Sunday, August 2, 2015

Pixels - Adam Sandler is a miserable human being who shuffles around with bitter contempt for his audience and humanity as he stares helplessly out with the eyes of one who is already dead. One day this guy is going be found rotting in the back of a Grand Rapids strip club half-eaten by mice after a cocaine overdose and nobody should be surprised. Nor should you mourn him.

So should you be surprised that a Happy Madison production ripped-off from a third of an episode of "Futurama" sucks?  Not really.

Usually the most half-assed and pointless part of any modern movie are the stale, generic CG effects.  "Pixels" flips that script and creates a visual style that is entirely unique with lovable and exciting digital creatures that will wow audiences of all ages.  Then the movie casts Adam Sandler and pals in the lead roles, meaning that every aspect about the story, the comedy, and the characters will be lifeless and depressing.  So "Pixels" is a unique experience where I spent half the movie in pure agony, with my hands clenched white knuckle onto my theater arm rests and my eyes shut begging the higher powers of the universe that I only vaguely believe in to end my suffering, but then felt something that was almost like joy when Adam Sandler shut up and let the animators do their jobs.  No, this is a not a good movie.

That Adam Sandler stopped caring about anything roughly around the second act of "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" is not a new revelation.  Sandler has made his character from "Funny People" literal.  Hell, I already reviewed "Jack and Jill" which proved beyond all doubt that he cares nothing about anything.  And yet even though anybody who cared about film saw through Adam Sandler's thin veneer long ago, he still makes roughly twenty movies a year and almost all of them turn a profit.  I don't review Adam Sandler movies very often not only because his films are unwatchable on any level but also because his existence turns me into the worst kind of misanthropic asshole.  If you ever needed proof that ultimately the average theater goer does not care about quality, Adam Sandler is it.  He is one of their own:  aging, lazy, and irrationally proud of ignorance and mediocrity.  From there it is only a few short steps to deciding that all of Western civilization has failed.  That's how bad Sandler's movies are:  don't examine them too closely or else you'll find yourself in Montana writing manifestos while stocking up on ammunition, fertilizer, and underage child brides.

"Pixels" is probably the best Adam Sandler vehicle in years if only because at this point he has become too lazy to even be a proper lead anymore.  He stopped trying to devise wacky characters for him to play ever since "Jack and Jill", instead defaulting to basically playing a wish-fulfillment version of himself.  Sandler gave up on any attempt at arcs or development in his characters.  Slowly he has been having less and less screentime in his own movies to allow his entourage of charity-case comic actors like Kevin James* to take up the slack.  "Pixels" is about 20% Adam Sandler, 10% Kevin James, 30% Josh Gad, 20% Peter Dinklage, and 20% Q*bert - I listed them in ascending order of funniness, by the way.  But every character in this movie is horrible, and "Pixels" would have been better served as a short film of nothing but CG characters destroying the world (as it was before Happy Madison got their hands on it).  If there is any enjoyment to be found here, it is months later once "Pixels" is out on video, where you have a fast forward button to skip past the zombie-eyed comedians dishonest attempts at entertainment to watch the parts with actual spark and imagination.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Revenge of the Reboots Part 1: Terminator Genisys

Remakes, retreads, and rip-offs have been common in Hollywood for decades.  2015's summer film season is in no way special in this.  I have been writing this blog for five years now and trust me, these kinds of franchise reboots are nothing new, they have given me thousands of words worth of material.  Most of which I wrote in a very angry mood. Throughout the May to July period, something special happened, no less than three major reboots to classic SciFi franchises hit theaters.  This I feel, makes for a teachable moment.  One reboot was a piece of crap, one barely passed, and one was fucking awesome.  Let's use these three films to see what lessons we can draw.

Welcome to a trilogy of reviews I call "Revenge of the Reboots".

I imagine that the genesis* of "Terminator Genisys" went something like this:  Two screenwriters drove into Hollywood on the same day, each with their own script for a planned reboot of the 1980s James Cameron time travel action franchise, Terminator.  One screenwriter had this cooky plan of rehashing the plot of "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" just with Arnold Schwarzenegger raising Sarah Connor.  Another screenwriter had a completely different script imagining a reborn Skynet reappearing in 2015 using our iPhones as a new terrifying way to start Judgement Day.  Then these two screenwriters, both rushing to make their meeting with the execs, smashed their cars right into each other.  Both were tragically killed, most of their scripts were destroyed in the fire.  But the execs were able to salvage the situation, they simply took what pages survived of each document and paperclipped them together.  Then it was time to make a movie - a disjointed, confusing, riddled with plot holes movie.

Guess what?  "Terminator Genysis" is the piece of crap.  The Terminator franchise has been long suffering, with "Terminator Gynisis" marking the third attempt in the past twenty years to turn these movies into a bankable annual phenomenon.  "Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines" could only regurgitate "Terminator 2" only with less success.  And "Terminator Salvation" was the kind of movie so bad that if there was any justice in Hollywood, the word 'Terminator' should have been banned from film titles for a century.  Maybe our children's children would be able to undo our mistakes and atone for the sins of that travesty.  Yet here we are, just six years later, with yet another attempt.  And if the goal was simply to show that it is possible to make a Terminator movie better than "Salvation", they succeeded.  If they had any further goals, well... that's a shame.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight Harley Quinn DLC Review

This is a review of the Harley Quinn "story" DLC that I got along with my "Batman: Arkham Knight" pre-order.  The DLC actually seems interesting enough:  you play as Harley Quinn in a prequel to the main Arkham Knight storyline featuring her attack on Nightwing's city to rescue Poison Ivy.  That sounds fine. Harley is a great character even if her voice is mangled by an incompetent Tara Strong performance.  Her relationship with Poison Ivy is one of the most interesting and complicated ones in all of Gotham.  Plus Harley Quinn was apparently pregnant in "Arkham City" opening the door to all kinds of twists and emotional turns as she tries to get over the Joker.  Harley plays very differently from Batman:  she has no silent take-downs, but is more aggressive, faster, and can go berserker for one hit kills.  This should be great.

