Monday, December 29, 2014

My Top 5 Movies of 2014

That's right, it's that time of year again. But unlike years past, where I usually do a Top 10 Movies list, this year I'm only sticking to 5, and the reason behind that is as such. Unlike 2013, where we saw an endless wave of mediocre films, this year was actually filled with a whole lot of movies that I thought were genuinely quite good. The difference, however, is that the ones that were even better than good in years past had a tendency to really stand out and just wow me.

This year, though, I managed to come up with essentially a good solid Top 8 films that happened to strike a certain chord of excellence with me. But while there were certainly plenty of other really good movies beyond that, none of them were quite of the caliber where I really felt the need to make mention of and write about them.

So, there were lots of good movies this year, but few that were truly great in my eye, and right now, I'd like to focus on those that stood out above all else to me. But first, let's take a look at the three honorable mentions that would've rounded out that aforementioned solid Top 8 of mine:

Honorable Mentions:
John Wick
Only Lovers Left Alive

Great movies for sure, but they all just miss out on being among my Top 5 Movies of 2014.


Need For Speed

(Scott Waugh)

For me, Need For Speed was the little movie that could. By no means one of the best movies of the year on a technical level, but as the year progressed and I watched more and more movies that were "technically" better than this, it would slip lower and lower down my rankings, only for me to push it back up as time went on and I found myself forgetting about those "better" movies, while this stayed well in the forefront of my mind as one of the more memorably entertaining outings of the year. And hell, I'll be honest, when I originally drafted this list as a Top 10, it only came in at #7, but when I revised it to a Top 5, I couldn't help but push this one even further up the rankings, because more than any of my honorable mentions, I really wanted to drive home just how awesome I thought this movie was.

I did my post on the most underrated movies of the year last week, but while I didn't mention this one there, it could easily be considered a close second runner-up. This movie got hated on relentlessly upon release, which I really couldn't understand at all. From start to finish, this movie was a blast, and managed to out-fun those Fast and Furious flicks without resorting to getting nearly as cartoonishly over-the-top as they have become.

Not to say that this movie isn't over-the-top, it certainly is. But this is one of the most exhilaratingly fun car movies to come out in some time, utilizing only minimal CGI for its effects and filled with a cast who are all out to make this film as good a time for the viewer as they were clearly having making it.

I dunno, I suppose it took a while for serious critics to really warm up to and embrace those Fast and Furious movies, so who knows, perhaps in time people will be able to warm up to Need For Speed and appreciate it for what it is as well.
Original review.


The Raid 2

(Gareth Evans)

I really want to be able to say that The Raid 2 is The Dark Knight to The Raid's Batman Begins, but that doesn't quite work as, despite how similar to The Dark Knight that this sequel may feel, The Raid really had nothing at all in common with that first Batman flick. But alas, even so, where The Dark Knight really expanded upon the groundwork laid out in Begins and gave us a crime story that had this very big, important feel to it, The Raid 2 similarly moves on to even bigger and better aspirations than its much smaller in scale predecessor.

Bottom line, this movie is great. Where the first Raid is an action packed movie in a single setting on a single day, The Raid 2 expands the story over the course of years as one undercover cop looks to put a stop to the corruption plaguing all throughout his city. And yes, it, too, is filled from start to finish with the same remarkable level of action that the first movie had already well established, and then some.

Deadly prison brawls and exhausting car chases are only a handful of highlights that break up the wide variety of hand to hand and weapon based combat that make up this masterpiece of action cinema. And no matter how frenetic the action may get, the masterful cinematography captures every hard hit just as elegantly as its pulled back scenery shots, leaving you in awe at the gorgeously gritty images on the screen.

But in addition to its action, the story, too, is expanded upon in ways that truly elevate this series to a whole new level beyond the first. The Raid 2 ups the ante on everything laid out by the first movie, and is a must watch for any fan of action, as this truly is one of the greatest pure action movies ever conceived, and one that'll leave you exhausted by the end in the best way possible.


Edge of Tomorrow

(Doug Liman)

Edge of Tomorrow (or whatever the hell they're calling it these days) may well be the most surprisingly good movie of the whole year. This one just looked like it'd be a pretty generic sci-fi actioner from the previews, and I certainly didn't expect this to also be so chalk full of humor and one of the most cleverly written screenplays this year, but that's precisely what we got.

Many have called this the perfect video game movie with the way it plays out, and that certainly rings true, as we see our main character constantly respawn from the same starting point after he dies or fails his mission, and even rage quitting at one point in the film. And a lot of the humor comes just from some of the different ways that Cruise fails, such as mistiming his roll under a truck while Bill Paxton ridicules his dead corpse.

And Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt absolutely kill it here. Hell, thinking on it in hindsight, Cruise's character in the movie lives this day so many times, all while never really having time to actually rest at all, and the sheer mental fatigue that he displays as such is almost haunting. But Blunt is also quite great in her role, giving us one of the best performances of the whole year in the process. And the two have such great chemistry with one another, which really works to make this film all the more pleasing as a result.

The action's fun too, but while the action may be the star for something like The Raid 2, the clever writing and great characterization is what really transcends this movie to greatness, and makes it one of the best movies to release this year.


Guardians of the Galaxy

(James Gunn)

It's around this point that I realize that my list is made up of quite a bit of action and sci-fi, but what can I say, it was a great year for those genres. And Guardians of the Galaxy was definitely one of the best new entries into the genre of space opera that we've seen in a good long while at that.

I don't really know what else to say about this movie that I haven't already touched upon in depth before, maybe just to emphasize just how touching this movie can actually be, and how its emotional grounding, and the execution of that emotion through elements such as its use of music and tremendous characters, is really what makes this movie stand out as not just a great Marvel or comic book movie, but a genuinely great movie beyond all of that as well.

I love the characters, I love the music, I love the humor, the action, the setting, everything. Marvel took an extremely obscure property and not only created their best outing yet, but they also made such little known characters as Star Lord and Groot become instant fan favorites seemingly overnight with this movie's genuine level of excellence, and that's the real accomplishment here.
Original review.

And now, before we go on to my #1 pick, I'd like to switch gears a bit and take a look at my picks for the Top 5 Worst Movies of 2014. Just as last year, I really didn't see anything that I actually hated, meaning I don't have any real fun rants to write down, so I don't really see much point in making a full blown post out of the worst of the year on their own. So instead I'll just quickly run through them here, but first, some dishonorable mentions go to The Double, The Expendables 3, Laggies, The Purge: Anarchy, and Under the Skin.

My Top 5 Worst Movies of 2014:
#5 - The Monuments Men
#4 - Divergent
#3 - Dumb and Dumber To
#2 - Tusk
#1 - Brick Mansions

There they are, and really, the biggest thing I have against most of those is that they're just really, really freaking stupid. And not even entertainingly so, just mind numbingly, insultingly stupid. Except for Dumb and Dumber To though, oddly enough, which doesn't make the list due to its being dumb (duh), but rather, due to it being such a bizarrely and off-puttingly mean spirited movie, which is something the first one was not at all (and in fact, its stupid innocence probably contributes why it still holds up as a classic comedy to this day). But anyways, now that we've gotten the crap out of the way, onto my pick for the #1 Movie of 2014.



(Christopher Nolan)

Here is a movie that starts off with such small, simple beginnings, and gradually expands in scale to such an incredible degree by the end that it'll leave you mesmerized. As you're watching this movie, you can feel your mind expanding right along with it, until you get to the end, and you're left with a feeling inside that feels as big and infinite as space itself. Interstellar may well be the most epic movie I've ever seen, so much so that it makes me hesitant to use that word to describe any other movie after the fact.

And it's certainly the best paced epically lengthed movie, as its three hour running time fittingly flashes by in absolutely no time. I've sat through this movie three times in theaters so far, and each time I've picked up on so many little details that I missed before that make me just appreciate this movie's clever writing and incredible story arc all the more. The way this movie from the outset uses hard science as a means to explore such a fantastic idea is just fascinating, and the emotional journey that our characters find themselves on is one that'll tear straight at your heart.

This movie is filled with incredible performances from its outstanding ensemble, including surprise appearances that you'll only go on to appreciate more upon subsequent viewings, in which the bigger whole and their thematic importance starts to all come together and make more sense. And its beautiful score and stunning cinematography all contribute to this movie's overall success. This is Nolan's biggest, most ambitious movie to date, and he succeeds in areas where he's never quite been able to attain before in the way this movie will tug at your heart.

I've seen this movie three times, but where other epics may feel almost daunting just thinking about having to sit through them again, this movie is so absolutely phenomenal in every single regard that I could just relive it over and over. And I'm almost certainly going to see it again before it leaves theaters, and gladly so, as it has just recently opened up in our town's true IMAX theater, which is where this movie especially excels. Hell, by the time this thing leaves theaters, it may well have become my own personal Titanic with how many times I've gone to see it. But we'll see, I guess!
Original review.

So there it is, another year down, and another look back at my favorite movies from that year rounded up for you. Like I said, 2014 was a pretty good year, even if the ones I'd actually call great were a little fewer and farther between than usual. But the great ones were absolutely stellar, and definitely worth your time.

Monday, December 22, 2014

My Most Overrated and Underrated Movies of 2014

So as we approach the end of the year, I thought I'd take a look at a couple of movies that I feel have been either receiving far more praise than they deserve, or in other instances, far more disdain than is honestly warranted. Now, I'm well aware that this is all very objective, and my opinions here likely won't be very popular ones, but what else is new? So with that, let's first take a look at my pick for this year's most overrated movie.

