Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Friday, November 21, 2014
Oh boy, where do I even begin with this movie? The latest Hunger Games movie may not have been nearly as rage-inducing as the previous one, quite the opposite in fact, as this one ended up leaving me giggling all throughout, though all for reasons that were entirely unintentional by the movie. This is a movie that falls into that ever infamous category of movie that's almost so bad that it's actually kinda good in a way. That's right, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is kinda, sorta, an awesomely bad movie!
Now here is a movie that tries so desperately to stir your emotions with scenes of horrific destruction, yet it's all just so forced in such a way that I couldn't help but quietly laugh to myself. For instance, no matter what Katniss says or does, it's almost always followed up by a hammy shot of Philip Seymour Hoffman bragging her up and throwing himself a personal little party, as if what she said or did was such a wow-inducing moment or something. And it doesn't matter what she does, he always has this proud little look on his face that just left me snickering.
And what's even more funny about all of these such scenes is that Katniss herself is just the absolute worst. I'm sorry, I know that Jennifer Lawrence can be a good actor, but my god is she awful in these Hunger Games flicks. Her acting is so forced and over the top it pulled me out of the movie on more than one occasion, and she's at her absolute worst anytime she's supposed to be trying to convey some sort of traumatic emotion. I don't even need to get into the ridiculousness of some of her character's actions in the movie itself, a better actor could've sold this material easily, but Lawrence really doesn't cut it at all in these films, and her performance is just laughable (whenever it's not cringe-inducing, that is).
But holy crap is this movie desperate to try and move you. Scenes such as Katniss randomly singing some stupid ass song that I guess is supposed to be motivating (which, by the way, is it even actually possible for someone without a tongue to whistle?!), or scenes where we're supposed to watch in awe as everyone stands up and gives that goofy little three fingered salute, just scream of desperation, begging for the audience to please feel something. But in reality, the only thing such scenes managed to move was my eyes to the back of my head.
In fact, to give you a real good example of the kind of emotion this movie was actually stirring with me, when we reached a scene in the movie after a city is attacked, Katniss points out at some fire behind her and literally utters the words that this brewing war is a "fire catching". And oh man, when this happened I could barely contain myself, and, well, this gif essentially summarizes my exact reaction to that scene and its subsequent replays:
The movie was also littered with a number of really strange consistency errors. Like, there's a scene where President Snow essentially says of the resistance, "No, don't call them criminals, call them radicals," which is then followed up not even five minutes later by him publicly and explicitly referring to them as criminals. Or later on, when trying to come up with some sort of resistance propaganda scheme, they decide to send Katniss out on the battlefield and emphasize that she shouldn't wear any makeup. Again, not even five minutes later, out she is on the battlefield, with a full face of makeup intact. It's like, how did nobody seriously catch so many such instances of this sort of obvious error?
But I dunno, perhaps that was just me being overly nitpicky, but man did this sorta thing stick out to me. But even so, by the end of it, I had a hard time really hating this movie, and actually kind of found myself enjoying the act of mocking it throughout. Though it should say a lot that my favorite scenes all involved an orange cat who happened to share a striking resemblance to Zeke from The Red Scarf. That said, a scene where they're playing with the cat, making it chase after a light, was honestly probably made all the funnier if only because this scene acted as a nice unintentional callback to the new Night at the Museum trailer that preceded the movie, which just so happened to include that exact same cat gag in it.
The fact that the movie's not too long also definitely works in its favor, as I'm not so sure I would be even nearly so favorable to it right now (if you can even call my reaction favorable) if I had to sit through another half hour or so of this nonsense. And like I said, maybe it's because I was expecting the worst, but this movie wasn't anywhere near as bad as Catching Fire (in fact, I've been pretty lucky enough to avoid seeing a single movie as bad as that one since), though it's still nowhere near as good as the first movie, either.
I know that mine isn't going to be a popular opinion in regards to this movie, but whatever. By this point you all already know whether or not you're going to see this thing, so you don't need my recommendation either way to sway your decision for you. But for me at least, all in all, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 was the most obnoxious, insincere, self-contradicting nonsense I've seen all year, and I can't wait for Part 2!
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Saturday, November 15, 2014
To hear Christopher Nolan speak on Inception, you'd think that the driving force of the movie was its emotion, while in reality, it's a pretty clinical and emotionally cold experience. The point, though, is that Nolan has clearly always strived to have genuine, stirring emotion in his films, even if he hasn't always succeeded in that regard. And now, with the release of his latest film, Interstellar, Nolan has finally achieved that long sought after aspiration of his.