Instead this DLC is crap.  Allow me to give a summary of the entire thing:  Harley beats up some cops, then goes into a room to beat up more cops with guns, then goes into another room to beat up cops without guns, then goes into another room to beat up cops with guns, then goes go an elevator shaft, and finally beats up a few cops backed up by Nightwing, and rescues Ivy.  That's five fights total.  How long does that take?  Fifteen minutes.  Now I paid nothing for this DLC because it was a pre-order bonus, but somehow even after an investment of nothing, I still feel ripped-off.  This makes the worthless blue balls of "Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes" seem like a sixty hour JRPG like "Persona 3".  Just as soon you feel like you understand the difference between Harley Quinn and Batman's playstyles, the DLC is over.  This story mode is over so fast that I only ever got a chance to use one of Harley's gadgets, I do not even know what the other two do.

Okay, the game is lengthy in terms of Atari 2600 standards, but maybe the story makes it worth it?  Nope.  Harley Quinn's pregnancy storyline ends with no conclusion as Rocksteady decided to chicken out and retcon the pregnancy test you found in "Arkham City" as a false positive.  Harley as a character gets to do nothing but make some quips here and there, argue with the Penguin over her intercom, and talks with Poison Ivy for ten seconds before the DLC just ends abruptly.  Does any of this matter for the main story though?  Not even in the slightest!  Harley Quinn has barely anything to do in the main game.  Even after she beat Nightwing in a fair fight (which is pretty badass) Batman takes her her with a single punch, no boss fight.  I do not even think that the team behind this DLC even were in communication with the main Rocksteady team.  We're told Harley is trying to save Poison Ivy for the Scarecrow's plan.  Then in the main game, Poison Ivy wants nothing to do with Scarecrow's plan and does all she can to foil it!

So if this is the standard that Rocksteady is planning for the other DLC storylines to come, I'd say just save your money.  Sure Batgirl looks sexy in her upcoming story, but seriously think twice.  This is unacceptable for any price.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight - Almost the Ultimate Batman Game

There is only one superhero awesome enough to break the curse of licensed games, and that's Batman.  Screwing around in Lex Luthor's rings on the Nintendo 64 is for Superman, Batman on the other hand has been the star of one of the greatest video game franchises of modern gaming, the Arkham series.  That includes "Batman: Arkham City", one of my favorite experiences to come out of my old PlayStation 3.  Rocksteady has promised that this new game, "Batman: Arkham Knight" for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and the PC* will be their final Arkham game, an epic and exciting conclusion to their grand Batman saga.

...Now before you put too much stock into that claim, remember the loophole-friendly words Rocksteady used.  They said this would be the last Arkham game, not the last Batman game, or even the last game in this particular continuity.  The "Arkham" part of the title has been having less and less relevance to events since "Arkham Asylum", to the point that "Origins" and now "Knight" have nothing to do with Gotham City's most infamous H.P. Lovecraft-reference medical facility.  So really the next Batman game - and trust me, there will be more Batman games - will only have dropped an anachronism from their titles.  Yeah, the game opens saying "this is how the Batman dies", but if you actually believe that promise you're probably the same gullible sort who did not guess this game's twist identity reveal a whole year ago (spoilers).

So "Arkham Knight" may not be a grand ultimate conclusion to all things Batman, but at least it can still be a decent Batman story.  And while "Arkham City" was one of my favorite video games, even I can admit that Rocksteady still had a long innovative way to go before they could create the ultimate Batman game.  Most of that particular innovation in "Arkham Knight" has been focused around the new Batmobile which has proven to be a controversial choice.  Gotham City is still empty aside from criminals and supervillains, so the town does not feel alive other than as a playground to be a bad dude kicking ass.  Still Gotham has never been bigger or more beautiful, gameplay has never been more varied, and there are few games out there that can rival "Arkham Knight"'s storytelling sophistication.  This is a game that truly knows what being Batman is all about, and even if "Arkham Knight" cannot be the definitive Dark Knight experience, it is a good one.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Game of Thrones Season 5 Review

Note: This post would have come up yesterday or even Sunday if not for this little thing called "E3" that everybody seems to be going gaga about. Reaction to that is coming up at the end of this week, once I've seen everything. I'm not there this year (sad face) but I'm still following the streams, sorry for spamming your twitter.

I guess it was inevitable in some way that the season adapting "A Dance with Dragons", by far the worst book of George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series was going to be by far the worst season of HBO's smash hit "Game of Thrones"*.  "A Dance with Dragons" is not a very good book in my opinion, being full of unnecessary padding and leaving open far too many plot points to possibly justify itself. Where previous books of the series were in some ways stand-alone complete chapters, "A Dance with Dragons" is just a chunk of story that happens to be bound in a single volume, utterly useless without knowing what comes before or next. So when the show runners of "Game of Thrones", D. B. Weiss and David Benioff, decided that they were going to make huge changes to Season 5, I was pretty much behind it. Change away, I said, it cannot get any worse.

Guess what? It got worse. "A Dance with Dragons" is far from a good book, but it did have good qualities. It is amazing how much we have lost in order to condense things down. There is no Lady Stoneheart, nobody baked any Freys into pies, it seems the battle of Meereen is just not happening (not that it happened in the books either yet), so much of the tension of the Winterfell plothole is completely gone, Ser Barristan's most badass scenes are just not happening this time, etc. etc. Luckily though, even if you are not an avid book reader who obsessively devoured the first four books of the series in a single summer, "Game of Thrones" Season 5 is still impressively awful. Maybe you have never read a word of anything in your entire life, it doesn't change the fact this was still a disappointing and miserable season to watch.

In a lot of ways "Game of Thrones" has been too good to be true. GRRM has created a vast universe with memorable colorful characters, and the show runners have done a fantastic job translating them to the screen. Can you even imagine Tyrion Lannister without thinking of Peter Dinklage? How about the incredible work they've done with Ned, Varys, Davos, Arya, the Hound, Jaime, Tywin, even relatively minor characters like Balon Greyjoy? That one of the largest and most complicated fantasy series ever written has managed to make compelling television, even amazing television is truly an impressive achievement. Eventually their casting luck had to run out, so we ended up with the Sand Snakes. The pacing has been phenomenal, eventually that had to slow down as they ran into GRRM's slow middle portions of his story that ultimately go nowhere. So a solution needed to be found to keep the show interesting during an inevitable rough patch.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Persona Q: Fanservice of the Labyrinth

Hello again, Space Monkeys.  Sorry for long wait between posts.  Hopefully you'll enjoy this:

A few years ago Atlus released "Persona 3", taking their obscure hardcore occult RPG series Shin Megami Tensei out of the realm of the super nerds and into the mainstream realm of the regular nerds.  Then they released "Persona 4"*, an even more popular game that launched this series into super stardom.  The obvious thing to do at this point was pull out all the stops, double down, and sell out like a madman.  We had "Persona 4" fighting games, we had "Persona 4" animes, before this year is out we will have a crossdressing rhythm dance game on the Vita, and there was whatever the heck "Catherine" was supposed to be.  But can you do both?  Can we not have a shameless cash-in that is also a fairly decent JRPG in its own right?