Most Overrated Movie of 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I still really don't understand the high praise this movie receives. Many claim that it's the best of the Marvel releases to date, when in my opinion it's one of the worst. The action, while well choreographed, is extremely sloppily shot and edited, putting all of that awesome choreography to waste. In fact, not long after I saw this movie, The Raid 2 happened to be released, a movie that was filled to the brim with incredibly well shot action sequences, and I couldn't help but find myself thinking afterwards that The Winter Soldier directors, the Russo brothers, should probably take a look at that for an idea on how to properly shoot an action scene.

I know I keep harping on the action in this movie, and that there's more to the movie than just that. But I just can't get over how we got such incredibly creative action scenes in Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, only to wind up getting little more than merely a dull and uninspired shoot-em-up for our troubles in this go-around. But even beyond the action, where Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 also addressed and improved upon the other errors present in their predecessors, The Winter Soldier was a step backwards in comparison to The First Avenger in just about every other regard as well.

I dunno, this movie did nothing for me, and after loving the first Captain America and genuinely enjoying the Phase 2 Marvel flicks quite a bit up to this point, The Winter Soldier was quite possibly my most anticipated movie of the year. But it was a monumental let down, and one of the biggest disappointments I've ever sat through in a theater. But ask anyone else, and it's supposedly the best damn Marvel movie to date, which I just can't see myself personally. Sure, there's some occasional humor nicely sprinkled in here and there, and a handful of good character moments, but not nearly enough to even begin to save this flick from mediocrity.
Original review.

Runner-up: Under the Skin

Most Underrated Movie of 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction

And on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum, here was a movie that people seemed adamant to rally against from the outset, actual quality of the movie be damned. And the outrage towards this movie honestly feels pretty forced to me, as if people went into this movie wanting to hate it (and quite frankly, I feel the same in regards to the outrage directed towards the runner-up below as well). And I feel this way honestly because this movie has received so much more hatred than any of the other three, despite being clearly better than all of them in just about every single aspect.

Outside of its admittedly overlong running time (and in complete contrast to The Winter Soldier), Age of Extinction was a major improvement upon its predecessors, as literally every single other major flaw with the other Transformers movies is not only addressed, but is corrected upon in this particular entry as such. Gone is the cringe inducingly immature humor, and the majority of the film isn't spent with the human characters while the Transformers play second fiddle with more background roles. Here, there's more of an even split between the two, which is far more favorable. And the action scenes are not only filmed coherently, but they remain exciting throughout, as opposed to the bore that we had to slog through in prior installments.

This honestly had every element to make a good Transformers flick that fans have been asking for ever since the first one came out. And yet despite this, fans have actively detested this entry regardless, almost as if they felt obligated to do so. And, really, I just don't understand this mindset. I loathed the third movie, but even so, while I certainly went in with lowered expectations for this one, I still was willing to give it its own shot and judge it based on its own merits. And based on those merits, I came away seeing this as easily the best one yet, and I'm genuinely stumped as to how I'm among the major minority in that regard.

Was it a good movie? Technically, no. But on the contrary, this was just a dumb, fun, harmless action flick that actually responded to many of the major issues that hindered the first three movies, and by absolutely no means was this among the worst movies released this year, either.
Original review.

Runner-up: RoboCop

So there it is, for all of you to kindly disagree with me on! Those are my picks for this year's most overrated and underrated movies. Now keep in mind that neither of these movies are anything that'll be appearing in either my best or worst lists of the year, which I'll be tackling later on. But for the time being, let me know if you agree with my picks here, or if not, what your picks for the most overrated and underrated movies of the year would be.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

My issues with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies mirror the same ones I had with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Namely that its not much of a movie on its own, but rather an extended climax sequence to the previous, vastly superior movie. This last overly serious entry in The Hobbit series has had all of the fun sucked out of it, making for an exhausting experience to sit through, and just as it still makes no sense for The Deathly Hallows to have been broken up into two movies, this movie acts as absolute proof that there was no need for this series to be broken up into three.

The movie picks up precisely where the last one left off, opting to use what probably should've been The Desolation of Smaug's climax as a prologue for this movie instead, then proceeding from there as the world goes to war over who can be the greediest group of people. And my numbers are probably off, but this whole thing feels like there's about thirty minutes of set up to two straight hours of action scenes, and man does it get real tiring after a while.

Gone is the fun and whimsy of pretty much every other entry in these Hobbit and Rings flicks, this one is serious business from start to almost finish, before it ends on a real odd note with some misguided comedic nonsense at Bilbo's home in the end that felt so out of place. I seriously would've greatly preferred a more straight forward conclusion, as what we got was hardly what I could describe as anything even remotely satisfying.