Aspiration is a good word to describe Interstellar, because this is a film that aspires to a whole lot. It's a move that's almost three hours in length, yet doesn't waste a single minute. It's filled with ideas of space and exploration, as our main cast sets out in search of a new world to replace our own, after the Earth's natural resources have been expended, leaving the human race in imminent danger of extinction.
But in traveling through the stars to distant planets, this movie tackles a whole lot of science that I'm not even gonna pretend that I completely understood at first (though a second viewing did help clear up quite a bit of my confusion), and presents us with incredible ideas and overwhelming scenarios that make for an absolutely intense experience. (Seriously, between last year's Gravity and this year's Interstellar, these movies about space are going to give me a freaking heart attack.) And while this is probably Nolan's most ambitious film to date, which is saying a lot, above all else Interstellar is ultimately a movie driven by its emotional core, and winds up being one of the most heart wrenching tear jerkers of the whole year.
There's just so much that I love about this movie. The visuals are absolutely stunning, and images such as the massive waves on the water planet will take your breath away in awe. The movie's score by Hans Zimmer is just a thing of mesmerizing beauty, and will stay with you well after the fact. And when I saw this in IMAX, they actually pumped up the volume on the score as compared to the regular version of the movie. A lot of people are complaining about the loud score, but I personally loved this, as the increased sound and music made my body physically rumble right along with the action on the screen, making for all that more of an immersive experience.
And probably my favorite scene has gotta be the spinning spaceship scene. My god was that intense, it got my heart pumping good, and left me in a state of genuine fear for our heroes fates. Just, god damn, and then Inception had that scene with the spinning hallway, just what is it with Nolan and these epic spinning scenes in his movies? But hell, there were several moments after this scene where I seriously wondered how they were gonna get out of their latest predicament, but this movie never failed to completely surprise me.
Nolan's very technically sound and grounded, clinical style is very much on display this time around, with his mind-bending tendencies upped to a whole new level. But the difference this time around is that, where as his style usually makes for a colder viewing, with Interstellar, Nolan has interjected quite a bit of heart that makes for a far warmer undertaking. And really, the thing about this movie that keeps coming back to me as the thing that makes it really work as a whole is its underlying emotional core.
The story of Cooper and his daughter Murph will leave you a wreck, from the moment he has to leave, to all the times he just wants to find a way to get back home to her. The movie plays with time in such a crushing way that makes for scenes that'll leave you devastated when Cooper realizes just how much he's missing back at home. And one of the ideas that's really driven home here is that, beyond all of the science, the one thing in this universe that has the ability to transcend time and space itself is love. I think a lesser movie would have a hard time making this theme come across as anything but cheesy, but here, I actually think it not only works, but helps to strengthen the very science this film presents us with, for it is through following the love in their hearts that not only gravitates our heroes through this impossible journey, but so too gravitates us, the viewer, into this whole ordeal as well, and really leaves us invested in the whole outcome.
Some time back, I came across an article that theorized that Nolan was in the works of a big movie trilogy outside of his Dark Knight movies. The theory went that the first movie in this trilogy was The Prestige, which not only set up the premise of these films that would act as more spiritual successors than linearly connecting narratives, but also presented us with the core concept that would connect these movies. The Prestige, a movie about magic, gives us the three steps to presenting a trick, those being The Pledge, where the audience is presented with an ordinary object, The Turn, where the object is turned into something extraordinary, and The Prestige, where the object is brought back.
Looking at Nolan's last three non-Batman films with this in mind, The Prestige would act as The Pledge, in which Nolan, coming off of his first Batman film and the resulting newfound familiarity with him as a director, presents us with the basic groundings of just what exactly he is capable of as a director, truly introducing us to his style and take on the genre of science fiction. Then, looking at Inception as The Turn, here's a movie where he's fully been established, and has now set out to really get our brains working with the ultimate mind bending experience. Then, with Interstellar, Nolan has achieved The Prestige, in which he's pushed his magic to the limit and brought us back to reality, emitting a resonating emotional response from the audience to the journey's end.
Even if you were to look at this theory of a Nolan sci-fi trilogy chronologically, the three films also take place in such an order to do so as well, with The Prestige taking place in the past, Inception in a not too distant future, and Interstellar in a much farther, more apocalyptic future. But also keep in mind that Nolan is a director who really likes to cast the same actors from movie to movie, so much so that he straight up just used the entire cast of Inception for The Dark Knight Rises. And yet, for these three movies, each film utilizes an entirely new cast within its new time period and setting, with the only exception being Michael Caine, the supportive mentor figure who connectively acts as a guide between these films until he finally meets his own demise within the third act of this trilogy.