Onto the subject for today.  "Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth" for the Nintendo 3DS is a shameless cash-in on the 3DS that is also a fairly decent JRPG on it's own right.  The plot here is that a magical time dimension opens up in a Japanese high school summoning two groups of teenaged Shadow-fighting heroes with the power to control Personas.  Now if you do not know what a 'Persona' or a 'Shadow' is, then "Persona Q" is not the game for you.  As a matter of fact, even if you have only played "Persona 3", this is not the game for you.  "Persona Q" is exclusively a fanservice romp for fans of both games.  And not just casual fans.  I am talking about the kind of fans that have subscribed to the subreddit, listen to a live album of the "Persona 4" battle themes every day, and are currently creating really creepy Deviant Art drawings of themselves and their selected underage video game waifus.

Story-wise, "Persona Q" is actually rather light until the final dungeon when events actually get real.  There is no grand save the world narrative, just characters you have met before chilling in one location.  There is no obvious villain, so the heroes take their sweet time defeating the four labyrinths that hold the four keys that are imprisoning them.  And really, what is the rush?   Everybody here are friends of each other or friends of the player, so why not have a party?  Basically this game is just a cast of some of the best characters in JRPGs letting their bubbly personalities bounce off each other.  I don't recall enjoying "Persona 3" altogether (my review is rather bitter upon my re-read) but I was pleasantly surprised at how happy I was to see Aigis, the cute doggie, and even Fuuka again.  If you are not getting those warm and fuzzies at the sight of your old Senpai in colorful chibi make-over, I really cannot sell this game to you.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Rant on Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works

Hey, long time no post.  Been busy.  Working on a novel.

I think it is official:  I am a masochist.  I must enjoy pain.  I like a feeling in my gut that whatever entertainment I am consuming is dicking me around and screwing with my head.  Otherwise there really can be no explanation as to why I continued to watch Studio ufotable's  "Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works" the kinda sequel to their "Fate/Zero", one of the best anime series of this decade.

Now this is not a review because I have not seen all of "F/SNUBW: Ridiculously Long Abbreviation" yet.  This a rant.  The difference is that with a review, I would have seen the entire show and come up with a final definitive opinion on it.  With a rant, I am just generally pissed off, am abandoning all reviewing structure, and will just jump into my point, willy-nilly.  The point I'm making is this:  "Unlimited Blade Works" sucks.  Technically "Fate/Zero" is the prequel to this, so that is the work you're supposed to experience second.  But that's not how I did it, because "Fate/Zero" was awesome and I never would be interested in this whole franchise otherwise.  As somebody coming from "Fate/Zero" - not somebody who has played the original hentai game this now-hentai-less show is based on - this has been an awful sequel.  I should have dumped this episodes ago and never written anything at all (I held myself back for a long time before this, too).  But here I am, still chugging along, trying my best to find a silver lining.

Here's some positives:  "Unlimited Blade Works" is probably the biggest blockbuster of an anime series ever released.  The anime is stellar across the board.  Any one screenshot from this show is cinema-quality.  Action-wise too "Unlimited Blade Works" is fantastic.  "Fate/Zero" is clearly blown out of the water in terms of fluidity of movement, expense in individual fight scenes, and definitely in background drawings, which are gorgeous beyond even Miyazaki at some points.  However "UBW" will never manage to surpass the final climatic fight of Kiritsugu vs. Kotomine (spoilers) from "Zero", which is currently a good candidate for being the greatest single fight scene in anime history.  Here's why:  no matter how much money you pour into your animation, you cannot replicate the emotions and build-up that "Zero" had to create that fight.  Because "UBW" just does not have those sorts of characters, does not have those emotions, and instead is mostly the tale of a high school dimwit and his bitchy girlfriend.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

April 2015 - Look Ahead(?)

Hey, it's April!  Have you met April?  She's a lovely month.  Young, full of hope, with bright green eyes, and ready for life.  Please treat her well, she's kind and confident, but also very innocent despite her proud ways.  Mistreatment of months is now a crime punishable by federal prosecutors.  I knew a guy who slapped July 2011 once, he won't be out of prison for another six years.  So be good to April, and she'll be good to you, and we won't have to get any Grand Juries involved.

Anyway, here are the movies and video games coming out in April 2015... I think:

Predator: Pilgrim Hunt (April 3rd) - So finally a fourth... or maybe sixth Predator film, the long-running 80s franchise dating all the way back to the hallowed muscled days of Schwarzenegger himself.  I was rather easy on Robert Rodriguez's previous film in the franchise, "Predators" but I am not really a big fan of just rebooting the franchise again.  Especially since this time, the Predators are not fighting modern action stars, but rather are going back to 1692 where they will be fighting Puritans at the Salem Witch Trials.  Somehow the idea of Michael Cera with a pitchfork is less of a serious threat than Schwarzenegger with a machine gun, you know?
--Chances to be Good:  40%.  "Alien vs. Predator" was silly enough but "The Scarlet Letter vs. Predator" is just too much.

The Astronaut Loner (April 3rd) - Well, here's your big arthouse movie of the month, this one from Lars von Trier.  Michael Cera stars as a cantankerous misanthropic astronaut in terrible old age make-up living seven million light years away from Earth, spending his days mostly refusing to answer his phone.  Stuck somewhere in the Horsehead Nebula, Astronaut Cera sits lonely, bitterly recounting to himself how he was cheated out of five dollars from the girl at Panera Bread.  Later he befriends a cute alien friend, and they get married.
--Chances to be Good:  10%.  Since this is von Trier you know explicit sex is going to happen, and probably some disturbing scenes of self-mutilation too.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Insurgent - Timid New World

"The Divergent Series: Insurgent" is not a movie any parent would be afraid of their teenager watching.  It is safe, inoffensive Young Adult entertainment, carefully managed to be as blandly competent as possible.  I cannot imagine the book series by Veronica Roth is all that more compelling.  The marketing around this title is "The Hunger Games" but with even less teeth, a gray harmless fiction, enjoyed mostly by kids who do not know any better.  God help the YA industry when these kids discover that Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, and Robert A. Heinlein exist.  We can only dream of the day that all of these baby's first SciFi novels and their film adaptations end up in the trash where they belong.

