The Muppets, and, well, it was... okay. Not great, but not necessarily bad, either. Just very much okay. Granted, I'm not exactly much of a fan of the Muppets, and I don't really have much in the way of nostalgia for them. So if you're a fan of them, then you may well enjoy the movie more than I did.

But really, it's kind of an unfocused mess of a movie. It starts off following a new Muppet, Walter, his brother, played by Jason Segel, and his brother's girlfriend, played by Amy Adams. They go on a vacation that includes visiting the old Muppets studio, where they find out that someone intends to purchase the studio and tear it down. So in order to save the studio, Walter and the gang go off to reunite the Muppets.

This whole time we're just following Walter and his human friends, and it's very clear that they're the central characters of the story. Or, at least, they were. The very instant that Kermit the Frog enters the movie, he takes over as lead, while Walter and the gang are relegated to background characters for the remainder of the flick. I found this pretty annoying, considering how much time they dedicated to building up these new characters and establishing their goals, only to see them become all but forgotten for the better part of the rest of the movie. Of course, I realize that the Muppets are supposed to be the stars of the show, but still, this could have been handled better. But anyways, once focus shifts over to the classic Muppets, they go off and gather up the whole gang to put on a show and raise enough money to buy back the studio. Simple enough.

The movie is littered with fourth wall references and random cameos from various celebrities. The fourth wall jokes started out decent enough, but they quickly become overused. We get it, you guys are aware that you're in a movie! Basically, a lot of the jokes just fall flat, with only one, involving Rowlf the Dog, getting a good laugh out of me. And as for cameos, I really got a kick out of Jim Parsons' appearance, but other than him, everyone else just seems pointless. They don't really do anything other than flash on screen and maybe deliver a single line. And sometimes that single line isn't even a joke, like Sarah Silverman, who merely greets Amy Adams at a restaurant, and then disappears.

And speaking of which, there were at least two scenes which just felt entirely out of place in this movie. There's a scene were Amy Adams breaks out into song and dance in the restaurant, which ultimately adds nothing to the movie, and feels like its there for the sole purpose of wasting a couple of minutes. There's a similar scene involving Chris Cooper rapping, which beyond being overly ridiculous, did nothing but detract from the movie. It really was kind of odd, as if they figured there weren't enough musical numbers, so they just threw a couple more in there just to make up for it. But the movie suffers for their inclusion, so you gotta wonder why they even bothered.

Not that all of the songs are bad. "Man or Muppet" was a great moment in the film, and one that'll stick with you well after the fact. And the opening and closing musicals were also really fun to watch.

Overall, while it may seem like I'm tearing this movie apart, it's really not entirely bad. I had a good enough time, it's just that the movie didn't do anything to really make it stand out, other than the mere fact that it is, in fact, a Muppets movie. It has its flaws, and its a bit of a mess, but I still had a decent enough time watching it. And hey, if nothing else, this is the first time I've actually been able to sit through a Muppets movie all the way through, so it has that going for it!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Word Vomit: Spitting Out A Few More Movie Reviews

So in addition to Hugo, I ended up seeing quite a number of movies this week. I guess me and my buddy went a little nuts at the theater. So anyways, in order from best to worst, here's a few quick thoughts on the other movies I saw over the holiday weekend:

Martha Marcy May Marlene

This intense psychological thriller was a very interesting and extremely engaging movie all around, with an especially awesome performance by Elizabeth Olsen. I didn't know much about it going in, and I think my viewing experience really benefited greatly for it. My only real knock against the movie is that the ending felt a bit abrupt, which was initially off-putting. However, upon further reflection, I actually quite liked the way it was handled. One of the year's best, without a doubt.

Anonymous

Did Shakespeare actually write his plays? The director of such explosive movies as Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012 aims to tackle that very subject himself. And as it turns out, one of Roland Emmerich's movies that doesn't focus on the complete and total destruction of the world also happens to be one of his best. Certainly his best movie since Independence Day. It suffers from some sloppy editing earlier on, which makes it initially hard to follow along. However, it really pulls itself together by the end, and actually is quite an intriguing and, well, Shakespearean story.

Immortals

This was just fun as hell. Sure, it's stupid, and at times it borders on flat out parody, but it's just so much fun that you don't even care. And it's really pretty to look at, too. Never before have I seen so many heads removed so beautifully from their respective bodies. Don't let the horrible trailers fool you, this really is one of the best pure action films in quite some time.

Tower Heist

This was surprisingly a lot more entertaining than I was ever expecting. It's not exactly the funniest movie, though there's a few good laughs to be had. But what really makes this movie work is just how over the top and ridiculous things continue to escalate to, and it really keeps you wondering just what'll happen next. Not the overly-predictable, stupid comedy that I was expecting.

J. Edgar

It wasn't bad necessarily, but it didn't do much for me. It was interesting enough, though it did drag a bit, and the constant jumping between time periods became tiresome. Leonardo DiCaprio obviously does a great job here, and his makeup wasn't nearly as bad as it looked in the trailers. But I'm actually surprised to not hear much praise for Armie Hammer, who really impressed me in particular with his portrayal as J. Edgar Hoover's right hand man (and possibly more?), Clyde Tolson.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hugo



They aren't lying when they say that Hugo is a love letter to film. This is the latest from director Martin Scorsese, based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I was initially skeptical about this movie, as early previews didn't look too promising. However, seeing Martin Scorsese's name attached to this did pique my interest, as this definitely didn't look like his usual work, to say the least. But the more I learned about what this film was really supposed to be like, the more I had to see it for myself.

The trailers were a bit deceiving for this one, it's not nearly as silly as they'd leave you to believe. In fact, while the film is certainly kid friendly, I'd be hard pressed to actually call this a children's movie. I really see this being one where adults and lovers of film will get a whole lot more out of it than kids. It has the whimsy of a children's story, but deals with issues that are a little more adult, and I just can't help but feel that this won't be nearly as fun of a movie going experience for kids.

Not to call the film boring, it's really not. In fact, right from the very beginning, as the camera swoops in on the scene and follows our main character around, you can just tell that you're in for a real treat. Where Super 8 payed homage to more modern movies, Hugo pays homage to classic, silent films and film history. And like those silent films, this movie often plays out as a silent film itself, with scenes that are captured with a certain elegance that'll leave you mesmerized. To say the film is beautiful feels like the wrong word to use, given the dark, somewhat gloomy color scheme, though this film is very, very visually appealing.