But I dunno, whether you want to look at the three movies as a collective trilogy or just enjoy them on their own, I suppose either way doesn't matter. I just think it's an interesting thought, and one that really shows just how much Nolan has matured as a director, and how he's progressed in various areas, for not only has his scope increased exponentially with each new film, but so too has his understanding for the human element, with Interstellar standing as his current pinnacle as a director.
And speaking of the human element, the cast here all does a great job really selling this material, with Matthew McConaughey's simple mild mannered style really helping to ease us in to all of the hard science here, and Bill Irwin's spot on comedy as the robot TARS adding a nice touch when things got too serious. And as much as Nolan gets ragged on for not being able to write women, I'd say that among his strongest characters this time around happen to be women, with Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Mackenzie Foy all impressing in their roles.
With stunning imagery, mesmerizing music, and intense ideas and scenarios that'll shake you to your core, Interstellar is a cinematic experience that deserves to be praised not only for its technical achievements and ambitions, but so too for its stirring emotional foundation. This movie starts with such simple beginnings and winds up exploring a whole universe of ideas and moments that'll just wow you, leaving you thinking for days on end, and closing out with a true, genuine feeling of completeness, having just experienced something truly vast, expansive, and grand.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Thursday, November 6, 2014
Much like the characters in the story itself, I initially shunned Naruto, mocking the series without giving it a real chance, just as the citizens of Konoha once shunned Naruto himself. I was only vaguely aware of its existence at the time (and probably at around the peak of its popularity in America), but from what I did know, I wrote it off as a silly, misguided series that had the oh so brilliant idea to make a supporting comic relief character its lead.
That's what I thought at the time, at least, but then one day while channel surfing, I happened upon a Naruto marathon that was airing on Cartoon Network, what they called the Naruto Hundo. And so I gave it a bit of a chance, and was initially hooked by its surprisingly catchy opening theme at the time, Haruka Kanata. Where I picked up, the anime was going through the Chunin Exams arc, specifically as they were getting ready for Naruto's big match against Neji. And, watching that fight, just as the other spectators in the show itself, I was extremely impressed by what I saw and was finally able to see Naruto for what it was, a series filled with intense action and heartfelt fun and emotion, and I've been hooked ever since.
It didn't take long for me to catch up with all of the anime at the time, which was just about to start the Sasuke and Sai arc in Shippuden. But unlike other anime that I've gotten into, I just couldn't get enough of this series. And so I actually picked up the manga as well, starting from where the anime left off and catching up to the latest chapter, which, at the time, was actually the chapter that was about to begin the much anticipated fight between Sasuke and Itachi. I've since gone back and read the entire manga from the beginning, and have kept up with it on a weekly basis for the past, what, eight years? Until today, where the series finally released its last, culminating chapter.
It's a strange feeling, knowing that the series is over. Though at the same time, the anime is still going on, and there's the upcoming movie that's supposed to bridge the gap between chapter 699 and the epilogue, not to mention all the rumored spin offs and mini series. But even so, with the main story itself completed, I suppose all there is left to do is to go back and reminisce a little on everything that's transpired over the years.
Certainly the series has had its ups and downs over the years. In fact, I've especially done a lot of complaining about the series in the later years, as the series did endure quite a noticeable decline in quality in its last arc, which felt more like an extended farewell tour that overstayed its welcome, only to rush things along at the end, leaving a whole lot left untold or unexplained as the series wrapped up.
For instance, where the hell was the Uchiha clan during the Kyuubi attack? It was their absence that lead to the distrust the citizens felt towards them, their resulting planned coup, and the inevitable Uchiha massacre that kick started Sasuke's entire story. But in the end, we never did learn of their whereabouts on that night, which seems like quite the glaring omission to leave out.
But that's just one of many unexplained mysteries, and I could go on with more, such as what inspired the Second Hokage Tobirama to invent what has gone down in history as being the most vile, evil jutsu in the series with edo tensei. But I do suppose that with other sources such as databooks and the aforementioned spin offs, the potential does remain for such mysteries to finally come to light. What's really bothersome, though, is the sheer amount of plot holes that remain littered throughout, many of which were created in some of the later chapters themselves.
I would say that, without question, where this series nosedived in quality can be traced back to every single thing related to the Sage of the Six Paths storyline. The main story, while not perfect, was pretty solid for the most part, until that whole Six Paths aspect interjected itself and really muddled things up. It resulted in prior themes being retconned with ideas such as the Child of Prophecy and inescapable fate through reincarnation, which retroactively changes the entire point of prior crucial moments, such as the very fight between Naruto and Neji that got me into the series in the first place. But not only that, a last minute twist that resulted in the "true" final villain being some chick named Kaguya came completely out of nowhere, forcing this brand new character onto us who had not once even been hinted at or built up throughout the series prior to this point, and who ultimately didn't even end up being much of a character at all but rather just another obstacle in the end anyways.
