30 July 2012

Animorphs (1996-2001)

          Essential plot rundown:  My name is Jake.  I can't tell you my last name or where I live.  It's too dangerous.  The earth is being invaded.  Being invaded by parasitic aliens called Yeerks that crawl into your ear and take control of your brain, leaving you helpless.  But we fight.  We were given the ability to morph into any animal we touch by a dying Andalite prince.  We use this power to fight the Yeerks until the Andalite fleet can come.  But, until then, we are alone.

           And that is essentially how every book in the series starts:  The character introduces them self and describes the situation.  I started reading this series when I was in the 5th or 6th grade, but for some reason I stopped about halfway through.  Then last summer I had the desire to finish the series. So I bought the rest of the books off of eBay read the whole thing.  Despite being 25 years old and this series being aimed at elementary aged kids, I really enjoyed it.  I don't know how much of that enjoyment came from actually liking the books or from nostalgia.  

          The story is really good, but the writing isn't that great.  (But I don't know if that's because the author isn't that good or because I'm 15 years older than the intended audience).  For being a children's series, I was kind of surprised of the topics that are treated.  It covers war, morality, freedom, dehumanizing, necessary evil and other things.  In one book, one of the characters gets stranded with a Controller (a human being controlled by a Yeerk).  Here, we get to see the point of view of the "enemy" and get to understand the motives of some, but not all, of the Yeerks.  In another book, another character must decide between protecting his family and saving the entire human race.  There are just a lot of deep issues that are treated here.  But, like I said before, the writing isn't very good.  A lot of things are unnecessarily repeated throughout the series.  And the author describes things the same way all the time.  So, some parts got repetitive and I ended skimming over those.

          The characters are not too complicated.  Each one has his or her personality (Jake is the leader, Marco is the funny guy) and his or her challenges they must face (Rachel gets too involved in the war, Ax is completely alone on an alien planet).  But, because there are multiple characters this simplicity works out, with the characters providing checks and balances to each other.  They often argue on different subjects, creating some drama.  (The good kind of drama, not the high school kind).

          There are about 60 books in the series.  And about half of them contribute to the overall story by either adding new characters or developing those that are already there.  The other half are just "missions" that the group goes on in order to stop one Yeerk scheme or another, but add nothing of significance to the story.

          Now, I'm going to talk about how the series end.  So, if you care there will be spoilers ahead.  If you don't, thats cool too.  *Spoilers*  I had mixed feelings about how the series ended.  And there were a few loose ends that could have easily been fixed.  Let's start with those.  Towards the end, Jake's family gets infested by the Yeerks.  We know nothing of their fate until the last book, where they are briefly mentioned as having Jake living with them.  The whole time I was wondering if they were dead or what happened to them.  I really wanted a scene where Jake rescues his parents and they ask about Tom and Rachel.  (More about that in a moment).  That could have easily been a powerful scene that hearkens back to the series' themes of war and family.  But, no, we get nothing.

          I also wanted to know what happened to Loren, Tobias' mother.  She supposedly left him when he was a kid but they are reunited at the end.  After the war, Tobias disappears and goes into solitude.  The whole time I wanted to know what happened to his mother.  Does she go looking for him?  Does she know where he is at?  And what about Marco's stepmom?  What happened to her?

          Also, about a thousand Taxxons defect and want to help the Animorphs in exchange for refuge after the war.  After the war they get their refuge, but they don't do anything to really help.  I was expecting them to let the Animorphs on board the mother ship and then swarm it themselves.  But, no, they don't do anything until they get their asylum.

          But those are small things of little consequence.  However, there were a few things that really bothered me.  And apparently, how the series ended bothered a lot of people because the author, KA Applegate, wrote a LETTER explaining why she wrote it that why.  One complaint I had was what happened between Ax and Visser Three/One.  The Visser killed Ax's older brother, Elfangor, and Ax must avenge his death as part of their culture.  Ax and the Visser fight each other a couple of times throughout the series.  I was expecting this to foreshadow their final battle and Ax avenging his brother.  But, at the end, the Visser just gives up (which is totally out of character) and there is no dramatic fight.  Instead, the Visser is prosecuted as a war criminal.  I felt robbed.  I wanted Ax to avenger his brother.  At least fight him into submission, if not to the death.

          I also had mixed feelings about Rachel's death.  Jake sends Rachel (his cousin) to kill Tom (his brother who had been infested since the beginning).  Rachel ends up killing Tom and is badly injured.  She then demorphs, which heals her wounds, and then is killed with a single blow as she sits helplessly on the floor.  I have no problem with Rachel being killed.  It seemed inevitable with her character; she was ruthless and always wanting to fight.  That was a natural progression to the story.  I just didn't like how she went out: helpless.  I really wanted to see her go down fighting.