The basic premise is that Hugo Cabret's father had died, leaving behind only a broken automaton that he found at a museum. Hugo is taken to a Paris train station, where he secretly works the clocks and lives the life of a thief, stealing the parts he needs to fix the automaton and discover his father's last message to him. In his journey, he meets Georges Méliès, the bitter old toy shop owner who catches Hugo stealing from his shop, and Isabelle, the young girl who helps him in his adventure.

The kids, played wonderfully by Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz, do a particularly good job in their roles, though there's times where they act more like adults than they do kids. These times are few, but they're a little jarring when they happen, and really feel misplaced. But that's really a minor nitpick, and all around, the acting is really good in this film. Even Sacha Baron Cohen, who was thankfully a lot more downplayed than the trailers lead on.

Where this film really begins to excel is when it dives into the history of film itself, and especially when we take a look into the true story of Georges Méliès' past as a magician and filmmaker. This part is just really interesting, and it's amazing to see how the imagery becomes more interwoven into the story. I just really love how truly connected everything feels the more our main characters learn.

Hugo is a nice, heart warming film that deals with following one's dreams, dealing with life's regrets, and ultimately finding one's place in the world. It's not what I was expecting, but I had a great time, and I really can't stress enough just how visually appealing this film is to watch. With so many big blockbusters and bigger name family films releasing now, it probably didn't come out at the greatest of times, but I'd still definitely try and give this one a look.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Celebrating 20 Years of Sonic the Hedgehog

It's far from perfect, but despite its flaws, Sonic Generations is the first good console Sonic game in over a decade. It sure did take them long enough to finally get it right!



This game is a celebration of the hedgehog's 20 year run thus far. It's broken up into three eras, each of which features three stages, a rival match, a boss fight, and several optional challenges. Playing as either classic or modern Sonic, you play through various stages from all of the major titles in the series. The first era is the classic era, featuring stages from the original Genesis games. Then you move onto the Dreamcast era, featuring levels from the Adventure titles, as well as Sonic Heroes. And the last era is from the current generation, featuring stages from the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Unleashed, and Sonic Colors.

I didn't realize that they were only going to include a single stage from each game, and I was initially disappointed to see them go with some of my least favorite levels to represent the classic games. Now, I know what they were going for with this level set-up, but since the modern style of Sonic has spanned over the previous two eras, the classic Sonics do feel a bit under-represented in comparison. I especially question them using levels from games as current as Sonic Colors, which just came out only a year ago (not to mention the Colors level is by far the worst, and relies far too heavily on stupid gimmicks).

But this is one of those games where it really is easy to get bogged down talking about what should or shouldn't have been included, when really, for the most part, what made it into the game is actually quite fine as it is. And even though several iconic stages didn't make the cut, the game does a good enough job throwing in little references and tributes to anything not included, such as the spinning top from Marble Garden being used in Sky Sanctuary, or the Hydrocity-esque section in Seaside Hill.

As far as the gameplay is concerned, every stage is broken up into two acts, one for the classic Sonic, played in the original 2D style, and the modern Sonic, played mostly on a 3D plane with occasional 2D sections, and using the Unleashed control scheme. The classic gameplay isn't exactly how you might remember it. Sonic doesn't continue to gain momentum when you roll into a ball while in motion, and you're forced to mash the spindash button multiple times to actually launch him off, where as pressing it once won't do a damn thing. These are minor issues, but noticeable for any seasoned Sonic vet such as myself, and they're the kinda thing that takes a little getting used to. Controls aside, if there's one complaint I have about the classic levels, it's the fact that the 3D rendering in them makes certain traps hard to distinguish from the rest of the environment. Spikes are especially hard to decipher, where as in their original sprite forms, the spike traps always stood out.

The original classic stages are all well and good, but what's really impressive is the re-imagined modern stages in the classic style. Crisis City feels very reminiscent to Lava Reef Zone, and City Escape may be the most imaginative level they've come up with in years. I also love how, in many cases, they took the overly generic baddies in the modern games and managed to give them a classic style personality.

The classic stages impressed, though that wasn't much of a surprise. The big shocker here was just how good they nailed down the modern levels. Modern Sonic is actually oftentimes even more fun to play than his classic counterpart. It's just so fun zooming forward and zipping from enemy to enemy in midair. They finally got 3D Sonic working, and working well. There's little to no cheap deaths, where as prior 3D Sonics were riddled with poor controls, buggy sections, and bottomless pits that kept killing you over and over. Nope, this game's smooth sailing for the most part. And Rooftop Run is pretty much just absolute pure gaming bliss, possibly even topping the original City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2 as the best stage in a 3D Sonic game.

The other portions of the game are the rival matches and boss fights. You'll face off against Metal Sonic, Shadow the Hedgehog, and Silver the Hedgehog in what are essentially boss fights on the go. They're easy enough, though the Shadow match was a pain in the ass just figuring out what exactly you were supposed to do, a problem that would later resurface with the final boss. Each era also has an actual boss fight, with you taking on the Death Egg Robot (a ridiculously easy version of the notoriously impossible Sonic 2 boss), Perfect Chaos, and the Egg Dragoon. Most of these fights are pretty straight forward, and you'll receive a chaos emerald for successfully completing them.

Then after all that's done, you move on to the final boss, the Time Eater. This fight features the classic Eggman (nobody calls him Robotnik anymore!) and the modern Eggman taking on both classic and modern Sonic at the same time. The Sonics are in their super forms, in what is essentially a throwback to the Doomsday Zone fight at the end of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, minus the fun. This is probably the most obnoxious boss fight in all of Sonic history. Throughout the fight, Sonic's friends are cheering him on and offering all sorts of useless advice that'll only get you killed if you bother to follow it. This fight is so frustrating, and it all stems from the fact that you really can't even tell what it is exactly you're supposed to do. I actually had to look up online just how to beat this guy. It was easy enough once I knew how, but jeez, I woulda never figured that out on my own, and several other people online expressed similar problems with this fight. This may be the most disappointing conclusion to a Sonic game yet.

But all in all, good as the game can be, the real hero here is the music. My god, the music is tremendous! The Sonic series has always been known to have good music, but this is seriously some of the best stuff to come out of this series, or any video game for that matter. The modern remixes of classic songs are just a joy to listen to, but even more so than that is the classic remixes to modern tunes. The classic mixes for Crisis City and City Escape especially blew my mind away. And when you're in the mini hub section between stages, a softer, more symphonic version of each stage's song will play. I've spent so much time with this game just keeping Sonic still and listening to these songs in this area, they're just so, so good.

