Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

J. J. Abrams' previous Star Trek film was the first time I ever actually enjoyed anything Star Trek, and it left me wanting more. However, after seeing his follow-up, Into Darkness, I think I'm pretty good for now. Don't get me wrong, the movie isn't bad. It's actually quite enjoyable. And yet, even as a non-fan of the series, I couldn't help but feel the movie relied far too heavily on referencing elements from the series' past rather than trying to come up with a whole new original story all its own.

We rejoin the cast from the previous movie as they chase after Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays a mysterious terrorist who's targeted the Starfleet. The movie is well acted all around, with everyone really settling nicely into their characters, with standouts including Zachary Quinto's Spock and Simon Pegg's Scotty, who's given a lot more to do this time around. And Benedict Cumberbatch is unsurprisingly great in this movie, as he has been in everything he's done to date. But great as the whole cast was, no one impressed more than Karl Urban. He had a handful of good lines in the first movie, but like Simon Pegg, he's given more to work with here, and dammit man, he completely steals the whole damn show in the process.

In addition to the cast, the real star of the movie are the thrilling action sequences. Whether it's ships crash landing on Earth, or Kirk and Cumberbatch zooming through space without any sound or musical accompaniment, or hell, Cumberbatch in general just basically owning everyone and everything in sight (because he's just that bad ass), the action in this movie is almost always a spectacle. That said, almost every single one also includes a convenient "just in time" last minute rescue of some sort, which did cheapen the tension a bit as the movie went along.

And speaking of cheap, that brings me to my biggest issue with the movie, that being its over-reliance on re-creating classic moments from the series' past. It just felt really cheap, and even having not actually watched the original Star Trek films, it got to the point where I couldn't help but feel like I had already seen this movie before. It very much lacked any sort of identity of its own, which is a bit of a shame, as I feel that was kind of the whole point of rebooting the series in the first place, wasn't it? To start anew do new things with the franchise? And speaking on the reboot, even elements from that movie are revisited here, as Kirk is demoted early on and has to prove himself to be a competent captain all over again. We've already seen this story before, so was it really necessary to do it again?

I also don't really understand the title of the movie, "Into Darkness", as the tone never really feels all that dark at all. The film as a whole generally maintains the exact same fun, light hearted tone as the first movie, and never really delves into any particularly dark places for too long. Now, lately, a lot of film franchises really have taken darker turns as they went along. The Dark Knight somehow made Nolan's Batman movies even darker than they had begun. Revenge of the Sith truly turned Star Wars to the dark side. And the Harry Potter movies had a nice gradual descent into darkness as those movies progressed as well. But here? Not so much.

It feels like false marketing in that regard, like they just wanted to cash in on this whole "darker is better" trend going on, but without actually following through with it. And yeah, Iron Man 3 essentially did the same thing with its marketing too, but it at least stopped with just the trailers. They didn't put their false advertisement in the title of the movie itself. But I digress, and this isn't even really an issue with the movie, so much as me just scratching my head as to why films feel the need to bill themselves as being all dark and gritty, even when they aren't in the slightest. And especially coming off of pure fun mega hits like The Avengers, do advertisers still think that people don't want to go to the movies just to see some good ol' fashion fun? In fact, it's probably to this movie's benefit that it maintains a fun, light hearted tone, as all of those cheap, cheesy moments would have been much harder to forgive if the movie also decided that it wanted to take itself too seriously on top of everything else.

But anyways, as I mentioned, it's a flawed and unoriginal movie, but it's still enjoyable nonetheless. The performances shine, and the action is fun, so as long as you're able to look past the fact that this movie is completely devoid of any form of imagination or original thought, then you'll likely have a decent enough time with it. That said, I'd prefer to see something new next time.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Top 5 Naruto Endings

About a year and a half ago I posted my picks for the Top 5 Naruto Openings. At the time I had also considered doing another list, this one focusing on my favorite Naruto endings, but I just didn't feel like there were enough that stood out enough to warrant going through the trouble. However, after being especially impressed by the latest new ending, I finally decided to give this one a go, and so I went back and took a look at all of the endings throughout the Naruto anime.

Where the openings almost always focus on what's currently happening in the anime, endings have a bit more leeway. They give the anime teams a chance to really experiment with different styles and not worry about the current happenings. Some will choose to focus on a specific character, such as Hinata or Sakura (who is obviously a favorite of the anime team, as every other ending seems to be focused on her), while several others like to take a look at the rivalry between Naruto and Sasuke from different angles. And then still others just try to make things fun and showcases the characters in situations we wouldn't normally see them in, such as a high school setting, or lying around on the beach or taking part in crazy dancing parties. A lot of the endings can be a bit blah, and I'll normally skip those every time after the first watch, but there are a few really strong ones that I'll sit through every time for various reasons, be it the images, music, or particular creativity on display.