          And this happens within the first four chapters of the last book.  The first half of the book is essentially the bad guys surrendering and their trial and the second half is everyone dealing with the war and trying to move on.  It bothered me that the war was essentially over at the end of the second to last book.  I wanted to see the battle wage well into the last book, with a few chapters detailing what happened afterwards.  I felt that there was too much emphasis on where they ended up.  And it ends with a cliffhanger.  I was like NO!!  What happens next?  I want more!  The author gave reasons for this, but these are character that we grew to know and love over 60 books, she just can't end like that.  *End*

          But, overall, Animorphs was a really good series.  I'm glad that I finally got to finished it.  And as soon as I finished it, I kind of wanted to start over again.  I'm looking forward sharing these stories with my kids in the future.

     But that's just my opinion...

22 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

          Essential plot rundown:  Batman must protect Gotham City from Bane.  7 years ago, Nolan rebooted the Batman franchise with Batman Begins and by doing so, has influence the way superhero movies are made.  And now, we finally see his saga come to an end.  And was it worth the wait?  Yes, it was.

          TDKR was awesome.  If you haven't seen it, stop reading this and go see it now.  There are going to be spoilers intermittently spread out through this review.  So, if you care, wait til after you watch it to continue reading.

          The thing I was the most worried about going to see this was Catwoman.  I was nervous and disappointed when I heard that Anne Hathaway was cast in the role.  She totally did not seem like the right choice.  However, to my pleasant surprise, she worked pretty well.  I liked her in the role.  I also thought it was clever how they did the cat ears for her costume.  But, I did not think the role was necessary.  I didn't feel that having Catwoman in the movie added anything to it, other than a romantic interest for Batman.  (And, by the way, I did not buy their relationship at all; it felt forced).  I think the movie would have been the same with or without her.  One thing I didn't like about her was her fighting skills.  She's a burglar, not a fighter.  But, yet, she kicks butt through out the whole movie.  The whole time I was thinking Where did she learn to fight like that?  Some kind of explanation would have been nice.  Maybe I missed it, who knows.

          Bane was pretty badass.  I liked that he was chosen for the last film because his character was so different from the Joker.  By having a completely different type of villain, I felt that they didn't need to "live up" to Ledger's performance.  The only thing I thought was weird was his voice; he sounded like Sean Connery.  The voice didn't really seem to match up with that body.  It was jarring at first, but after a while I kind of accepted it.

          Dr. Crane (Scarecrow) is also in it, which I didn't like.  He has a small role, only appearing in one or two scenes but him being there felt forced.  I didn't see any reason why it had to be his character and not someone else.  I also didn't like his cameo in The Dark Knight.

          TDKR takes place 7 (or was it 8?) years after the events in The Dark Knight.  And during this time, Bruce Wayne has become a shut in and Batman has disappeared.  And I didn't understand why.  They said he was mourning Rachel Dawes.  He was also hurt, with a bad knee.  He uses a cane to get around and then finally gets some brace to help him walk.  There seemed to be a lot of emphasis on him being a cripple in the beginning that I thought it was going to be some important plot point in the future; I was expecting Bane to break the brace, and thus forcing Batman to fight handicapped.  But it is never spoken of again.  There's no real reason why that whole thing is in the movie.  I thought that there was a disconnect between the two movies, with Wayne being a crippled shut in.  I wanted a scene or something that took place between the two movies to connect them a little better.

          Also, how did Blake (JGL's character) know that Bruce Wayne was Batman.  He gave some kind of explanation but I didn't follow it.  And at the end of the movie, Blake finds the Bat-cave, setting him up to become Robin.  (Though I would be hugely surprised if they did make a movie with JGL as Robin).  But, Wayne Manor is donated and becomes a home for orphans.  But, doesn't the manor lead to the Bat-cave?  How is JGL suppose to be Robin with all of those kids above him?  And won't they eventually find the secret passages leading down?

          But all of those are just small complaints in the grand scope of things.  They didn't really affect the movie at all.  However, there were 2 things that greatly upset: Catwoman defeats Bane and Batman lives.

          Batman and Bane fight and Bane wins.  Then Batman comes back for a rematch and is surprised by Miranda Tate.  Then when Bane is about to finish him, Catwoman comes in and saves the day.  What?!?  NO!  This is their fight.  I paid good money to watch Bane and Batman fight to the death.  Not for Catwoman to come in and shoot Bane.  It was a little anti-climatic and disappointing.  Batman needed to redeem himself from their earlier fight.