So yeah, overall, despite a few shortcomings, the game is good, even if it is relatively short. But there's tons of replay value to be had, and lots of stuff to keep you busy after you're done. It's particularly nice to see that they've learned from the mistakes they made with Sonic and the Secret Rings by making the challenges optional this time around. In fact, all of the major flaws that have ruined past Sonics are absent from this title. There's no forced side missions, no big, boring hub worlds, no game breaking glitches, no werehogs, and for the most part, no stupid, pointless gimmicks. This is straight up Sonic the Hedgehog, brought into the modern age of gaming the way he should have been 10 years ago. It's taken them a long while, but Sonic's finally up to the quality we'd been hoping to get for years. Welcome back, Sonic, and Happy 20th Anniversary!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Top 5 Naruto Episodes

While I was compiling my list of the best Naruto openings last week, it got me thinking about the best overall episodes in the series as well. Unlike the openings, Part 1 probably has the better overall quality, in the anime at least (the manga is debatable). But Part 1 had the advantage of being able to completely get through its entire story with little to no filler (about a year or two of non-stop filler was placed on the tail end of the series, but is easily skippable), while Shippuden has been forced to include filler almost every other canon arc. But even when you get right down to specific individual episodes, Part 1's got Shippuden beat for the most part, though Shippuden's certainly had its fair share of surprises as well.

Before getting started on my list, I'd like to give an honorable mention to Naruto 62, the episode that got me completely hooked onto this series. In this episode, Naruto defeated Neji in front of the entire village using his brilliantly unpredictable tactics. This was the episode where Naruto officially ceased to be the underdog, and the villagers finally started to acknowledge him as a person. And just like the characters in the show, it grabbed my attention as well. This episode was great, though not quite up to the same quality as the top five on my list.

#5 - Naruto 101: Gotta See! Gotta Know! Kakashi Sensei's True Face!


This episode is just hilarious. This one is mostly just really silly filler, though it's based on a canon special. Team 7 decides that they're tired of not knowing what their sensei's face looks like, so they come up with a series of plans to try and unmask Kakashi. What really makes this episode especially wonderful to watch is Sasuke's reactions. This is the first time in the series we get to see Sasuke acting as silly as his teammates, something we wouldn't see again for about 300 episodes. This is a one-off episode, so it's not a part of any big story arc, but it's just a nice, fun little diversion before Part 1 jumps into its big finale.

#4 - Naruto Shippuden 211: Danzo Shimura


Danzo's always had the right intentions, he's just always gone about doing things in vile, oftentimes despicable manners. But in his final moments, he's determined to go out doing the right thing, protecting his village from the threat of Madara and the now full blown villain Sasuke. This is also the same episode where Sasuke's descent to evil is finalized, sacrificing his loyal comrade Karin with a psychotic grin on his face, just for the chance to see Danzo's demise. The anime team managed to take the death of one of the most easily hateable characters in the series and turn it into a beautiful, emotionally heart wrenching event.

#3 - Naruto 133: A Plea From A Friend


The big encounter we've been waiting for is underway, as Naruto clashes with Sasuke in his fight to prevent his friend from succumbing to darkness. In this episode, these rivals finally admit their true feelings of friendship to one another, which is why, for both of them, this fight means everything. The fluid animation is especially gorgeous in this episode, and the water effects during this fight is a spectacle to behold. This is one of the first major times where the anime has taken some creative liberties to add to the fight and change things around, and they worked wonders with their creativity. This is one of the flagship episodes in the whole series, and would go on to be a huge inspiration for my top pick in this list.

#2 - Naruto 78: Naruto's Ninja Handbook


This episode is outstanding. It features one of the best fights, and includes what is still my favorite moment in the whole series when Naruto summons Gamabunta. In order to protect his friends, Naruto faces off against Gaara, the Sand's cold blooded killer who has up to this point instilled nothing but undying fear in our hero. But Naruto overcomes his fear to prove that true strength doesn't lie in solitude, but in protecting what's important to you. Up to this point, Naruto has proven himself to his peers by besting Kiba, and he's proven himself to his village by besting Neji. But this time, it's Sasuke who finally sees just how far Naruto's come, as Naruto puts all his training and hard work to use in order to give Gaara the fight of his life. Seeing him in action here still gives me chills to watch.

#1 - Naruto Shippuden 167: Planetary Devestation


Probably the most controversial episode in the series is also, hands down, the very best. It's become so notorious that, by simply mentioning the number 167, Naruto fans everywhere know exactly what you're talking about. A lot of fans hate the overly artistic style in this episode, but I'm among those who absolutely love it. Up to this point, the anime adaptation of the Pain arc had been pretty disappointing, especially the actual fight between Naruto and Pain. The anime took one of the greatest arcs, and probably the greatest fight, and littered it with poor animation, shoddy editing, and a complete lack of focus on important events. The Pain arc was like watching a train wreck, but then they went and gave us a classic.

Naruto Shippuden 167 is unlike any other episode in the series. There's parts that are reminiscent of a Looney Tunes cartoon, and several scenes with deliberate deformed and mutated animation for a unique, stylistic effect. Quite frankly, the animation has never been better than it is in this episode. And I'd say that they take some major creative liberties with this episode, but that would be a huge, huge understatement. They flat out rewrite the book with the way they handle the source material here, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

This is the episode where Naruto, after witnessing Pain take out Hinata, transforms into his six-tailed Kyuubi state. In the manga, the fight was exciting, though admittedly bare bones. It wasn't so obvious at the time, but after seeing what they did here, it's amazing just how little happened in the manga. Here, Pain starts things off by punching a hole in the earth that floods the entire battle ground, giving way to more pretty water effects similar to the episode mentioned above. The first part of this episode is the fight between the two, and is done in a zany, cartoony style. But the second half calms things down a bit as Pain traps Naruto within his Chibaku Tensei. The art style changes to reflect the more serious tonal shift, and the accompanying music gives these scenes an epic feeling, as Naruto reaches out to release the seal on the Kyuubi, only to be stopped at the last minute by the Fourth Hokage.

167 alone almost makes the butchering of the rest of the Pain arc worth it. This is a fun, wild ride, and is completely mesmerizing. It's unlike anything we've seen before in the series, and stands alone as the very best this show has to offer. Say what you will about the rest of the series, but this one is a work of art.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Surprisingly good week at the movies

I saw two new movies this week and, well, I honestly didn't expect that much from either of them. Well, one I thought was going to be so bad it's good, but the other I had no expectations for at all. However, both of them managed to surprise me with how legitimately good they really are, and so I'd like to talk about them now.