But yeah, the humor, other than that odd choice of ending, well, let's just say there where the other Hobbit movies provided for quite a bit of good snark from me, the only opportunity I found here was a single line from Gandalf where he says, "I need a horse!" which I silently responded that they only sell dogs there, to which he, of course, then demanded one large enough to ride on. Yeah, I know that's a grasp, but that was about all the fun I could have with this thing.

Speaking of the actual Hobbit, however, unlike the other two films, he does feel like he plays a bit of a more crucial part throughout the whole thing, rather than just slipping in and out of it so much as with the other movies. But I think that might also have to do with the fact that pretty much every other scene he's not in is mostly just action. And man does the action just go on and on here. Hell, for a lot of the movie, I honestly felt like I was watching someone play the video game version of this flick, as that's how the action came across more often than not with its staging, and lacking any real weight or tension behind its mask of CGI abuse.

And since there is so much action taking over the vast majority of this movie, it leaves little time for much else, which means that character interactions and the like were sacrificed as such. For instance, where as the romance between Tauriel and Kili was probably my favorite aspect of the previous film, here it felt forced, like it didn't really fit in, and I found myself not caring much for it.

And when we start getting some pretty major character deaths near the end, I too found myself not really capable of feeling much for them, as this film on its own does nothing to make me care for them. Sure, perhaps that's what the other two films were for, and perhaps this problem wouldn't exist if you were to watch these movies all at once. But having not watched the other ones in about a year and going into this looking at it as a movie on its own merits, this is a movie that's removed of any form of emotional grounding and ultimately just left me feeling cold.

So yeah, this one really didn't do it for me. This was a pretty lacking conclusion to these Hobbit flicks, and one that really proved that there was absolutely no reason at all for them to be split into three movies. In the end, I still really enjoy The Desolation of Smaug on its own, but for the sake of The Hobbit series as a whole, they really would have been better served just sticking to one or two films, as this is just needlessly excessive.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ninja Kat Backtrack - A Look Inside Velcro: The Green Lion

And now this week will be the last of these Backtrack posts for the time being. This time around we're going to take a look inside the pages of book two of The Ninja Kat series, Velcro: The Green Lion. Just click on the image below to read the first two chapters, and hopefully you've enjoyed these looks back at the Ninja Kat!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ninja Kat Backtrack - Velcro: The Comic - Chapter 7

In the aftermath of the battle with Slash, what new traps are lying in wait now as the Ninja Kat pushes forward with their mission? Find out in this week's Ninja Kat Backtrack!

Velcro: The Comic - Chapter 7

Friday, November 21, 2014

Mocking the Mockingjay - Part 1!

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

Ninja Kat Backtrack - Velcro: The Comic - Chapter 6

In this week's Ninja Kat Backtrack, things take a bit of a darker turn as the Ninja Kat's battle against the mechanized hamster Slash grows intense!

Velcro: The Comic - Chapter 6

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

Ninja Kat Backtrack - Velcro: The Comic - Chapter 5

The Ninja Kat engages in combat with the mysterious mechanized hamster. Check out all of the action in this week's Ninja Kat Backtrack!

Velcro: The Comic - Chapter 5

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thank you, Naruto

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.

And Sasuke.

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

Ninja Kat Backtrack - Velcro: The Comic - Chapter 4

What secrets lie in the military prison known as The Web? Find out, as our heroes infiltrate within in this week's Ninja Kat Backtrack!

Velcro: The Comic - Chapter 4

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ninja Kat Backtrack - Velcro: The Comic - Chapter 3

The Ninja Kat forms a plan of attack alongside the hamsters, as they prepare to make their move against the Devil Corps, this week in our Ninja Kat Backtrack!

Velcro: The Comic - Chapter 3

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ninja Kat Backtrack - Velcro: The Comic - Chapter 1

This week we're going all the way back to the beginning with the first chapter of the official comic book adaptation of Velcro: The Ninja Kat. Check it out!

Velcro: The Comic - Chapter 1

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ninja Kat Backtrack - A Look Inside Velcro: The Ninja Kat

Hey hey, it's Tuesday, so that means we're going to dig back with our Ninja Kat Backtrack! First up, this week we're taking a look inside the pages of the first book in The Ninja Kat series, Velcro: The Ninja Kat. Just click on the image below to read the first two chapters. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie

So I've been following the Angry Video Game Nerd series and James Rolfe's videos on Cinemassacre for a number of years now, and have kept up with the production of this movie for the past several years as well. And, while there's still a number of problems here that don't all quite work, overall, I can't help but appreciate what they were able to accomplish with this movie.