And with her introduction also came a twist involving Black Zetsu that not only introduced plot holes galore concerning what Zetsu actually were (they're apparently NOT Hashirama clones. Even though Tobirama and others explicitly sense Hashirama's cells and presence on Zetsu's being all throughout the story...), but it even retconned Black Zetsu's origin, despite his origin being explained and shown to us within the very same fight earlier on during Obito's flashback (which, by the way, still only really raised more questions that, in the end, remained unanswered).
But anyways, I feel like I went on a bit of a tangent there, but it just goes to show how frustrating the series had become in the end, with questionable writing, missed opportunities, redundancies, and inconsistencies abound, all leading to what can only be described as a rushed ending, with the big rematch between Naruto and Sasuke that had been hyped since the beginning of part 2 and all throughout only lasting a little more than five chapters. That, despite the previous three final villains taking 11 chapters (Kaguya), 22 chapters (Madara), and freaking 92 chapters (Obito) to deal with respectively. Mind you, the content of the Naruto and Sasuke fight itself was serviceable enough, however, its rushed pacing did impact its implied importance.
But I digress, and as I said, I can go on and on complaining about the direction the series took in the end and some of the more questionable decisions, but despite all this, I did stick with it all the way to the end, and it really is because, just like Naruto and Sakura's undying (and probably unhealthy) desire to chase after Sasuke and bring him back from the darkness, no matter how much reason this series may have had at times to keep me away, in the end I just couldn't, 'cause I just love this series so much.
I even joined Anbu, I love it so much.
For instance, much as I might complain about how Obito's backstory didn't explain anything, or how his character is a complete redundancy of Nagato's, I still found myself captivated by his motives, and the chapter when Tobi was finally unmasked and revealed to be Obito remains a series highlight, a true achievement of telling such a compellingly beautiful, dark, and tragic story through only pictures and no dialogue, and a moment so monumental that it actually broke the internet when the chapter released.
I still think he should've been the final villain.
Kishimoto just has a way of writing these complex villains and really showing us how they came to find themselves on these darker paths. You could argue that he was perhaps repetitive in this regard, as Naruto's way of dealing with these villains has ultimately been to learn of their past and find a way to convince them to change their ways (in part 1 through physically beating some sense into them and showing them his strength, in part 2, having proven his strength, by using that strength to show them his undying resolve and try to convince them through his words).
Yet even so, the twisted evolution of these characters was a fascinating thing to witness, and their ultimate redemption was almost always satisfying to see unfold. And going back to Obito, while, like the series as a whole, I may not have liked the direction his character ultimately took in the end, the journey there was certainly a compelling one, and one that mirrored our hero's journey at that.
Now I can talk all day about some of my favorite characters, such as Kakashi or Pain, but really, at its core, this story belongs to Naruto.
But mostly Naruto. The character who I had initially written off sure did win me over through the years. His story started as the ultimate underdog story, and wouldn't you know, even within his own manga there were characters who at one time spoke of him as someone you'd never see starring in their own comic book series or anything. But seeing this kid prove himself and earn the acknowledgement of the people was an emotional journey to take part on, filled with moments that still give me chills to this day.
It's one of those things where every new big step this kid took just made you think back to where he started, and all he had to endure in order to get there. And yeah, as is the recurring theme of this look back, things did start to unravel a bit near the end when he was seemingly being handed newer and newer power-ups on a silver platter. But prior to that point, it was just really remarkable seeing as his peers who used to shun him had gradually come to depend on and even look up to him. Myself included. He's just got that way about him, I guess.
I joked that the story is also about Sasuke at its core as well, and that rang especially true in these last several chapters, which were mostly from his point of view, as the series wrap up mostly pertained to his own redemption. But a lot of the driving force of the plot involves Naruto's rivalry with Sasuke and his desire to keep up with him, be it through strength, or in order to bring him back from the path of darkness.
In fact, prior to the Pain arc, you could say that most of part 2 was perhaps held down by placing so much importance on Naruto's pursuit of Sasuke. It's actually kind of funny, however, how even Kishimoto himself in a recent interview has acknowledged the issues with telling their story, as he even joked that his struggles to make their rivalry the center of the story ultimately lead many to believe that the two main character were just a couple of crazy psychopaths with the lengths they went to.