I did not even bother reviewing the first film in this series, "Divergent" when it came out last year.  I assumed that the movie would be turgid floppy mediocrity.  But I made another assumption:  that nobody else would care.  These days with advertising campaigns so heavily manufactured on social media, I do not know if people legitimately like the Divergent Series or if it is just inflated manipulation.  Certainly "Insurgent" has had the most intense marketing of the year so far.  You cannot escape this film even if you want to not care.  So last week I finally bothered to watch "Divergent 1" - which turned out be everything I expected:  competent but forgettable.  Let's discuss the sequel.

"Insurgent" takes place in a post-apocalyptic Chicago just up the road from "The Hunger Games"' PanAm.  This is Dystopian Society No. #3442*, where all of humanity is segmented into five different clans based upon their role.  No created universe is complete without long complicated world-building details that ultimately add very little depth to the overall simplistic plotline.  Each clan has an elaborate stylish name, such as the Amnity who are hippie Amish farmers or the Dauntless who are soldiers or the Candor who are scum-sucking lawyers.  Our heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley) is a former Abnegation, the boring gray bureaucrats, who changed her Job Class to Dauntless.  But ut-oh, she's actually a Divergent, the special magical Chosen One who does not fit into any of the categories.  So she is wanted by the evil Erudites, the wicked science class, who need her to open a McGuffin Box to complete their scheme to conquer the Factions, and naturally is also the only one who can stop their plans.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Frozen Fever - Do You Want to Build a Cash Cow?

A fevers is an immune response to an infection within the body, raising your temperature to burn out the disease and supercharge your immune system.  'Infection' is probably a good way of putting the deluge of "Frozen" media and the resulting pop culture obsession.  Every child in America has been brainwashed into loving this movie and watching it constantly on repeat on DVD (or whatever people use to watch movies now).  Even I am a victim in loving that movie for having great music, memorable characters, and an original perspective on Disney Princesses.  I am a slave to the magic of Elsa and Anna.*

"Frozen Fever" is the short film that Disney released with their live-action feature length, "Cinderella".  This is a short so profoundly awful that I am starting to wonder if maybe I should join the growing chorus of "Frozen" haters.  Do you remember those straight-to-VHS 90s sequels that Disney used to puke out, whoring their movies to the lowest and slimiest of cheap cash-ins?  This is that, but luckily only five minutes long.  Consider this on the same artistic level of "Cinderella III: A Twist in Time" - with heavy incest subtext.

The story this time is that it is Anna's eighteenth birthday and now that she is legal, Elsa is putting in way too much trouble to make her birthday special.  The plan is an elaborate "date" (their words, not mine) around town, following a red string of fate to various gifts, including a big sandwich.  Elsa puts in so much effort that she gives herself a fever and then acts very drunk and loose.  During a mediocre song the Snow Queen starts sneezing, creating little baby snowmen creatures, who mostly pop around and do nothing.  Then Anna takes Elsa to bed, gives her personal loving care, and they admit it was the best birthday ever.  Then begins the filthiest, loudest lesbian sex scene since "Blue is the Warmest Color".

"Frozen Fever" is forgettable.  This exists for no reason other than to blatantly reuse left-over models from the original.  A shot of Anna in bed with messy hair has been exactly copy-pasted from the 2013 movie.  It isn't funny, I forgot the song featured in this short almost instantly, it has nothing to add to the story.  Disney has made plenty of silly and lively "Toy Story" shorts, yet they failed entirely with this "Frozen" cash-in.  "Frozen Fever" is enough to make you worried about "Frozen 2", because it seems they have already run out of ideas for these characters and this universe.  Seriously guys, unless you're going for an NC-17 rating, you had one good movie, please do not spoil it.

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* I dare you, no double-dog dare you to make a joke about 'Letting it Go'.  Just try me.

Cinderella - Where Cynicism Goes to Die

Goddammit, Disney.

"Cinderella", the original 1950 animated film is as pure and beloved as a Golden Age Disney classic should be.  Attempting to remake that movie is hopeless, you are inevitably going to lose by comparison.  So is there any particular new twist one can put on the original fairy tale in order to do something new with the concept that has not been done before?  Well, if you want to be slightly more realistic and try to add more feminine agency into the story, you have the 1998 film "Ever After" starring Drew Barrymore.  If you want to make it spunky and comedic, there is the 2004 Anne Hathaway movie "Ella Enchanted".  If you're going to deconstruct the story you have "Into the Woods".  I guess that leaves only disturbing body horror, but unfortunately the Koreans have that covered too.*

Kenneth Branagh solves the artistic question of his new "Cinderella" movie by doing nothing new at all.  All the other moves in this live action fairy tale wave that we have been riding for about four years now have had some new idea going into them, be it ripping off Twilight for "Red Riding Hood" or giving the villain the title role for "Maleficent".  Branagh will not have that, he's going to have his ball, glass slippers and all.  He looks Walt Disney in the face, and says "yes, I am going to take you down, old mustachio'd rumored-to-be-antisemitic man.  I'm going to remake your movie on your terms, and I might even do it better.  Once more into the breach, dear friends!"

Therefore 2015's new "Cinderella" movie has no particular reason to exist.  It does not offer a new perspective, it has nothing new to say about the story that Walt did not already say, it cannot justify its existence in any way.  So it doesn't matter what this movie does, it has to suck by definition.  Yeah, the characters can be charming, the mood can be reverential and endearing, the pacing could be perfect, and the art style immaculate but I have to hate this movie because it says nothing and means nothing.  So I will go kicking and screaming into this review, gritting my teeth while I admit bitterly that "Cinderella" is a great movie.  Even though I hate the entire for it, the fact is that Branagh actually pulled it off, making the first truly memorable and great film of this year.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Super Smash Bros. 4 - Royalty Rumble

Once upon a time, fighting games were cruel, unforgiving titles only for the hardest of the hardcore gamer.  Games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Darksiders, and countless others were not mere entertainment:  they were battles to the digital death.  No nonsense, no tricks, just two players both at peak physical condition battling each other for glory.  These were games that required training under elderly sages in hidden Tibetan temples.  All so that you could master obscure combinations of buttons that might fire off a special attack.  Long hours of introspection under waterfalls to uncover the emotional discipline to pull off unbreakable combos would leave unprepared children feeling in tears from the arcade cabinets.