The Nerd's most requested game review has been the notoriously bad E.T. for the Atari 2600. And, seeing as the story behind that game already provided quite the groundwork for an extensive story to be explored as well, what with the whole infamous production behind the game and subsequent supposed burial of all remaining cartridges in a landfill, they decided to base the movie around that, as the Nerd sets out to disprove the myth behind the burial in his quest to avoid having to review E.T.

James has mentioned in some of his past videos how he'd like to be the kind of filmmaker who makes movies that have a home-movie feel to them. And while this movie certainly has a much bigger budget than your typical home-movie (this was entirely fan-funded), in that regard I would consider this a success in terms of its production. However, in terms of its writing, I can't help but feel that the "home-movie" style only holds this thing back and keeps it from quite feeling like the legitimate movie they set out to make.

Oftentimes throughout, the movie will randomly break the fourth wall or add in spoof humor in a similar vain as something like Airplane or The Naked Gun. But the thing is, it's not nearly consistent enough in this regard throughout so that it feels natural, and as a result, such moments had a tendency to remove me from the movie whenever they would randomly sprout up. The most jarring example would be after the Nerd says a really bad one liner, which he then clarifies that he only said "for the trailer".

And then a number of key characters have some really shoddy writing behind them, such as our two main villains, who literally undergo a complete personality swap out of nowhere about halfway into the movie. And basically all of the female characters feel like they're written by a bunch of horny teenagers, which became really off putting really quickly.

Most of the acting was serviceable enough for what they were going for, but, again, I felt like the women weren't given their proper respect in terms of their direction. A key example would be the scene in which the character Mandi surrenders to the enemy, then immediately flicks them off in an over-the-top fashion, which felt forced to the point that it actually removed me from the film. And I can't really blame such moments on the actors, since they did seem decent enough throughout whenever they weren't directed to over-do their scenes, so I kinda gotta chalk that one up to questionable direction to go along with their questionable writing.

And I suppose I could go on with other issues I took with the movie, such as what I felt was a missed opportunity to be Kyle Justin's cameo during a scene when the Nerd busts out an old record player (the only reason I can see why they'd pass it up is that it was perhaps too obvious?), but honestly, when it comes down to it, I actually did like and appreciate this movie for the most part, so let's shift gears a bit and start discussing what this thing did right.

For one thing, the way this movie incorporated elements from the actual E.T. game was actually really neat, and only continued to prove more and more clever as the movie progressed. And for fans of the AVGN series, this movie has tons of references to some of James' other videos and more prolific game and movie reviews, with a Ninja Turtles III reference in particular standing out as a personal highlight for me.

Also, the movie also uses a lot of miniatures throughout for some of their bigger effects, which was a pretty commendable and charming effect I felt, and helped to give it that good kind of home-movie vibe that they were going for. And in addition to all of the Nerd references, it's also loaded with cameos from other internet stars and such who have been associated with the Nerd in the past (including, fresh off his awesome Guardians of the Galaxy cameo, another awesome appearance from Lloyd Kaufman!), which was nice to see.

Basically, this was a movie that was made with the help of the fans, for the fans. And overall, while I would consider the finished product to be a bit of a mixed bag, despite its major flaws, I have a hard time hating on it. It's just pretty cool to see all of their hard work on this project come together like this, especially after having followed along on it and keeping up to date with their progress over the years.

So if you're a fan of the series, then you should definitely check this out (which is now available on Vimeo On-Demand). Because if nothing else, there's a world of passion behind this movie that you can just feel throughout, and that passion bleeds through onto the screen all the way to the very end, when we're finally treated to that E.T. review that fans have been clamoring for for so long (and what a hell of a journey it was getting there!).

Thursday, September 4, 2014

In which Naruto remembers my birthday...

So yes, today's my birthday. But even so, I started it out normally enough, catching up on the internet and that sorta thing. And this week's new Naruto chapter also just so happened to be delayed until today, in which I was greeted by a most surprising birthday wish from the Fourth Hokage himself:

Thanks, Minato!

Heh, yeah, so I got a bit of a kick out of the timing of this release, and though it was an otherwise mediocre chapter, one panel in particular does happen to kinda stand out as a nice summary on my feelings as to the direction this once great manga has sadly taken.

Sakura understands.

But anyways, not only was the manga seemingly out to amuse me on this day, but the latest episode of Naruto Shippuden also managed to wow me. I've mentioned in previous Naruto posts how the anime has a tendency to make "special" episodes that really expand on the source material in incredible ways, with movie-quality animation to really enhance things, and today's episode just happened to be one of those instances.

We were treated to the fight between two of my favorite characters, Kakashi and Obito, which ultimately lead to Obito becoming the Juubi Jinchuuriki at the end. But where there wasn't much to speak of concerning their scuffle in the manga, the anime went all out, giving us a full out spectacle with amazingly fluid animation and the kind of moments of inspired creativity that keeps me invested in this series to this day. Obito using Kakashi's hand to aid his own jutsu while the two were locked up stands as an especially awesome moment in this episode that was filled with them.