There's twice as many endings in the series as there are openings, since endings change four times a year, where as openings only change twice, so rifling through them and narrowing it down did prove to be a bit tougher on these. I was a little surprised to see just how bad almost every single Part 1 ending was, save for the very first ending in the series, which itself was only good enough to get an honorable mention from me. Shippuden actually has quite a few really good ones, however, which left me with a couple more honorable nods in addition to the list, which actually consists solely of Shippuden endings. So anyways, first up, let's get those honorable mentions out of the way then move onto the main list:

Honorable Mentions:
Naruto Ending 1 - Wind
Naruto Shippuden Ending 14 - Utakata Hanabi
Naruto Shippuden Ending 15 - U Can Do It!

#5: Naruto Shippuden Ending 21 - Cascade

This is one of those Naruto and Sasuke ones I was talking about. This one seems to be inspired by the awesome OVA that came out a while ago which showcased the two's rivalry through the series, culminating in a fantasy battle we've yet to see between the two. This one does something similar, featuring awesome fight animation as the "camera" pans around the two engaged in a combat yet to take place. It then hints at the shift in power scale that's been happening in the series, for better or worse, with the seemingly Dragon Ball Z inspired powerups at the end before the two clash in an eruption of energy. The song's not the most memorable, but the fight animation is among the series' best, and makes this one stand out even against some of the fights in the actual anime itself.

#4: Naruto Shippuden Ending 19 - Place to Try

Another Naruto and Sasuke one, and now, looking things over, I notice that most of this list consists of this variety. I guess the anime just happened to hold up a particular level of quality when it came to endings focusing on these two. This one seems standard enough, really just looking back at their various encounters throughout the series, but backed by a rockin', fast paced track that really compliments the images (I especially love that awesome guitar opener). If this one had a weaker song I might not have chosen it, but the song choice was perfect, and elevates this up as one of the better in the series.

#3: Naruto Shippuden Ending 11 - It Was You (Omae Dattanda)

Where as the #5 pick was chosen mainly for the animation and the #4 was mainly for the song, here's where we finally see a mixture of the two coming into play together in my decision making. The music is among the catchiest that the series has ever had, and the imagery is some of the most series defining that the anime has produced yet. Yeah, a lot of this ending consists of fairly still images, but they're powerful ones nonetheless, and backed by a powerful track that makes this one of the best endings yet.

#2: Naruto Shippuden Ending 6 - Broken Youth

I love this one purely for its simplicity. Where the others might showcase certain characters or combat scenarios, this one instead chooses to tell us a quick little story. Naruto and Sasuke are portraying samurai-like characters with reputations following them, and as the two cross paths, they recognize one another. The tension builds as the two consider their plan of attack, only to decide against it and carry on at the last second. It's so simple, and yet so striking all the same, well cut together and played out. I actually kinda wish there were more like this, where they use the ending to try and tell us a short story rather than an amalgamation of images, but this one's pretty unique in this regard, which makes it stand out all the more for it.

#1: Naruto Shippuden Ending 25 - I Can Hear

Similar to how Newsong inspired me to sit down and take a look at Naruto's openings, this is the one that inspired this post. I was just thrilled by this ending when I first saw it, a feeling I haven't felt towards either an opening or an ending since the aforementioned Newsong and its dancing ninjas. There's just so much going on with this one, and I find it all fascinating. I feel that it's about trying to find your own path in life and not turning back, emphasized by Naruto acknowledging all his senseis pointing out their paths, only to turn away and walk his own. And when Shino initially turns away from his path, it shows to us the hesitation we may feel with the uncertainty of what lies ahead, but you've still just gotta go through with it, as shown when he finally makes up his mind and charges forward.

We see characters acting out in ways not normally seen, such as Shino's frantic rush, or Shikamaru and Choji getting in each other's faces, or the complete opposite as Lee and Neji calmly walk to their destination. And all the while, the series' ladies all lip sync to the song's engrish bits. I mentioned some of the catchy songs above, but I seriously think this may be the catchiest ending yet. It just has such a light hearted and youthful tone to it that you can't help but latch on to. So this one's got it all, and above all, this one is loads of fun without being too cheesy about it.