And the backstory involving the Uchiha is very much at the root of most of the plot, so much so that, at some points, Sasuke really did at times feel like he was the actual central character. In many ways, just as this story was about Naruto's journey to find acceptance from his peers and find a path to peace within the world, it was also about Sasuke's journey to reject those around him in his quest to find peace within himself. Kishi sure does love those parallels.
Unlike Naruto, I actually honestly really didn't like Sasuke through most of this story. I kinda found him to be a bit boring, particularly when compared to far more compelling villain characters such as Gaara, Orochimaru, and the various members of the Akatsuki. But he did have his moments here and there, with him at his most interesting probably being when he turned batshit insane during the Kage Summit arc. But in the end, as has been the case with most of the villains' redemptions, I actually found his turn around to be quite satisfying, and you could really feel the weight of his journey falling off of his shoulders.
I mentioned earlier how it was the fight between Naruto and Neji that really drew me into this story, and the fantastic and imaginative fights throughout certainly played a hand at keeping me hooked. I loved how the chakra system was broken down to a science in the beginning, with an explanation to how these various jutsu actually worked. And, again, while things did get dumbed down a bit near the end to where it became a contest of who had the most powerful jutsu, it wasn't always that way, and many times fights were won through wit and intellect as opposed to brute strength.
Tactics playing a major hand early on was such a refresher, and kept fights truly interesting. Not that some of the more power level based fights weren't any good, mind you, but let's just say that I didn't get into this series to see a bunch of clash of the titan monster mashes. This was a series about ninjas, and as such, tactics were this series' initial selling point.
But it wasn't always just about the techniques on display, but the story that was told during the fights that made one really invest in them. The more emotionally driven fights have a tendency to stand out for me personally, such as Naruto's various fights against the likes of Gaara, Sasuke, and Pain. But with such a wide cast of characters with such a wide variety of techniques, you were almost always guaranteed something interesting.
And speaking of the cast, this world is actually quite vast. Kishimoto introduced a lot in this world, many different lands with many different cultures, and many different characters throughout. There's a real underlying history to this world. And yeah, he might have struggled a bit with really exploring all of these various aspects he had introduced throughout the world, but the fact remains that there is a whole living, breathing world created here that's certainly worth taking the leap into and revisiting, with plenty left as of yet untrodden for potential future stories to come.
If you want to break it down between part 1 and part 2, I would say that part 1 is probably the better of the two. It's certainly the more overall solid, with part 2 being a lot more hit or miss, though I do prefer quite a number of the developments and fights and such that we got to see in part 2, so overall, it's a bit of a tossup I suppose. But as a whole, while it's not without its bumps along the way and it did sorta steer off the road near the end, I'd say that the series remains quite entertaining regardless, even if it did struggle with some of its bigger themes that it tried to address. As with the expanded world, Kishimoto was perhaps a bit too ambitious at times and tried to tackle more than he could realistically handle. But it wasn't all a miss, and he could definitely hit it out of the park at times.
But anyways, I've barely even scraped the surface with what I could discuss about this series (hell, I've barely even mentioned Sakura, or any of the female cast for that matter), but I kinda feel like I'm just rambling at this point, which I suppose should be a sign for me to maybe wrap up this little retrospective. Which brings us to the last chapter, which acted as an epilogue to the series in which we basically just briefly saw who shacked up with who, in addition to seeing Naruto finally achieving his goal of becoming Hokage. And, yeah, it was a bit lacking, maintaining the same rushed feeling as the rest of the ending until this point. I kinda woulda liked to have been able to spend more time and perhaps turned this epilogue into a little mini arc all its own to wrap things up, but alas. It was pretty cool to see them do the chapter in full color, and closing the manga with a mirror shot of the very first page of the first chapter was also a nice touch.
The chapter itself didn't quite give me an emotional punch on its own, so much as just the feeling in general that this is the end. And it's a feeling that's kinda been brewing more and more in the past couple weeks, ever since the end was announced, and getting hyped with news about The Last movie and such (which I am stupidly excited for, despite the fact that it's still probably at least another year away for us here in the States). And I know that this isn't entirely it for Naruto, as I'll still be keeping up with the anime, and as mentioned, they've apparently got more in store for us in the works. But I suppose that taking this look back on everything, from where we started to where we finally wound up, and the many years it took us to get there, finally looking up and seeing Naruto's face added to Mt. Hokage is a pretty incredible sight to finally behold.
It's rare that I get as invested in a series as I have with Naruto. This series has been a big part of my life for a number of years now, in which I've patiently awaited the next chapter on a weekly basis. But now the wait is over, and all there is left to do is go back and maybe re-read and revisit this story and this world once more. So, for being there through all those years, through all the bad and all the good, thank you, Naruto. It's been a hell of a journey.
Tuesday, November 4, 2014