I even didn't mind the interweaving of their childhood fight with the current fight, as it added an extra emotional weight to the ongoings and told a beautifully tragic story, especially near the end when the current Obito pulls the past Obito away from interlocking fingers in a show of respect after his defeat at the hands of Kakashi.

This episode was just a real treat, and just another example of how the anime really can at times improve on the manga when they actually set out to put a little effort into it. And considering just how terrible the manga will only continue to go from here, here's hoping that the anime can continue to somehow find a way to make such moments bearable. But for now, I did get a kick how, just as Obito has become Jinchuuriki, the anime is going right back to filler again with the introduction of Mecha Naruto!

Naruto beam!

Anyways though, needless to say, this was a pleasant little surprise from Naruto this week, after a good long while of this series really doing a whole lotta nothing for me. Good timing on their part!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Yesterday, my friend Chris Sanders challenged me to take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Here are the results:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

Recently, I've noticed a trend regarding my reactions to certain Disney movies as of late. Initially, I tend to rank them a little lower, perhaps allowing for their flaws to dictate my opinion on them a bit more than is fair. But then as they begin to really settle in, I find myself getting the urge to revisit them. And upon that revisit, I find that all of the emotional moments in those movies really start to hit home big time, in ways they didn't even touch on in that initial viewing. And it's then that these movies begin their gradual ascent up the rankings, until, before I know it, I've got another new favorite movie on my hands. This has happened with Tangled, it happened again with Frozen, and now it's currently happening with Guardians of the Galaxy as well.

The first time I saw this movie, I really did think it ranked somewhere more in the middle in comparison to the other Marvel flicks to date. But then I saw it again, and I was honestly left scratching my head as to where to place it at all. Certainly somewhere near the top, but I wasn't entirely sure. Because, while tonally this is certainly a Marvel movie, at the same time, it's very much its own beast, and is the most removed from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in many regards.

For one thing, I really can't even call Guardians a superhero movie at all. Quite frankly, it's a full blown space opera through and through, and honestly has more in common with the Star Wars franchise (fitting, seeing as Disney also owns that as well now) than it does with any other superhero movie I've seen. And unless we're willing to start referring to Jedi as superheroes, then I'm not willing to consider Guardians of the Galaxy to be a superhero movie.

But even more than that, genre issues aside, I think the one big, major aspect that sets this movie apart from the other Marvel movies is that one aspect that it also just so happens to share in common with its Disney side of things, and that one big aspect is the sheer emotional impact this movie leaves. Good as all the other Marvel movies may be, the one big thing they all lack is any form of stirring emotion. Sure, they make you laugh and they make you feel good, but more than that, Guardians of the Galaxy makes you really feel. This is a movie that'll hit you in the gut and come after your tears in many ways.

And this is actually probably the most shocking thing about Guardians of the Galaxy. Because I went into this fully expecting just a really fun, if perhaps emotionally shallow movie, as has typically been the case from Marvel to date. Hell, the trailers, amazing as they were (seriously, the trailers to this movie are among the best movie trailers I've ever seen. Simply brilliant stuff!), essentially sold this movie as such. But man, this movie will surprise you from the very first scene!

I keep talking about the emotional impact of this movie, but let's not also forget that aforementioned fun I've referred to. Because really, this movie is an absolute blast throughout. The writing is a bit more risque than we're typically used to, but it truly works, and all of the actors are great here, and really sell the hell out of this material.

Chris Pratt is believable in the lead role as Star-Lord, and does a tremendous job balancing his performance as a man who you can still take seriously despite the fact that he's a total goofball. And though Zoe Saldana is mostly the straight man of the group, even she has a number of really good comedic moments scattered about.

But then on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Lee Pace just goes over the top serious as the villain Ronan in a way that really just works as a nice contrast to all the bright fun happening around him. And a second viewing really helped my appreciation of his performance a lot, to where I think he may well be the most underrated thing going on, given the sheer amount of comments I've heard about how weak a villain this movie has. But give this one another look and see if Ronan doesn't stand out as actually one of the better and more memorable villains in these Marvel movies yet. (Certainly not Loki good, but will anything reach that level?)

And then you've got the surprises. Dave Bautista I honestly didn't expect much from at all, but man is he a hoot here! His character is so cleverly written, and his delivery and comedic timing are spot on, making him one of the most consistently hilarious characters in the whole thing. And Bradley Cooper's Rocket is obviously the fan favorite, and for good reason, because his voice work is quite frankly phenomenal. Seriously, if I didn't know that was Bradley Cooper, I would never have guessed it was him, because the guy is simply unrecognizable, completely disappearing into his role.