That all ended in 1999.  That year Nintendo unleashed a little party fighting game on the Nintendo 64, featuring cameos from its greatest and most profitable gaming series.  Mario, Link, Pikachu, Samus, and others battled in four-on-four matches in sprawling stages.  Special moves were pulled off with the ease of pressing B and a direction, making fighting games accessible to any newbie.  Rather than the deadly concentration of a black belt, "Super Smash Bros." rewarded luck, randomness, and cleverness.  The best player did not necessarily have to win, rather it was the one that grabbed the right item and could best manipulate the situation.  There were still plenty of frames to skip, physics exploits to learn, and combos.  But "Smash Bros." was above all the People's fighting game.

Super Smash Bros. has thrived and grown in popularity with each passing console generation, adding as many new fans as it adds characters to its roster.  The other fighting games now sit either growing more niche or more desperate for attention.  At this point the Smash Bros series is the only fighting series that really matters anymore.  So when a new game in the series comes out, it is not some small release, it is an epic event that tops out any new Nintendo console.  "Super Smash Bros. for Wii U" and "Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS" are two games with very long titles.  They are also the newest games in the Smash series, and thanks to their royal bloodlines, now rule the fighting game world by default.  But does heritage alone merit this domination?  Are they worthy of their throne?

(I'll save you the suspense:  Yes.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

CHAPPiE - Going Into Reruns

Neill Blomkamp's career is starting to fall on a very thin line between "unique personal style" and "just making the same stupid movie over and over again".  When his first film, the South African apartheid metaphor hiding within an alien SciFi film, "District 9" came out, his work was fresh and new.  His love of grungy shantytown backgrounds and practical-looking mechanic designs was fascinating.  Then he made the far dumber "Elysium"*, also about dirty brown slums and greasy machinery melees.  Blomkamp is now breaking exciting new ground with "CHAPPiE", a movie about a stark robotic creature fighting angry South Africans in a filthy favela.  I'm noticing a pattern here, I think.

But am I being fair right now by implying that Blomkamp can only make one kind of film?  Certainly I could not ask David Cronenberg to stop making movies fetishizing the corruption of the flesh and the thin line between life and death.  So if Blomkamp really cannot do anything more than rusting heavy metal action in dusty ruins, recreating the final fight scene from "District 9" three times now, does he get an excuse?  If his imagination cannot conjure up a better villain than a redneck with a serious temper problem, can I fault him for that?  Well, maybe I can.  Other directors would try branching out to new styles, to new genres, and new stories.  It doesn't look like Blomkamp is going to be leaving the Townships or greasy technopunk any time soon.

Maybe I would be more forgiving if Blomkamp were more consistent.  "CHAPPiE" is a difficult movie to actually rate as a whole.  It is hard to go wrong with a movie about a cute robot with the mind of a child learning about the world around him and overcoming angry soldiers with bad mullets.  Yet Blomkamp balances out that good with bland characters regurgitated from his previous films.  Not one human in this story is particularly likable.  Then there is a surprisingly bloated and weirdly complicated plot for what should be a straightforward film.  "CHAPPiE" is easily Blomkamp's messiest film in terms of construction, a tragically ironic flaw for a creator so in love with engineering.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

PAX East 2015 Catching Up

Okay, let's discuss the events of last weekend.

There are posts currently "in production" as we say in the biz when we're trying our best to fool readers in believing that we did not just spent a week relaxing and having an easy time after a nice weekend trip to Boston.  I assure that instead of writing I was not enjoying the Starz On Demand collection of James Bond movies.  Nope, it never is more fun to watch a terrible Roger Moore movie after an eight hour shift at work than to do something constructive.  I've been working desperately hard every single second.  Yup.

Anyway, the point of this post is that I'm back after PAX East 2015 and I figured I would share some of my experience and what games seemed like fun.  Originally I tried to do this this post as a Vlog with my new camera... but even I cannot stand to look at my face for twenty minutes.  (Especially when Daylight Savings Time kicked my ass this year and I have awful circles under my eye.)  So instead we're going to do things the old fashioned text way - and only a week late!

Since Wikia was so nice to send me out there, I had the opportunity to take part in two events.  First of all I was in an interview for "Witcher 3: Wild Hunt" on the main Twitch stage on Saturday.  That was interesting moment in my life since I happened to know very little about the Witcher series and was playing along the best I could.  The game does look awesome though, I was not in any way saying anything I did not believe.  Apparently I did a very good job, and I've received very positive feedback.  The other event was Quizards Live, a fan quiz where I competed against two other Wikia Admins and the audience to win fabulous prizes.  I came in second, because I could not remember the name of the goddamn time travel machine in the Assassin's Creed games, but if you want to watch here's the twitch stream.  There I won a new video card and a terabyte harddrive, both of which I'll put to good use creating more content for you good Space Monkey people.

Now continue reading for the rest of my PAX story:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Playing With Goomy

I recently came into control of a video camera. This is me testing it out with one of my PAX East 2015 purchases:  one of my favorite Pokemon from Gen VI, GOOMY!  ^_^

Enjoy:


A more serious PAX East reaction post along with our usually-scheduled programming will be up soon enough.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Pokemon Omega Ruby - Emerald is Still Better


I've been catching Pokemon and raising them to be my personal army of cute warriors for most of my life.  My name as a tamer of Pokemon has rung across six nations, brought fear into the hearts of gym leaders around the globe, and annoyed the hell out of many a Younger Joey who learned that his Rattata was not actually in the top percentage of Rattata.  Obviously therefore when a Pokemon adventure is offered, I jump at the chance.   Time to once again gather a team of six Pokemon, usually including Milotic and Gardevoir, and go out to conquer once again in the name of Blue, Pokemon Extraordinaire, a legend in his (or her) own time.

Late last year "Pokemon Omega Ruby" and "Alpha Sapphire" were released for the Nintendo 3DS.  I was sure to scoop up "Omega Ruby" at my first opportunity.  "Alpha Sapphire" was not played for the purpose of this review, but you can consider all comments on "Omega Ruby" to refer to that title as well.  I devoured the main campaign within a week - a leisurely pace for the Poke Maniac who once beat Pokemon Silver in two days during a trip to Orlando.  And immediately after completing the game along with the post-game coda storyline, I put "Omega Ruby" back in its case, and have not touched it since.  It sits proudly on my game shelf on top of a growing pile of quality 3DS video games, and yet, I cannot be bothered to ever play it again.  In fact, following my short run with "Omega Ruby", I went right on back to my long-delayed Nuzlocke campaign in "Emerald"*.