Real Steel



I had been anticipating this one for a while, and I knew full well going in that this had all the potential in the world to be a total disaster. I also knew that, no matter what, this was almost certainly going to be a fun movie to watch, and that it was. The fact that it's honestly a really good movie to boot is just a real treat. So it's exactly what it looks like, Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots: The Movie. It's essentially a traditional underdog sports movie, like Rocky, but with robots. And it's totally awesome!

Hugh Jackman plays Charlie, a retired boxer who's moved onto the game of robot boxing. He has a habit of making really bad bets, and getting into lots of trouble. He's also a complete and total asshole. His attitude was sort of off-putting at first, until he got stuck having to take care of his son, Max. He's been an absentee father his whole life, so the two don't know each other at all. And this is particularly why it's just so wonderful to see just how much Max takes after his dad.

Yes, that's right, the kid's a stubborn ass as well, and falls for a lot of the same traps as his dad. The only difference is Max just happens to have a bit of luck on his side. The kid who plays Max actually does a decent job. There was really only one scene where I felt they went a little overboard with him, which did leave me cringing, but it wasn't anything too objectionable.

So Max finds the robot named Atom, and he and Charlie get to work fixing him up and training him to fight. The fight scenes are filmed very well. You're able to clearly see all of the action on screen (unlike certain other movies with fighting robots), and it's all done in a way that's exciting throughout, and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

And with some of the damage dealt in the ring, you almost forget you're watching robots get beat up, as you actually begin to feel for them. The robots themselves look fantastic. I know a lot of it is CGI, but I swear there's scenes where there's definitely something physical on screen. One scene in particular, where Hugh Jackman is shadow boxing with Atom, it almost looks like a guy in costume is fighting him back. For all I know it actually is.

There's also definitely some points where this movie could have taken some obnoxious turns, but it took the higher road and avoided diluting the movie with potentially awful film tropes. So for that I was grateful, and in the end, I was left completely satisfied with the way things turned out.

Real Steel is the real deal. The story was fun, the movie was well acted, and the fights were exciting. There's also tons of wrestling references throughout the movie, but I guess our boxing robots weren't quite advanced enough for that just yet. Maybe in a sequel, perhaps?

Kevin Hart: Laugh At My Pain



I just happened to catch this by chance. A buddy invited me to tag along, and I had nothing else going on, so I figured, eh, why not. I did have some reservations going in, seeing as I'm not exactly a Kevin Hart fan. I've seen one of his standups on TV, which I was less than impressed with. But I've gotta say, this movie totally surprised me.

It's basically split up into three parts. The first part is a documentary, as we follow Kevin around in his hometown, showing us where he grew up and how he got his start. We meet some of his family, and some of the people who helped him get his career off the ground. This section is pretty inoffensive overall. There's a few mild chuckles to be had here, but it's mainly just passable. The main thing that stands out is when Kevin and some other people are talking about his standup routine, and they mention how, while it's funny, it's not really him. It's not personal to him, and so we leave his standup knowing nothing about him.

This segues us into the second part, the actual standup, which is the bulk of the movie. His entire act really is based on actual life experiences, and mainly focuses on various members of his family. So he took that advice about making his act personal, and it really shows in his delivery. I mentioned before how his television standup didn't impress me, but this was a complete turn around from what I had originally seen of him. I was actually blown away by how genuinely hilarious this standup is. It's one of the freshest acts I've seen in quite some time.

He tells jokes in a very natural way, oftentimes repeating himself in a way that only makes the jokes even funnier every time. And his routine involving his drug addicted father is some of the funniest material I've heard in years. This is the kind of stuff that sticks with you well after the show is over, which is a welcome change of pace from today's popular ADD style of comedy that's forgotten the second the joke's over.

After the standup, it feels like we're done and ready to go, but nope! They've got a third part in store for us. This portion is completely scripted, and is filmed in the style of some cheesy show you'd see on Comedy Central or something. It spoofs several bank robbery movies, most notably Reservoir Dogs, Dead Presidents, and Heat.

Now, I'd say that the movie would be better off if they had cut this portion out, yet in a strange way it fits, if only to serve as a prime example of how, while certain acts can work wonders on the stage in front of a live audience, that doesn't necessarily mean that they'll work in a scripted format. And while there's a few decent laughs in this part, that mostly rings true here. But it's because of this blatant contrast and the example it sets that this part is actually the most fascinating portion of the movie.

So overall, while I was expecting a whole lotta nothing, I was completely surprised by this movie. It's hard to rate it as an actual movie, since it's mainly a standup routine, but I'd say that this is by far the funniest movie going experience I've had all year. Definitely worth checking out, even if you're not a fan of Kevin Hart. Because I sure wasn't, yet I had a blast!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Top 5 Naruto Openings

Last week's debut of the latest Naruto opening got me thinking about some of the best Naruto openings we've had thus far. With the exception of the very first Naruto opening, there hasn't actually been a single bad one in the whole series. But I'd say that overall, Naruto Shippuden has produced better openings than the original series.

Part 1 openings mainly consist of character showcases and still images with music playing over it, with little in the way of action for the most part. They get the job done in telling the story and previewing the events of that particular arc, but they're not nearly as exciting as their Part 2 counterparts. With Shippuden they began showcasing a lot more action and actual fight scenes.

I love the openings because they're almost like little trailers, or short music videos that tell the story for what we can expect from the current arc, only with a lot more style and flare than you'd normally see in the regular show. The music is almost always super catchy, and the visuals are usually awesome. But awesome as they all are, I've picked out the five that have stuck out the most as the absolute best this series has delivered yet.

#5 - Naruto Opening 2: Haruka Kanata (Chunin Exams opening)

This is around the point where the series was really beginning to pick up, and served as the first big introduction to our new larger cast of secondary characters. And though the visuals are basic, this one's all about the song. Haruka Kanata is one of the very best songs they've used in an opening yet, and was so good that Cartoon Network even used it in their own exclusively made opening they used throughout the series' entire run on that station. The song just pumps you up and lets you know you're in for a fun ride. It certainly played a big part in originally drawing my attention towards this series, and still holds up as one of the best to this day.