          And I did not like that Bruce Wayne survived.  When Batman leaves with the bomb and sacrifices himself, it was a greatly emotional scene.  (Meaning I cried). Then they show the funeral and statue and all of this stuff, making it even worse.  But SURPRISE!!  They were just kidding.  He never died at all.  But escaped and is living happily ever after with Selina Kyle.  (And once again, I never bought their romance).  I felt like my emotions were toyed with.  And the  fact that he lived undermines his whole sacrifice.  Catwoman says that Batman has given Gotham everything.  He responds by saying that he hasn't yet.  And at the end he never does.  The whole ending felt empty without Batman's sacrifice. They played him as a martyr but he wasn't.  I personally think that him giving his life makes him that much more of a hero.  If I could change one thing about the movie, that would be it.

          But overall, it is a great movie.  I'm not sure which I like better: TDKR or The Dark Knight.  (While I liked Batman Begins, I didn't think it was an amazing piece of cinema like the other two).  The Dark Knight is darker, but TDKR is more emotional.  But, either way, Batman is the man.  Oh, and I saw it at the DBox, which was well worth the price.

     But that's just my opinion...

15 July 2012

Trailer Experiment

          So, I've been meaning to write this for a couple of months (before The Avengers came out) but I've been too lazy.  But, now that The Dark Knight Rises opens this weekend, I've finally forced myself to do this.

          A while ago, there was a question on Facebook asking which summer movie I was the most excited for.  And I answered The Dark Knight Rises.  But, after I answered that, I realized that I wasn't the most excited for TDKR, but rather The Avengers.  I answered TDKR because I was expecting it to be the better movie.  But, I was more excited to see The Avengers.  After a few moments of thinking, I realized why I was more excited to see The Avengers than TDKR.  It was because I hadn't seen any trailers for it.  But I had seen several trailers for The Avengers, making it look epic.

          Let me back up and explain why I hadn't seen any trailers for TDKR.  About a year ago, I read an ARTICLE complaining how trailers give too much away in the trailers.  The movie that was used as an example was Battle: Los Angeles.  There were a couple parts during the movie where something that would have normally been unexpected or startling wasn't because it was shown in the trailer.

          So, I decided to do a little experiment.  I was going to pick a movie and not watch any trailers for it and see if it changes my experience.  And this was when the hype for TDKR was beginning to start.  So, I decided to avoid all trailers and any other news concerning the movie.

          However, that proved harder than I anticipated.  I love movies and spend a good deal of my time learning about them.  Most of the videos I watch on YouTube are movie news.  So, it was a little hard to keep up on all the other movies while not learning too much about TDKR, though, whenever one of the videos started talking about it, I always hit the mute button.  So, as of right now, I know this much about TDKR:

  • Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway are playing Bane and Catwoman
  • I have seen pics of their costumes
  • I've heard that Bane's voice is incomprehensible (though I have not yet heard it)
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt is also in it (but I don't know who)
  • I have seen this poster

  • It will be Nolan's last one (and the rumors are Batman will die)
  • I've seen the clip where the football field collapses
  • And I saw my first TRAILER during The Avengers (though I closed my eyes and tried to cover my ears but it was too loud so I gave in)

          Now that I have listed all that I know, I don't think there is too much else I could know, unless there are other trailers that give more of the plot away.  It seems that my little experiment hasn't worked out as much as I had hoped.

          I'm not sure why I'm writing all of this.  I guess it just seemed like an interesting thing to try.  For me, trailers are the number one factor that decides whether I watch a movie or not.  So, seeing a movie sans trailer was a novel idea.  (Though I know a lot of people see movies without seeing a trailer).  I guess I'll have to try again, but this time with a movie that doesn't have as much hype as TDKR.  Maybe the Robocop remake?

     *author's edit (22 July 2012)

          So, I saw TDKR yesterday and it was awesome.  And today I decided to watch some of the other trailers to see what I had missed.  And I am really glad that I decided to do this little experiment.  Because there was a lot of plot left for me to discover.  I was lucky enough that the one trailer I did see gave little of the movie away.  So, when I went in to see it, I had no idea as to what to expect.  Everything was a surprise.  *Spoilers*  I had no idea that Bane takes over the city or that he hijacks that plane, etc etc.  *End*  It was really cool going into a huge movie like this with no expectations other than awesome.  This might become a new way of watching movies.

     But that's just my opinion...

12 July 2012

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

          Essential plot rundown:  A plane crashed man ends up on Dr. Moreau's island, where some crazy experiments are going down.  So, I recently watched The Island of Lost Souls and it made me want to watch this version, which I haven't seen in a long time.