So there you have it then, my Top 5 Naruto Endings. I'm gonna keep up the Youtube videos for now, but if things are anything like they were when I posted the openings list, it won't be too long before Youtube pulls 'em down, so watch 'em while you can!

Edited May 11th: And Youtube's already pulled them. Still, though, look them up and check them out if you can!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My Guest Review of The Place Beyond The Pines at 3 Guys 1 Movie

So hey, I did a guest review for The Place Beyond The Pines over at the film site 3 Guys 1 Movie. When they approached me to do a guest spot, I was sitting there thinking of a movie to review for their site when suddenly it hit me: What better movie to review for 3 Guys 1 Movie than one that is itself 1 movie split into 3 very distinct parts? So check it out, and see what all else those guys got going on while you're there.

The Place Beyond The Pines

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Iron Man 3

So, is Iron Man 3 the best Iron Man yet? I think so! Now I was a bit skeptical going in, particularly after trailers started showcasing the multiple Iron Men scenario, which brought back bad memories of the travesty that was Iron Man 2. However, director Shane Black takes this movie in an entirely different rout, elevating this series pretty much on par with last year's The Avengers.

As it would turn out, the multiple suits wasn't the only deception played on us by trailers. The previews going in would lead us to believe that this was going to be a much darker, grittier Iron Man, but that really couldn't be further from the case. This movie is an absolute blast from start to finish, and essentially acts out as a full blown action-comedy throughout its duration. And Robert Downey, Jr. is definitely on his A-game, giving us his best performance as Tony Stark to date. His delivery has always been spot-on, but he somehow manages to outdo himself this time around. His comedic timing and line delivery is just masterful, and he definitely makes the absolute most of the awesome material in which he has to work with.

And I can't stress enough how fantastic the writing in this thing is. There are so many twists and turns that you will not see coming at all, and are oh so totally satisfying to watch play out. Some characters might not be quite who you think they are, and on more than one occasion I found myself legitimately concerned for the fates of certain characters. This is a movie where it really felt like anything could happen, and that's something that's really been missing in a lot of movie as of late.

But where the movie really excelled for me was in its climactic action sequence, which is quite honestly the most creative action scene I have seen in a long, long long time. Prior to this scene, I certainly enjoyed the hell out of the movie, but wasn't sure I'd quite rate it higher than the first Iron Man movie. But once this thing got started, oh boy was I sold. I was truly impressed with the way they played with the multiple Iron Man concept, which, as I mentioned before, was one of my biggest concerns going in. But this scene was truly something else, something fresh, something I don't believe I've ever seen before, which is, again, something that is really missing in a lot of movies these days.

I mentioned before how RDJ brought the goods, but he wasn't alone in the acting department. Ben Kingsley was a blast, and Guy Pearce has finally given us an Iron Man villain truly worth basing a movie around. I wasn't too sure at first about going with a bit of a fantastical rout with his powers and all, given that the prior Iron Man films focused so much on technology over super-human abilities, but it was something that I was able to grow to accept, and it ultimately lead to probably the best and most memorable villain in these Avengers movies to date (after Loki, of course!).

This movie also introduces us to the Iron Patriot. Now, I was a bit confused by the decision to cast Don Cheadle as Norman Osborn, especially given that he was already playing a different character in War Machi... oh, wait, the Iron Patriot was War Machine? Ah. Gotcha. Well okay, nevermind then! But in any event, Don Cheadle was also on his game in this film, much more so than last time. But really, all I could think while watching him was that, somewhere, Terrence Howard is sitting back watching this and just thinking to himself:

In addition to the main cast, the side characters also left me very pleased. For instance, when Tony crash lands his Iron Man suit and is forced to break into someone's house to repair it, he meets a kid, who I was certain I was going to hate. But the dynamic between these two was just so wrongly awesome to watch, with Tony saying the most inappropriate things to the fullest comedic effect, and the kid carrying his own in return. And Pepper Potts has a really interesting development here as well, though some of those developments do honestly lead to a couple of fairly cheesy moments (but damn does Gwyneth Paltrow look hot in a sports bra!).

This is a movie where, despite Tony Stark being in a darker place in his life and trying to deal with the stresses of being a super hero, the movie still manages to remain light hearted and fun all around. And in that department, this movie is a total success. From start to finish, this movie is hilarious, creative, and unpredictable. Though, that said, while joking with my friend during the credits about what should be the after credits scene, I actually managed to totally call it, which made that scene so much funnier for us than it probably actually was. But yeah, definitely stick around after the credits for this one, and as if I have to even tell you, you really need to see Iron Man 3.