But in my opinion, the standout performance here belongs to none other than Vin Diesel as Groot, in what I believe to not only be Diesel's greatest performance in his career to date, but also the single most impressive acting performance I've seen in any movie this year so far. He has one line that he repeats throughout the movie. And yet even so, he is able to convey so much with only that one line. It's simply remarkable, and a true achievement for him as an actor.

So this movie was chock full of a ton of great performances, but in the end, the real star of this movie was the music. And in fact, that's another thing that's been a weak spot for Marvel movies, is that they all really lack any form of memorable tune. We all know the classic Superman and Batman themes, and even the Spider-Man theme tends to sticks with you after the movie. But can anyone really recall any sort of memorable theme from Iron Man? Captain America? Hell, The Avengers? Not really. I mean, the music in those movies is serviceable, and it works well enough while you're actually watching the thing. But once the movie's over? Yeah, let's just say that no one's humming the theme from Thor, whatever it may be.

And sure, in this movie, the actual score itself sorta suffers a similar fate. However, it's made up for in the way of an especially awesome soundtrack. The same classic music that did such a good job in selling this thing in the trailers plays a big role all throughout, as Star-Lord keeps his Awesome Mix Vol. 1 tape with him and cues it up at the most pristine of times.

The music selection and the way that it's incorporated is just brilliant, and really makes this movie resonate all the more. And I think that it's because the music is utilized in such a way that it actually plays a role in the movie itself, rather than merely accompanying it as would traditionally be the case, is what sets it apart here. I'm always a fan of when movies do this, such as how the score from Inception actively impacted the events of that movie, not to mention how music comes into play in musicals such as Tangled and Frozen mentioned above. And here, every track that we hear, the characters on screen hear as well, which then makes us able to connect with them that much more.

The soundtrack is so good, in fact, that it was a rare instance where I actually went out and bought the Awesome Mix Vol. 1 itself. And while I was driving down the road listening to it, the scenes that these songs accompany in the movie started playing out in my head. And once we got to a song that happened to accompany a particularly emotional scene, I found that just listening to the song was stirring that same emotion without me even watching the movie. And I know I've been using this word a lot here, but it was at about that point when it really hit me in just how brilliant the decision to incorporate these songs in the way that it does actually was, in a way that'll stay with you well after the movie's ended.

After I first saw the movie, I was left thinking it was good, and it was fun, but it really didn't do much to make it stand out among the pack. But, as you can well see by now, after giving this movie some time to really sink in, boy was I wrong in that initial assessment. Guardians of the Galaxy is an incredible movie. It may well be the best of the Marvel movies to date, and yet, after giving it quite a bit of consideration, I'm not even sure it's even comparable to any of them anyways.

This movie is its own beast. Sure, it may not be perfect, but it's loads of fun throughout, and I haven't even touched on the action scenes, which are a thrilling sight to behold, particularly near the end when the movie starts to get a video game vibe to it, like watching a live action Space Invaders.

But my appreciation of this movie has only grown, and if it's anything like those other Disney flicks I've mentioned, it will only continue to soar upon subsequent viewings. The movie poster for this thing has a tag line that cheekily says "You're welcome". Well, right now, I'd like to respond to that tag line with a very sincere, "Thank you."

Sunday, July 27, 2014


Okay, so yeah, the new Hercules was seriously fun as hell.

I had a feeling that this would be a pretty fun flick from the trailers alone, which saw The Rock comically screaming "I AM HERCULES!" in an over-the-top manner. In fact, the worst (or best?) instance of this was when a friend and I saw Noah earlier this year, in which this trailer acted as the lead in to our movie, and we were left in absolute hysterics during Noah's quiet opening, as the trailer for Hercules and that line in particular continued to linger fresh in mind. But the thing is, fun as the trailers looked, they don't even scratch the surface to just how much fun this movie actually is.

For one thing, without giving away too much, this movie actually gives a pretty different take on mythology behind the Hercules legend, and one that continues to be interesting all throughout. In fact, I was pretty surprised to find that almost the entirety of the footage from the trailers only makes up maybe the first five minutes of this thing. They really don't give away anything in the marketing, which makes for an especially pleasant experience, as you'll find you really aren't quite so sure what you've gotten yourself into relatively early on.

But what you've gotten yourself into, thankfully, turns out to be a blast from start to finish. The ever increasingly over-the-top action is simply awesome and exciting throughout, and in classic action movie fashion, our heroes spew out some absolutely epic one liners at every turn.