          And this movie is quite a bit different.  The main difference is tone.  The Island of Lost Souls has your typical 30s feel to it; I wouldn't mind watching it with anyone.  The Island of Dr. Moreau, on the other, is really creepy and unsettling.  And this is one of the film's strengths and weaknesses.  The things that are happening on the island truly are creepy.  And that is made clear.  It really does have a creepy vibe.  And at some points, it was a little too much.  There were a few scenes that made me a little queasy inside.  But, I guess some people can handle more disturbedness than others.

          One of the things that really helps sell the atmosphere is the make-up.  The creature effects are amazing, thanks to none other than Stan Winston.  They look pretty convincing.  They also got some good actors to wear the makeup.  Daniel Rigney was awesome as Hyena.  I don't know if he did both the movements and the voice acting but both were really good.  There were, however, a few uses of CG animals and they looked horrible.  Practical animals: awesome.  CG animals: bad.

          I thought the other non animal actors did good as well.  Fairuza Balk is perfect in her role as Aissa.  She just has this look about her face that is unique and lends itself to her character.  But, I didn't quite understand David Thewlis' (Edward Douglas) and Val Kilmer's (Montgomery) characters.  Douglas is stranded on the island and immediately attacks Dr. Moreau.  Shouldn't you be nice to him?  He is the only way off this island, you know that right?  And Montgomery seems to have an agenda of his own, spoiling Douglas' and Moreau's plans.  Though, there is one piece of background information that works as a starting point for his motives, but it isn't enough to really explain everything.

          And there is this weird The Father and law thing going on.  I think they were maybe trying to make a point about religion and Christianity but I didn't understand it.  It just comes off as kind of harsh.

          Well, overall it's a good movie, though I would not recommend it to everyone.  It has good enough acting and story.  But the highlight is the animal effects.

     But that's just my opinion...

10 July 2012

Ted (2012) 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984) The Innkeepers (2011) Brave (2012)

          So I've seen 4 movies in the past 4 days and have been kind of busy, so I haven't had time to write about them.  And since I didn't have a lot to say about each one, I'll just briefly talk about them all in this one post.  Don't think of it as being lazy, but rather, think of it as saving paper.  I'll do them in the order that I saw them.

Ted (2012)

          Essential plot rundown:  A boy wishes his teddy bear to life.  I had restraints about seeing this.  The trailers made it look extremely crude and vulgar and I'm not a big fan of that kind of humor.  But, being a fan of Family Guy, I was interested to see Seth Macfarlane's first live action motion picture; so I went.

          And luckily for me, it wasn't as crude as I was expecting.  There are crude jokes and moments, but that was only about 15% of the humor.  (It wasn't as bad as other R-rated comedies I have seen).  The rest of the humor was Macfarlane's typical Family Guy stuff.  If you like family guy, you'll probably like Ted.  It was the same kind of humor, just bumped up to an R level.  So, I thought it was very funny.

          My only real complaint was the ending.  I didn't feel that any of the characters changed during the movie.  Unless I missed something, they seemed to be the same people in the same place as they were in the beginning.

2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)

          Essential plot rundown:  A group of astronauts are sent to Jupiter to figure out what happened in 2001: A Space Odyssey because no one knew what the hell happened.  Let's face it, 2001 made no sense.  So, it's a little nice to have some answers; however this movie only answers one question.

          And that question was why HAL malfunctioned, which is on the bottom of the list of things that need to be answered.  Everything else is left unexplained.  In fact, this movie leaves even more questions to be answered.  With 2001, I didn't know what was happening or why it was happening.  However, it kind of worked with the movie's non-traditional style.  With 2010, however, I know what is happening, just not why.  And it doesn't work for me; I wanted answers.

          One good thing about the movie is, in the beginning, there is a mission log thing and it basically summarizes everything that happened in 2001 for those that haven't, or don't want to, seen it.  2010 is more of a traditional movie than 2001.  And it is a half hour shorter but I also found it to be boringer.  (That is a word right?)

The Innkeepers (2011)

          Essential plot rundown:  Two people try to record evidence of a woman's ghost who was murdered in the hotel.  I heard from a friend that this was really scary.  So I decided to check it out.  I then decided to disagree.

          I did not think that this movie was scary out all.  It was just another mediocre haunted house film.  The script was kind of weird and the dialogue did not seem natural.  Also, I did not like the main actress; she gave off a vibe like she was a little kid.  Needless to say, I was not a fan.