"Omega Ruby" is now the third Pokemon remake.  The previous remakes are "FireRed" and "LeafGreen" which remade Generation I, and "SoulSilver" and "HeartGold", a remake of Gen II**.  Those previous attempts managed to outshine their ancestor's entirely.  I have not played a GameBoy version of Pokemon since grammar school thanks to "FireRed".  "SoulSilver" remains one of the best Pokemon games ever made, rivaling the mighty "Pokemon X".  A video game remake, unlike remakes of films, are nearly always superior:  superior in graphics, superior in gameplay, and superior in amounts of content.  However in this review, we are discussing a game where that is not the case.  "Omega Ruby" is the first remake to not supplant its predecessors.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

March 2015 Look-Ahead

Wait, February is over?  Already?  That was strange, it only lasted four exact weeks.  Anyway, now that it is over, we have a new month, one that is called "March".  The Planet Blue court mystics and witchdoctors tell me that this month will see the end of winter, a day where night and day will be the same length, and a couple of weekends where most of the nation will be drunk to celebrate a foreign holy man who hated snakes.  There's also a rumor about the End of Days floating around here, but that's probably nothing.

For this blog's purposes, however, March will see new movies and video games!  So let's Look-Ahead as we always do.

"CHAPPiE" (March 6th) - Hey, a remake of "Short Circuit"!  ...You all know "Short Circuit" right?  ...It was a movie.  ...In the 80s.  ...There was a robot named Johnny 5 who came to life.  Whatever, you all need more culture, okay?  Anyway, "CHAPPiE" comes to us form Neill Blomkamp, the visionary who gave us "District 9" and the total hack that gave us "Oblivion" "Elysium".  It stars Blomkamp's favorite actor, Sharlto Cooper as Chappie, an emoticon-faced robot that comes to life and has to fight an angry Hugh Jackman.  Blomkamp is also obsessed with practical-looking greasy metal machines, and Chappie is obviously one of his creations.  This is a lot cuter than anything he has made before, so it is something of a gamble.
--Chances to be Good:  70%.  This is one of those movies where my honed swordsman instinct on movie quality has no real answer.  It could be brilliant, it could be "Oblivion".

"Unfinished Business" (March 6th) - I have no faith at all in Vince Vaughn at this stage in his career.  The more boozed-up washed-out middle aged failures he plays the less I am convinced this is an act, and the more he depresses me.  Luckily he is sharing the screen with a young Dave Franco, playing Mike Pancake, who actually seems to have some fun clueless energy.  Also there is a Tom Wilkinson for some reason.  The plot is that three businessmen must close a deal in Europe and everything goes wrong in the typical bawdy comedy way.
--Chances to be Good:  50%.  This actually does not look too bad.  Not really all that funny, but not that bad.  Nobody is screaming at least, so it is more tolerable than most comedy trailers.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Going to PAX East! And Other Business

So Space Monkeys, here's some assorted news. I will be attended PAX East in Boston next weekend as a guest of Wikia, those damn fine Americans and damn fine foreigners who took me along to E3 last June.  If you ever need to wiki or need to know arcane fanboy knowledge of anything, use a Wikia wiki.  Anyway, I will be a part of some events, probably nothing too fancy.  Might be on Internet TV for a moment, I'll have to share all that biz with you fine folks.  Kinda excited.  Gonna have to make reaction posts and stuff for you guys here.

If you're going and want to find me:  I'll be a human male wearing clothing.  That should narrow it down.

Other Business:
  • I really wanted to review the new Razzie Winner for Worst Picture of 2015, Kirk Cameron's "Saving Christmas".  However after trying every means both legal and highly illegal, I cannot find this movie anywhere.  Nothing.  I was even willing to pay real US-backed currency to see it, but no.  So the review will be delayed until I can find a source.  Though if I were Kirk Cameron, I would leave the film buried forever, so I can't blame him.  But it does ruin my plans, I was really excited about writing about a truly bad movie.  Oh well.
  • Today the new David Cronenberg movie "Maps to the Stars" was released in theaters.  I already saw it at the New York Film Festival last fall, so I don't have a review to write about it.  Instead I'll just repost (or first post, don't remember if I ever shared this here) my article about Cronenberg and his movie that was published on Criticwire.  This piece received such stellar acclaim as "I hope to god the author of this review ceases to write about movies." and "Has no one noticed the misspelling in the title of this article??"  "Maps to the Stars" is a great film, really worth your time, go see it - and read the article.
  • The Final Fantasy Wiki's LP of "Final Fantasy VII" will be wrapping in a few weeks after many criminal delays.  I'll be in the finale and was in about every other episode.  Our next project is going to be "Final Fantasy V", hosted by a man only known as "Hexedmagica".  I'll be taking part in that project as well.  If you find my voice as sexy as I do, please watch
  • I know months ago I said I would be changing the blog's name, I'm not doing that.  Five years of investment in one name is just too much to give up on.  Sorry if you were looking forward to a change.  Planet Blue will keep on turning, forever.  No matter what.  And nobody will ever stop us.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Kingsman - From Irreverence With Love

In 2012 Matthew Vaughn, fresh off of saving 20th Century Fox's biggest superhero cash cow with "X-Men First Class", was given his chance to make a sequel.  That film would be "X-Men: Days of Future Past", a huge time travel epic.   However, Vaughn, despite being offered a mountain of gold and several virgin concubines by Fox, decided not to make "Days of Future Past".  He was more inspired by an obscure comic book series called "The Secret Service", created by David Gibson and Mark Millar.  So what has Vaughn's gamble given us?  What kind of a movie was worth giving up the chance to direct Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence in a tight blue body suit?

Having seen "Kingsman: The Secret Service", I can say that Matthew Vaughn made the right choice.  Powers greater and more unfathomable than myself for some reason have declared that 2015 will be the year of cheesy 1960s espionage throw-backs.  After "Kingsman" will come "Spy", an ugly Melissa McCarthy parody that appears to be mostly fat jokes.  Then comes a film remake of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E", which was a TV series that your parents or grandparents might have seen, directed by Guy Ritchie.  And then in comes the granddaddy of all them, the new James Bond movie, "Spectre".  Everybody wants to put a modern spin on classic secret agent narratives.  But if your new wave spy film is aiming for cheesy un-serious action fun, you have already lost, because "Kingsman" has won that battle.