#4 - Naruto Opening 5: Seishun Kyousoukyoku (Sasuke Retrieval opening)

This is the first opening to really begin incorporating a lot of action into the animation. This opening covers a lot, and was one of the first to have significant changes applied to it as the arc progressed. This was also around the time when the series started to get a lot darker, which I believe is reflected in both the music and animation. This was their last canon opening for Part 1, and they went out with a bang before filler hell could drag them down.

#3 - Naruto Shippuden Opening 2: Distance (Sasuke Reunion opening)

This is a personal favorite of mine, but not a popular one by any means. A lot of Naruto fans hate the song, which changed things up with more of a lively ska mix this time around. I love it, though, and it's probably my favorite song out of any of the Naruto openings. The fact that the visuals are top notch is just icing on the cake. But my favorite part about this opening is both the beginning and end. I love how we start with the younger Naruto and Sasuke walking towards each other, both with little smirks on their faces as if they're merely meeting as friends. Then how it ends with them in their older stages, both with serious looks this time and ready to battle one another. But despite the odds, the upbeat music really emphasizes Naruto's drive to succeed in bringing his friend back to their side.

#2 - Naruto Shippuden Opening 10: Newsong (Prelude to War opening)

I talked about this one last week, and have placed it right near the top of my list in accordance. This is another highly split choice, as a lot of Naruto fans hate how goofy it is, and have complained that it's not serious or emo enough. I explained why I love it, however, as it really shows how Naruto has finally put aside his emo feelings and has returned to form. And where a lot of the other picks are really about the song, this one's all about the over the top animation, though the song's not bad by any means. And besides, there's dancing ninjas! It's a great opening, and one of the best. However, if I'd have to pick one better it'd be...

#1 - Naruto Shippuden Opening 6: Sign (Hunt for Itachi opening)

This one really is the full package. Kick ass song, kick ass animation. This is, without a doubt, the ultimate Naruto opening. Instead of focusing on minor characters, this one sticks right with what's most important. And for this particular arc, that's the encounters between Sasuke and Itachi, and Jiraiya and Pain. Sure, Naruto takes a bit of a backseat for this opening, but then again, this was during the time where the spotlight really wasn't shining on him anyways, so that's fine. This was really Sasuke's arc, and that's where the focus should be. The series is probably at its darkest during this arc, and that's definitely shown with the super dark lighting, and that almost hauntingly mellow beginning portion, just before the song really kicks in. And the fight animation is off the charts, and is among the best the series has ever produced.

Well, those are my top five Naruto openings. I hope this was interesting, and if nothing else you should be able to enjoy some of the music provided in these videos. And if they've sparked your interest enough to dig a little deeper into the Naruto series, like some of them did for me, then even better!

Edited November 20th: Looks like Youtube pulled all the videos I originally posted. That kinda sucks, but I still encourage you to look them up and check them out if you can.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dancing Ninjas!

As Naruto Shippuden gradually heads into the upcoming war arc, today's episode debuted the latest new opening for the show, "Newsong" by Tacica. And I've gotta say that I'm quite impressed. It starts off with the standard showcasing of characters, nothing unusual. But then we see Killer Bee movin' and groovin' with a boombox to his ear, and it's right around here that we know we're in for something quite different.

It features scenes with the likes of Kakashi, Raikage, and the Konoha grown-ups prancing around like ballerinas, the newly revived Akatsuki dancing to the side like puppets while their caskets topple over behind them, and several fight scenes where Naruto, Sakura, and Sai are flying (yes, FLYING) towards Madara and Kisame. Add in choreographed dancing scenes with most of the Konoha 11 and the Sand siblings, with just enough spoilers in there to satisfy, and we've got ourselves one refreshingly unique Naruto opening.

And the more I think about it, this may very well be the best opening in the series, and a lot of it comes down to the subtleties about it. Fans of the first Kage Summit opening, "Diver" by Nico Touches the Walls, commented on how subtlety worked in that one's favor, and I believe the same to be the case with this one. Now, as over the top as this opening is, subtle may be an odd word choice to describe it, but hear me out.

For one thing, Naruto is back to being his goofy self, as so many of his peers have commented on ever since his last confrontation with Sasuke. In fact, the lack of Sasuke in this opening also shows off how Naruto has finally gotten over his obsession with him. This opening is pretty much a celebration of Naruto's return to form with its goofy antics.

Plus, we all know how much Naruto tends to rub off on people, so it makes sense for everyone around him to be joining in on the goofiness. Notice that it's only the protagonists who are doing any dancing, with the slight exception of the Akatuski, who are tugged to the side like the group of puppets that they are. And the choreographed dancing also emphasizes the teamwork necessary in the upcoming war.

Even the fighting portions have little details in them that hint at some of the actual upcoming fights. For example, Sakura attacking Madara with paper bombs nods to Madara's actual forthcoming fight with Konan, and Naruto's transformation is just enough to entice without completely spoiling the big reveal (even though the new ending did just that...).

In some prior openings, the inclusion of the Konoha 11 usually feels forced, given how they oftentimes play little to no role at all in the accompanying arc. But here, as we head into war, for once the inclusion of every single side character actually makes sense.

There's other little details that I keep catching, which really just shows how much thought was actually put into this one. But overall, while the song itself isn't great, it's also not bad by any means, and fits the tone and the animation perfectly. I've gotta say this opening is absolutely brilliant, and is one of the most impressive ones that the anime has produced yet.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Drive



This movie was pretty incredible, and probably the all around coolest film to hit theaters this year. The opening sequence alone is well worth the price of admission. We join Ryan Gosling's character, the Driver, as he escorts a couple of burglars through the city, avoiding the police all the while. This entire sequence, shot from the passenger seat of the Driver's car, is really intense, and sets the stage early on for what's certain to be a different movie going experience.

There are elements of a more dramatic, arthouse style of film, yet blended in throughout is also quite a heavy dose of action. The action is really raw and gritty, and I loved every second of it! Car chase scenes are actually shot in a way that doesn't leave you confused and dizzy, and the visceral action is all very clearly shot throughout, which is just a real treat to find in any action movie these days.

The plot itself is actually fairly simple. So simple, in fact, that even summing it up would likely give away some major plot points. But basically, it's a heist gone wrong, and that's all I'm going to say about it. Not to take anything away from the writing, which is very well crafted. But even more than the story itself, what's really important about this movie is the execution, which is beautifully stylized, and damn near flawless. The movie takes its time, developing the characters and their various relationships, all the while never feeling slow or drawn out. It keeps you engaged and really wanting to learn more. And as we learn more, our characters gradually find themselves getting into bigger and bigger messes.