Brave (2012)

          Essential plot rundown:  Merida doesn't want to get married.  That's all of an intro I have.

          I thought it was pretty good.  The visuals were good.  The story, while nothing too new, worked.  You do care for the characters and want them to find what they need.  There was a scene where the mother protects Merida, that chocked me up a little.  I guess I'm getting a little too sentimental in my old age.  The only thing that I didn't really like was some of the slapstick humor.  But, then again, the kids need to be entertained as well.  Oh, she also has to follow these blue things (see poster above) but they are so close together that there is no challenge.  She might have well been following a yellow brick road.

          So, overall, I would recommend Ted if you are a fan of Family Guy.  2010: The Year We Make Contact is really only worth watching if you're a fan of the first.  I didn't like The Innkeepers.  And Brave is definitely worth checking out.

     But that's just my opinion...

05 July 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

          Essential plot rundown:  Peter Parker gets bit by a spider and gets super powers and his parents did some stuff.  Before I start, I just want to say that "my" Spider-Man was the Spider-Man of 90s' cartoon; I have never read a comic.  And obviously I've seen the three Raimi/Maguire movies.  (But it's been a long time since I've seen any of those).  So, I'm not expert on Spider-Man canon.

          Let's start with the villain:  The Lizard.  He was actually pretty cool.  I was a little worried when I first saw the concept art for him.  I was use to him having a snout (is that what they are called on lizards?) and not a round head.  But I thought the design worked pretty well.  By removing the snout, it made him a little less monster and a little more human, making it easier to sympathize with him.  Though, I didn't believe his transformation from mild-mannered scientist to crazy villain; that wasn't developed as much as it should. But, one thing that did bother me was when he talked.  It never looked like his mouth matched what he was saying, like the sync was off.  But maybe it was because he didn't have any lips.  I was also a little unclear on why he would transform back to human.  It seemed like the compound would only last so long after injecting himself.  But there was one scene where he makes a comment about reptiles being threatened and it shows a scaly patch on his neck, making it seem that his transformation is similar to the Hulk's.  (But I think the reason is the former). He also starts talking to himself, which reminded me of the Green Goblin from the Raimi movie.  If there was an explanation for that, I missed it.  But, overall, I liked him as a villain.

          When I think of Spider-Man, I think of Mary Jane (love interest) and Jonah Jameson (trying to catch Spider-Man).  But, here, they are replaced with Gwen Stacy (love interest) and her dad Captain Stacy (trying to catch Spider-Man).  So, it was a little weird to see that replacement.  It was also weird to see Martin Sheen and Sally Field as his uncle and aunt.  It is always weird for me to see famous people I'm familiar with portraying already existing characters I'm familiar with.  This is my first Andrew Garfield movie, so I didn't have a problem there.  But, whenever I saw Martin Sheen on screen, I saw Martin Sheen, not Uncle Ben.  However, they both did a really good job, it just took me a while to get use to them.

          Another thing that was weird was the non-existant use of "With great power comes great responsibility".  That is an iconic line that is 100% associated with Spider-Man.  While Uncle Ben teaches the concept, he never words it like that.  Not having that line is like not having Spider-Man be a nerd. I wonder what the reason was for leaving it out.

          But, going back to Uncle Ben and Aunt may, there were some pretty dramatic scenes with them.  The scene where Uncle Ben gets shot is emotional.  You can really feel Peter Parker's pain.  There were also some strong scenes when Peter Parker would come home, all beat up after chasing crooks, and had to confront Aunt May.  You could totally tell that she was extremely worried and wanted to help.  It was hard on her.  I was not expecting those powerful scenes.

          In this movie, Spider-Man does not wrestle.  But I did like how they kept the wrestling aspect in and tied it to him becoming Spider-Man.  I also thought they did a good job of showing his transformation to Spider-Man.  He is a high school kid who is angry at losing his uncle.  And he acts like that.  While I did not believe Conners' change, I did buy Spider-Man's.

          I think I'll end with a couple of more things that bothered me.  The music:  it was too obvious.  If something dramatic was happening, the music was super dramatic.  If something scary was happening, the music was too scary.  It called attention to itself in ways that music shouldn't.  Spidey strength: he underestimates it too often.  I understand that he is a lot stronger now and has to get use to it but there are too many times that he breaks this or hurts that.  It was funny the first time or two, but then it just got repetitive. The lost shot of movie: too cheesy, especially in 3D.

          But overall it was a really good movie.  While Raimi's Spider-Man was kind of bubbly and childish, The Amazing Spider-Man is more mature and dramatic.  It is definitely worth watching.

     But that's just my opinion...