And I found I really enjoyed the cast of characters we come to follow, cliche as they may be at times. The Rock does his thing, and he's just as awesome as you'd expect, but who really steals the show here is Ian McShane, whose antics as he embraces his inevitable demise are simply a thing of glory. But in addition to the movie's fresh take on the title character that even pokes fun at other incarnations of the character at times, there are some nice twists and turns to the plot itself, even if it is relatively simple enough for the most part.

Simply put, I wasn't exactly in the best of moods going into this thing, but this movie was just what I needed to lift my spirits. This latest Hercules completely surpassed my every expectation of it, and if you're in the need for just an all around good, fun time at the movies, then I could not recommend this one highly enough.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Queen Elsa Compilation

So this is a thing that I've been up to lately. I decided to work on a little Elsa project, which I've been calling the Queen Elsa Compilation (or in some circles, merely The Elsa Project).

Basically, this all started up when I was talking to my Ninja Kat Helper, Nikki, at Hamacon about a month ago. We were talking about some of our favorite cosplayers we had seen at the con so far, and I brought up someone who was dressed as the absolute perfect Elsa from Frozen the day prior.

I then went on to say how at all the cons I've been to so far in the year, Elsas had been surprisingly relatively uncommon, with only one that I've seen making an appearance at each of them. But oh what an appearance it was, as time seemingly stood frozen in place as they stepped into the room, and my heart would skip a beat as, there she was! And all eyes would be drawn to her, as she commanded the attention of the con-goers around with her stunning presence. And really, that's been my experience with all of the best dressed Elsas I've come across so far.

So anyways, I mentioned something to Nikki along the lines of what if I were to take a picture with every Elsa I came across and post it online, like some sort of an internet meme or something. And she thought it was a great idea, urging me to go through with it. And so I have. And these are the results to date.

Now as I share these pictures with you, I'd also like to discuss the movie itself a little. I've come to really love Frozen quite a bit. I love it even more with each new viewing, and its inherent flaws seem to diminish that much more as well, to the point where, in their own little way, they actually sort of compliment the film as a whole.

This Elsa just couldn't take her eyes off me.

Frozen may well have come to the point where it's now my favorite Disney animated film to date. And even if it's debatable as to whether or not it's actually the best, it most certainly is the most important film to come out of the studio in its entire history. So many people say that this is a movie for little girls, but really, its message is so strong and so powerful, but more importantly, its universal. It's a message that speaks to people of all ages, of all genders. And just because it's being told in what's technically a Disney Princess film does nothing to diminish its powerful message.

But not only has Frozen become my favorite Disney animated film, but Elsa is also most certainly my favorite Disney Princess at that (though she technically becomes a Queen, but I assume she would still count, right?). I just find her and her struggle so relatable on so many levels, and there's such a compelling amount of psychological depth behind all of her trauma that shaped her into the person she would become. Not to mention that she's a total knockout (though I guess you technically couldn't call her hot!), and not just in looks, but her voice! No matter how many times I listen to "Let It Go", I still get chills. And I've especially come to appreciate "For The First Time In Forever", how timid and reserved she is in the original rendition, and how comparatively open and full of emotion she sings in the reprise.

It was around this point that I realized that I'm such a socially awkward penguin, I never know what to do with my free hand until well after it's too late...

It's things like that, as well as the cleverly well thought out, foreshadowed, and recurring lyrics that string throughout all of the songs that really make me love the movie more as a whole in subsequent viewings. And even the songs I initially didn't like I've come to appreciate for similar reasons, for what they bring to the whole. And yes, as I mentioned before, even if the movie is flawed at times, the fact that it's about the struggle of these very flawed and broken characters coming to grips with their deep, personal issues actually sort of compliments the film in its own charming way.

... though I did figure it out eventually.

And as much as I love the film, it's probably no wonder that I hate just how severe the backlash against it has become as it has risen in popularity. I dunno, I guess I just really can't even comprehend how so many people can claim that it's a legitimately bad movie, when most criticisms I've heard from its harshest viewers seems to ultimately boil down to the movie daring to be something different from the norm. The thing is, I can easily come up with a rebuttal against almost every critique against the movie from the crowd of active haters, I just kinda wish that I didn't have to, and I truly wonder if there would be so many openly rallying against it like they are if the movie hadn't become as insanely popular as it has.

But anyways, now that I've gotten my updated feelings on Frozen off my chest, going back to The Elsa Project, I did find it interesting how some people decided to change things up a bit as well. For instance, here's Rainbow Elsa:

Hipster Elsa:

And even King Elsa:

And there were also times when Anna got in on the action...

... though that didn't always end up with the best of results.

Or did it? ;)

But through all the fighting and bickering, we've all just gotta remember that, in the end, only true love can thaw a frozen heart.

So that's about it for the Queen Elsa Compilation for now. And no, I didn't quite manage to get a picture with every Elsa I came across, though for those that I missed, I guess I've gotta learn to just let it go. Until next time!