The Driver is a very awkward character, someone who fills conversations with long silent pauses and happens to do a lot of odd staring. This initially feels quite inhuman, almost robotic, but as the character grows and he gets deeper into trouble, he slowly opens up and shows us why he is this way. It's a very deliberate performance from Ryan Gosling, who completely sold the character.

The real star of the movie, however, is the soundtrack. The 80s style music in this film is just phenomenal, and really compliments the retro-esque LA setting like no other. This is some of the best use of songs in a movie that I can remember, at times making for what are sure to become some of the most memorable moments in film for years to come.

I know I've mentioned very little about the plot and what this movie's really about, but honestly, I'm not sure that it's entirely important to know going in. I went into the movie knowing very little about it myself, other than what I had heard about the action/arthouse mish-mash that I mentioned. But this is a movie that will shock you, and definitely shouldn't go missed. It's one of the absolute best films I've seen all year, and was truly a delight to watch. Go see it!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Randy Orton: The Evolution of a Predator

So this week I bought the new Randy Orton DVD, The Evolution of a Predator, and after ranting about it to a friend, I will now be reviewing it at his request. I only watched the main documentary portion, but I've seen most of the matches included in this set already. The match list is decent enough, though I already own most of them. It's sort of telling that the further we get into Randy's career, the less matches are covered from that period, despite him becoming a much bigger star. And that's pretty much where this whole DVD starts to go wrong, because it completely skips over some of the most crucial moments of Randy's career thus far.

I've watched a ton of WWE's documentary features, and for the most part, they're really well done. This one, however, is a disaster from the very start. There is absolutely no focus whatsoever, the feature just randomly hops from one point in Randy's career to the next, with no rhyme or reason. To start things off, it doesn't even begin talking about Randy Orton, but rather, the Wrestlemania event in general. I guess since the DVD was being made around the time Wrestlemania XXVII took place, this is sort of the closing point that the feature is leading to, so they were starting us off here as well to try and bookend it a little.

However, we then randomly jump to about a month prior to this event, where they now shift focus on the Elimination Chamber. Yes, Randy's involved in the match, but they barely mention him, instead choosing to talk about the Chamber match itself and how dangerous it is, despite that it literally has no impact on the remainder of the story they're trying to tell us thus far. It's also at this point that they mention Randy's throw-away feud with CM Punk, which I'll get back to in a moment.

After randomly focusing on Wrestlemania and the Elimination Chamber, we finally start talking about Randy Orton himself. However, as I mentioned before, this feature just hops all over the place. We start off talking about some things that happened before he got into the business, then we randomly start talking about things after he had been in for a while. Then we, again randomly, start talking about the things he's currently up to, before jumping back to before he was in the business again. And it just hops back and forth and back again. Really, whoever put this thing together truly did a piss poor job of it. I've never seen a WWE documentary feature that was this sloppy, so needless to say, it was frustrating getting through it.

And it's a shame, because some of the things this DVD covers is actually fairly interesting. Like when they talk about his incident with the Marines, and when talking about his redemption with his family. Hell, they have all the tools at their disposal to tell us a classic story of one man's downward spiral and his gradual climb to the top, complete with the nice happy ending and everything. But instead of starting at the beginning of his career and working through chronologically, they just cover random bits and pieces in no particular order whatsoever, leaving behind a cluttered mess instead.

Now, while some of the things they covered was interesting, it's what they blatantly left out that's especially frustrating about this feature. Here's where I'll re-mention CM Punk. Going into Wrestlemania XXVII, Randy had a nothing feud with Punk, basically something to just keep the two preoccupied for the time being. However, going by this set, you'd think that this was the biggest thing to happen in Randy's WWE career. They place so much importance on this feud throughout, hyping it up, showing us backstory, and even going so far as to put together a highlight package of their match at the end. All of this for a feud that nobody even remembers just a few months after the fact.

Meanwhile, this DVD left off some of the most vital aspects of Randy's career. They barely mention his time in Evolution, and even then, they make no recollection whatsoever to his major ongoing rivalry with Triple H after the fact. They also completely ignore his year long feud with John Cena, the feud that elevated Randy up to the main event mainstay that he is today. They speak briefly of his first title reign, yet all his other, more meaningful reigns, as well as his Royal Rumble win, are never once spoken of. They pretty much gloss over every major detail that made Randy's career what it is today, and instead place focus on his throw-away feud with CM Punk.

Like the beginning of the DVD, when they're talking about Wrestlemania and the Elimination Chamber instead of Randy, there's a moment where they highlight the Hall of Fame ceremony, and even start talking about Shawn Michaels and what a great career he's had. Yeah, great, as if Michaels doesn't have enough DVDs of his own, he's gotta be shoved down our throats on this one as well. They use this as a way to sloppily transition into Orton's time with Legacy, which is, like every other major aspect of his career, only briefly touched on.

At the end, this was a very disappointing DVD, and by far the worst I've ever seen WWE put out. I really don't know what they were thinking with this set. It's poorly edited, poorly structured, and has a complete lack of focus, to the point where they're not even talking about Randy Orton for significant portions of the feature. Considering this is his first DVD, this is especially off-putting. Orton deserves better than this crap, and WWE is most certainly capable of putting together a much better set. After this lackluster set, though, I'll definitely be thinking twice before picking up future WWE releases.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Final Thoughts (BEDA 31)

Well this is it, Blog Every Day August has come to an end. And so to send us off, I figured I'd give some of my final thoughts on this little challenge. Firstly, man am I glad that it's over. For this entire month, almost every waking moment I didn't spend writing was spent wracking my brain trying to come up with a topic for my next blog. I've mentioned it in previous posts, but after a while, the well really does start to run a little dry. So I'll definitely be happy to be rid of that added stress.

But blogging every day has served as good practice blogging about topics other than movies for a change. And while I was going through a rough time, it helped take my mind off of things for a bit. So in that way, this challenge was really beneficial, and even therapeutic at times. Also, it was nice sort of being a part of the blogging community, keeping up with everyone else's blogs throughout the month, and even gaining a few new readers myself. Hopefully those readers will stick around, as I intend to do so with their blogs after this event.

That all said, I highly doubt that I'll be doing this Blog Every Day thing again. I just feel like it's way too much all at once, and that it clogs up my blog way too quickly. There were certain posts throughout the month that I really wanted to highlight in particular, yet now they're lost in the clutter. Plus, I'm really not a fan of short, pointless posts for the sake of posting, which I admittedly had a few throughout the month. That comes back to the whole having something worthwhile to blog about every single day, which I suppose didn't quite end up being the case with me.