"Kingsman" has a simple kind of formula:  action, flash, more action, and sillier flash.  This is not a deep interpersonal character narrative.  Vaughn creates a nice tempo with just enough self-aware lightness to not be a biting satire, and just enough ridiculous action while not being a circus.  Veteran British actors such as Colin Farrell, the ever-awesome Mark Strong, and the ever-slumming Michael Caine mix well with the new-comers, Taron Egerton and Sophia Cookson.  This cast of good wholesome British Whiteness must fight a very hammy Samuel L. Jackson with a lisp who seems to be conjuring Steve Jobs by way of Spike Lee.  This is the sort of movie that room for a patently ridiculous role such as that.  Altogether "Kingsman" is an energetic piece of action fluff:  humorous, comfortable with it's own ideas of cool, and topped off with an irreverent wit.

Freelancin': Oscars Post-Show Rant

Well, it's just a day too late for this post to be relevant in any way, but whatever, here is the Post Show Oscar post.


My predictions were... wrong.  A lot wrong.  But that's not what I'm annoyed about.  This was not a good Oscars Show, and I do not have much good to say about.  I'm glad "Birdman" won, but otherwise, there were not many great moments to speak of.  This was a great Best Picture field, and there were many great nominees, 2014 still was a fantastic year for movies.  But goddamn was this show boring.  Really mad that Michael Keaton lost.  It really hurts when a slogging show needed a great spark like that.

For giggles, here are my (almost certainly wrong) Predictions for the 2016 Academy Awards Best Picture Nominees:

1. In the Heart of the Sea, Ron Howard movie about an 18th century boat sinking
2. Joy, David O. Russell ("American Gangster", "Silver Linings Playbook") with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, AGAIN
3. The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino movie, all you need to know
4. The Revenant, Inarritu Makes Western
5. The Sea of Trees, Gus Van Sant, McConahhey, suicide forest Japan
6. Brooklyn, Sundance favorite, Irish romantic comedy starring Saoirse Ronan
7. Untitled Speilberg Spy Thriller
8. Carol, Cate Blanchette and Rooney Mara are totes lesbians yo in the 1960s
9. Steve Jobs, biopic starring Michael Fassbender
10. Queen of the Desert, Werner Hertzog, he's overdue, critics will love it.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Planet Blue Rambling Shambling Oscar Post Pre-Show

As time continues it's inexorable slide forward towards our inevitable doom, we have once again arrived at the most important weekend of the movie-watching calendar:  Oscar Weekend.  Yes, it is the Academy Awards, the very sanctum of cinematic excellence, the highest honor any filmmaker can receive.  It is also an award show constantly mocked for irrelevance in the modern world, boring slow pace, and inability to ever pick either movies that matter to real people or the truly best movie of the year.

As always, I'm not having any of that cynicism.  Yes, winning Best Picture is probably the best way to make your film no longer matter and be completely forgotten in a year.  (Remember "The Artist"?  No?  Me neither.  Hell, do you even remember "Argo"?)  Sure, Academy voters are overwhelming White male old people who can easily be bought by Harvey Weinstein - and if you're a Republican, you know they all hate America and are communists and are Muslims and are gay.  But still, there is a reason the film media, myself included, are overwhelming fascinated by the Academy Awards.  Because it is a legitimate forum for great movies to be presented to a mass market that really would just rather watch a superhero film or something with Melissa McCarthy.  Compare to the Music Awards.  Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" is a miserable shallow excuse for Gospel, and yet it is the Song of the Year according to the Grammys.  You do not find that kind of selling out with the Academy.

However, this post is not to reinforce what we already know, it is the big Oscar Prediction post!  Last year I did the Oscar Prediction game and if you recall, was right about everything.  Then again, last year's show was probably the most easily-predictable Oscars of my lifetime, and the only surprise was Alfonso Cuaron winning Best Director for "Gravity" over Steve McQueen for "12 Years a Slave".  I was wrong that one time.  Can I beat that record in 2015?  No.  I can't.  This year is a much more difficult race, with two clear rival frontrunners battling for the Best Picture position, and several fantastic movies and performances dividing up the show.

Anyway, let us begin.  These are Blue Highwind's 2015 Oscar Predictions:

Monday, February 16, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey - Gray is the Blandest Color

There are not many rules that I follow here on this blog.  I will willingly review anything as long as it is a legitimate artistic product.  And not made by Adam Sandler.  But one rule I do keep is this:  never review porn.  I've had great times with porn, do not get me wrong.  Porn is great.  But porn does not exist to tell a story, it exists to make its audience cum.  I might as well review a vibrator.  It is a product, not art.  That puts me in an extremely awkward position with "Fifty Shades of Grey", the first attempt at mainstream pornography since "Showgirls".  But this is the biggest release (pun halfway intended) of February, so really I have no choice.  Here we go:  Planet Blue's first pornography review.

"Fifty Shades of Grey" is already a notorious book series extremely popular amongst bored housewives taking an unusually long time in the bathtub.  This movie has been released with the air of naughtiness, as if this is every woman in America's doorway into some illicit realm of kink.  Turns out, of course, that to hold onto the R-rating, "Fifty Shades of Grey" is as softcore as it gets.  You turn on Cinemax any night of the week at approximately 11:30 AM, and you'll see harder sex than this.  For America's first major BDSM motion picture, it's probably tamer than the fondling some high school couple is having in the back rows for Valentine's Day.

But a tame porn is still a porn, nonetheless.  Sure, the audience is going to have to wait until they go home to get their rocks off, but the point of this movie was not to tell a coherent story.  Or God I hope it wasn't.  Because if "Fifty Shades of Grey" is not the meekest most vanilla eroge ever, then it is simply an incredibly boring plotless romance movie, and that is so much worse.  I'm giving this movie the benefit of the doubt by calling it a porn, that means it is actually accomplishing something.  If it's a romance, then it is brutally terrible.  "Fifty Shades of Grey" is far better made than it really deserved, being a tightly-crafted movie about two leads with no charisma having a bland emotionless courtship.  At least if I were masturbating I would be getting something out of this.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Jupiter Ascending - Forget Quality, Long Live Camp

"Jupiter Ascending" is everything that is wrong with the modern effects-driven Blockbuster.  Letting the Wachowskis out with a blank check to create a maddening circus-like CG festival was a massive mistake.  If anybody is style over substance, it is the Wachowskis.  Sure they have interesting ideas, but mostly they resort to completely generic storylines with nondescript charmless leads.  "Jupiter Ascending" is seemingly an adaptation of some preteen SciFi fantasy series that existed only in the minds of its sibling directors.  A story ridden with predictable choices and a main character with no agency.  Throw it together with a film that can barely take itself seriously, you have to wonder if the Wachowskis and even their overlords at Warner Bros were just making some kind of huge joke.  If you care for quality, do anything but watch "Jupiter Ascending".