So in the end, this was an interesting experience. I actually did learn quite a bit about myself, both as a blogger, and as a writer. It also leaves me pondering how I'll approach these types of monthly writing challenges in the future. I came to somewhat of a realization about myself a while ago regarding these challenges, but it took this particular one to really open my eyes. But now that I see just what kind of writer I am, I think I have a better idea of where to go from here...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

So... (BEDA 30)

... after today, there's only one more day left in this Blog Every Day August thing, right? Right! Well alright then, see you guys tomorrow!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Why Movies? (BEDA 29)

So the idea for this blog came to me last night as I was looking at the upcoming Zelda game, Skywayd Sword. Based on everything I know about it, I'm certain that, no matter how good it may be, I'm not going to even bother with it this time. The fact that this one is completely based around motion controls is only one solid reason, but it's this next reason which is what I'm here to discuss today.

I own, and have played, all of the previous major Zelda releases. The series has always interested me, however, one thing that they all have in common is that I have never been able to complete a single one. I've probably gotten the farthest in either A Link to the Past or The Wind Waker, which is why I hold those two in higher regard than the others. However, even with those two, I still wasn't able to beat the game.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is one of the big reasons I'm not into gaming these days, because there is rarely a game that I'm actually able to see through to completion. Whether this is due to the fact that the game just gets way too hard, or because it just becomes so boring and tedious, either way, this has happened with so many games that I finally have lost all interest in playing most games. My backlog of incomplete games has become so long that it's just frustrating to even think about.

And then I gave it a little more thought, and I realized that gaming wasn't the first hobby for this to happen to me. When I was a lot younger, I used to be a big reader. But then it came to the point where I was only reading halfway through books before putting them away, because they were just so overlong and drawn out that they failed to keep my attention. Reading became a chore, and after obtaining a library full of half-read books, none of which I had any intention of ever returning to, I just decided not to even bother anymore.

Every now and then I would still pick up a book that interested me, but it was always the same. I could never make it further than about halfway into it before I just had to slam the book shut and put it on the shelf, never to be opened again. It's a hobby that had lost all its fun, and it required far too many hours in the day to just sit there and force myself to read through something I was no longer having any fun with. In fact, A Game of Thrones is the first book I've actually finished on my own since middle school, and is also by far the longest book I've ever completed. And the only reason I finished it is because I watched the show first and knew that it would be worth the struggle.

But that brings me to my point, which is why I love the film medium so much. Film requires no real effort on my part. Even if the movie I'm watching is bad, it's still only two hours, and then I'm done. That's it. I've never walked out of a theater in my life, and other than James Bond (aka, the most boring series of films that have ever been produced!!), I can't think of a single movie that I willingly started to watch where I wasn't able to sit through it.

And not only that, but you can't beat the replay value of a good movie. I can name the number of games I've replayed on one hand, and I've never been able to bring myself to re-read a book, no matter how good it was. However, I rewatch the same movies all of the time. Hell, I've even gone back and rewatched movies in theaters several times. That's how easy the movie-going experience is, and it's one of the main things that really appeals to me. It's something that I know I can revisit if I like it enough without having to sacrifice anything more than a couple of hours before I'm done.

I really think that's the reason I love movies as much as I do. It's a hobby that's never been too much for me to handle. The more I've fallen out of other mediums, the more appreciative and devoted I've become to film. And now, anytime I dive into any other medium, whether it be TV, books, comics, or games, the first thing I always think about is how this could be adapted into a good movie. As such, I'm constantly editing things in my head as I read or watch them, editing them down to a two hour movie format. Because there's just something about that format that strikes me moreso than any other. And I'm not saying that other mediums can't be great as well. They most certainly can. But there's just something especially captivating about a good, tight-knit movie.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fright Night (BEDA 28)

So I caught Fright Night today, and it was alright. I had heard some pretty good things about this, and justifiably so. This horror comedy movie is a remake to the 1985 movie of the same name, though seeing as I haven't seen that film, I can't say how it compares. Based on reviews I've read, this one's apparently much better in pretty much every way, though I personally don't know that for certain. However, on its own, this one is pretty good, even if it doesn't necessarily do anything to make it stand out.

The plot is simple enough, a vampire moves in next door and starts killing people. See, simple! And the performances in this movie were really fun. Christopher Mintz-Plasse does overdo it a bit at times, playing the lead character's nerdy friend, but he's not around nearly long enough to really damper the movie too much. Colin Farrell looked like he was having a blast as Jerry the vampire, though, but the real star was David Tennant, who is an absolute joy to watch.

The movie does have a few roadblocks, however, particularly as we get closer to the end. The pacing goes all out of wack in the second half for one thing. There's a point near the end where it feels like we're watching the big final confrontation of the movie. However, that turns out not to be the case, as we revert back to even more preparations for yet another final confrontation afterwards. It just felt a little clunky initially, though this honestly may very well be a non-issue on multiple viewings. Also, some scenes do tend to go on for a lot longer than necessary. This movie was almost 2 hours long, though it could have easily been cut down to around 90 minutes, and likely would have been so much stronger for it.

But those were my biggest complaints, and other than that, this is just an overall fun movie. It's completely entertaining, and keeps a very light-hearted tone throughout. It's definitely campy and goofy, and you can tell that everyone in this thing is having a lot of fun with it. But overall, good as it all was, I can't really see this being something that sticks with me personally.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rock Lee's Springtime of Youth (BEDA 27)



This new manga series debuted earlier this year, but only a few chapters were released before the series went on an extended hiatus. However, as of late, we've finally gotten more new chapters, and so now feels like an appropriate enough time to discuss Rock Lee's Springtime of Youth. It's the official Naruto spinoff series written by one of Kishimoto's own assistants, Kenji Taira, and starring none other than the handsome green devil himself, Rock Lee.

It's much more cartoony than the main series, drawn in a chibi style with a hard focus on comedy first and foremost. Hilarious as the series is, though, I can't tell for certain if all of the jokes will translate well to non-fans, because a lot of the humor comes from seeing characters who are known for being straight-laced and serious all the time (most notably Neji Hyuga) acting out in zany ways that you'd never expect to see from them.

The series is also supposedly targeted at younger kids. Yet, being Japanese, they have much lower standards than we have over here in the States, and as such, the humor is oftentimes quite risque. As a result, I'll be surprised if this series ever officially makes it over to America, and if it does, I'll shudder at the inevitable butchering that'll be in store for it.

We follow Rock Lee and his squad consisting of his rival, Neji, and their sensei, the flamboyant Might Guy. Also in the squad is Tenten, who is quite possibly the funniest of them all. She's seemingly the only "normal" person in this series, and her reactions to everything going on around her are priceless. In this crazy version of the Naruto-world, she's the only one who appears to notice how insane everyone is acting, which in turn drives her insane.



Each chapter is a short stand-alone story, and thus far, every new chapter has been more fun than the last. It's actually sort of surprising just how entertaining this manga has been given its overly-goofy nature. Usually this kind of thing runs thin pretty quick. And honestly, without some extended breaks, that still could very well become the case. But as it stands now, there's been times when I actually preferred the latest Rock Lee chapter over the main Naruto manga. And it's for these reasons why I feel that this series would be perfect for the Naruto anime to refer to when coming up with ideas for future filler arcs.

The quality is so good and done in a format that doesn't interfere with the main plot, so it's ripe for an anime adaptation whenever it comes time for fillers. The best fillers in the anime have been their one-off comedy episodes, and this series is packed full of just that. Plus it would give some actual screen time to the likes of Neji and Lee, much to the appreciation of their fans. And with the way the anime has recently had a tendency to have Naruto act completely out of character when it comes to filler, it'd be a refreshing change of pace to put the spotlight on secondary characters like Lee and avoid further misuse of Naruto's character.

This is a really fun series, though like I said before, you'll probably have to already be a Naruto fan to truly appreciate it. But even if you're not, there's still plenty of humor here that doesn't rely on knowledge of the original source. So if you're a fan of that wacky Looney Tunes style of humor, then you may well be able to find enjoyment out of this manga should you give it a shot.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Another Earth (BEDA 26)

I was pleased to find that our theater was showing Another Earth this week. I went into this movie not knowing much about it, just that it was supposed to be a drama with some sci-fi elements to it. And, really, that's exactly what it is. Our planet has come into contact with another, identical planet. And just as our world stops to take in this breaking news, Rhoda Williams' world is about to be wrecked.

This is the story about a bright young girl who, while drinking and driving, crashes into another car, killing the wife and child of a composer, John Burroughs. After serving a four year sentence, the girl is left with nothing else but to try and cope with what she's done. And so she eventually decides to seeks out the man who's family she took from him. What results is a gripping experience that swiftly snatches your attention and never lets go. This story keeps you wanting to learn more, and you truly become invested in the outcome that our characters will ultimately have to face.

I feel like I have so much to say about this movie, yet I find myself having trouble coming up with the proper words. It's one of those movies where I don't want to say too much, because part of the brilliance of this film really comes from watching the fascinating ways the events in this story unfold. Driving home this fascination are a few key scenes that I can really only describe as strange. At first, these scenes seem almost out of place. Yet they play out in such a natural way that really compliments the themes and gives this movie a more human feel.

Technically speaking, the beginning is a little shaky. The handheld filmmaking takes a little getting used to, and some of the editing initially feels a bit choppy. However, as the narrative plays out, these issues cease to persist. The pacing in this movie is flawless, keeping you thoroughly engaged from start to finish, with never a dull moment. And at times the movie works as somewhat of a silent film, and the musical score accompanying these scenes do a tremendous job of setting the mood just right.

The sci-fi elements play as more of a backdrop, with little bits and pieces of it gradually interwoven as the story progresses. But just like the main plot, the more we learn about this second Earth, the more interesting things become. And by the end, this is a movie that really leaves you thinking. About what? Well, like I said, I don't wanna give away too much. Just know that it's an intriguing story with excellent performances by its leads, and it deals with its themes in a respectable manner. It's a smaller movie, though, so it only got a limited release. However, if you get the chance, this is definitely one movie worth checking out.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kung Fu Panda Buffet (BEDA 25)

So my buddy in the Army, Derrick, came home today. And first thing first, just as he requested, we went to go eat some Chinese food. Our first stop was, fittingly enough, China First. However, as the place was completely packed, we decided to go elsewhere. So since it looked like Chinese was out, we decided to hit up the old euphoria (aka, the Popeyes on Thomasville, originally named due to the euphoric nature of having a Popeyes and a KFC right next to one another). However, once we made it to the old euphoria, we discovered that a new Chinese restaurant had opened up next door: The Panda Buffet.

We decided to give this place a try, but we never expected the fight we were in for just to get a good meal. As we entered, our waiter showed us to our table. Or, so we thought. He actually pulled us both aside and explained to us their dire situation. See, the Popeyes next door had challenged them to a Kung Fu Competition, and the waiter was especially worried, given Popeyes' history. Apparently Popeyes had shut down KFC after defeating them in a similar Kung Fu Competition not too long ago, and now they were looking to do the same to the Panda Buffet.

So the waiter asked us if we'd help out, and promised us a meal on the house if we did. Now, you might be wondering just why exactly they asked for our help specifically. And frankly, I'm curious to know the answer to that question myself. Too bad I didn't think to ask it at the time. But what I did ask was when the competition was supposed to take place, and the waiter informed us that it was at high noon. I took a look at my cellular pocket watch, and saw that noon was just minutes away. So I looked to Derrick. And he looked back. And with a confident nod, we agreed to help out in this challenge.

Once noon struck, the Popeyes representatives entered the building, and the waiters and waitresses moved all of the tables aside. Popeyes then introduced their champion, none other than the sailor man himself, Popeye! As he downed a can of spinach, I was ready to step up to the challenge, but Derrick held me back. He said to let him handle this. After all, he had just recently undergone some special training in the Army that made him the perfect candidate for this fight.

So the Panda Buffet rang their gong, and the Kung Fu Competition was under way. And really, I call this a Kung Fu Competition, yet there was little to no actual Kung Fu involved at all. Derrick used more of a street brawler style, while Popeye was moving around like a cartoon character. But despite all of Popeye's spinach enhanced efforts, he was no match for Derrick, who finished him off handily with his patented punt to the head.

So the Panda Buffet was victorious, and true to their word, they rewarded us with a free meal. However, as Popeyes picked up their champion and headed back to their own restaurant, Derrick stopped them at the door. He looked the hazy Popeye in his squinted eyes, and he offered the sailor man a handshake. Popeye accepted, and promised that this wouldn't be the last we saw of them.

And so we left, with the two restaurants striving to keep things running prosperously in order to maintain a friendly rivalry. Fried chicken and Chinese food, what a way to come back home to America!