...But on the other hand, if you actually like movies, you cannot possibly miss this film.

I am going to accept on face-value that "Jupiter Ascending" is not a good movie.  However, quality is not everything.  In fact, quality might not even matter.  If you want quality, go watch "Mr. Turner", a completely solid but entirely unwatchable sophisticated drama.  What I'm talking about here is the compelling power of being completely up your own ass and throwing every insane idea you can onto the screen.  "Jupiter Ascending" offers barely anything in terms of characters or story, but when it comes to visuals, imagination, and fun, it has everything.  The narrative is a weak excuse for the experience.

"Jupiter Ascending" belongs to (and even is full of references to) a long line of badly imperfect SciFi/fantasy films, all of whom are charming in their deficiencies.  That inspiration is a pretty eclectic list varying from films now regarded as brilliant classics ("Brazil") to the so-bad-it's-good camp standards ("Flash Gordon") to the barely watchable ("Krull").  Audiences of the past mostly ignored these films which nearly all flopped, and are ignoring "Jupiter Ascending" for the same reason:  they hate fun.  Audiences say they like fun, but only a very marketable pop song kind of fun, with a very basic rhythm and only four cords.  "Jupiter Ascending" is not a pop song, it is a giant ridiculous anthem defying all definition and structure.  Quality means little compared to the sheer audacity of glorious spectacle.  That's what movies like David Lynch's "Dune" had, that's what "Jupiter Ascending" has.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Predestination - Time Travel Gets Weird

So I thought that the best way to start off 2015 posts would be with something really really weird.  Sure January brought us plenty of wretched releases, almost none of which are even worth considering.  Because, yes, they're terrible, but they are terrible in a very standard, predictable way.  Theoretically nobody sets out to fail, but when so many cinematic vessels keep crashing into the same Failure Rocks after taking the exact same obviously wrong route, you have to wonder if this wasn't somehow part of the plan.  And if they don't care where they're going, why should I even bother to steer them?  Just sail on past into the bright horizon of bizarre Australian Time Travel movies inspired by one of the most nutty science fiction writers of the 20th century.  Hey look, here's a good landing spot:  "Predestination".

"Predestination" is either a time travel action thriller as the trailer promises, or it could be framed as a stirring introspective drama:  one woman's through her memories journey to find herself and her future.  Or maybe it is simply a romantic biopic.  The unique thing about "Predestination" is that it lends itself to many different interpretations of it's storyline.  This plotline loops around again and again, each time seeming more strange and perverse than the last time you almost came to fully understand it.  Infamous SciFi author, Robert A. Heinlein wrote the original short story "-All You Zombies-" which despite being a sparse twelve page narrative, is very faithfully recreated here.  Time travel is already an unlimited license to absolute madness, and this is a film that makes the most of the weirder possibilities of the concept.

Ethan Hawke stars as a Time Cop living in the far distant future of... 1993*.  While in the 70s, his face is blown off trying to stop a terrorist known as the "Fizzle Bomber".  Now that his voice and features are so different that "even his own mother wouldn't recognize him" Hawke is sent on one last mission.  While serving as a bartender in early 70s New York he meets Jack (played by the female Sarah Snooke).  Jack is a post-op transsexual, having been transformed after a series of disasters in his former persona, Jane's life.  At this point, Hawke's nameless character recruits Jack to help him find the mad Bomber.  The Bartender/Cop and Jack/Jane then move together into the nightmare that is Heinlein's vision for their characters, discovering terrible secrets about their pasts and each other.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Super Bowl XLIX Reaction

So Sunday was the Super Bowl.  The 49th Super Bowl to be exact.  It was a fun night of great football, dancing sharks, Danny Trejo with an ax, Russell Wilson blowing the game, Vin Deisel in a flying Lamborghini, Kate Upton shilling a free-to-play game made by people more evil than ISIS, and Nationwide killing children to make... some kind of a point.  Who knows?  The commercials let us down but the Seahawks vs Patriots game was fantastic.  Here are my thoughts:


Richard Sherman's look of utter defeat made my year.  Finally revenge for last Super Bowl.  Suck it, Seattle!

If perchance you have any thoughts of your own, share them below.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

February 2015 Look-Ahead

So January was a month. Now there is February, another month.

This month of course, I'm going to have to actually review something from 2015.  Since I pretty much wrote off January, I am now finally caught up, more or less.  February is the true start of the year for Planet Blue.  We have a nice selection of delayed blockbusters, blockbusters the studio had no faith in, and sleazy Valentine's Day SnM porn for women.  But even so, there is still unfinished January business to begin the month with:  "Song of the Sea", "Predestination", and one film that has surprised me, the embarrassingly awful "The Loft".  "The Loft" has put back gender relations so far that humans now reproduce asexually.  Other business will be a Superbowl review, a list of the Worst Romantic Movies to watch on Valentine's Day, and I might even manage to get a video game or anime post out this month, who knows?

Anyway, let's now Look Ahead at the movies and video games of February 2014.  (Video games back by reader demand.  ...One comment, but that's a lot of demand for me.)

"Jupiter Ascending" (February 6th) - Mila Kunis is an Earth girl.  Channing Tatum is an elf from Jupiter.  They are going to bang in space for freedom.  Just while Eddie Redmayne is trying to win the Oscar for Best Stephen Hawking he is now hamming it up as the Emperor of Space, or something.  You can count on a huge visual spectacle, you can count on the film being a tad pretentious since the Wachoswki Siblings are making it.  And Sean Bean's character is going to die for the sin of being played by Sean Bean.  Lasers, spaceships, sexy White girls, all of it inevitably to be overshadowed and forgotten by later bigger releases in 2015.
--Chances to be Good:  50%.  This film was supposed to be a July 2014 release, and was pulled back to fight for an easy weekend in February.  Not a great sign.  A silly space opera always catches my eye though.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

2014 Year in Review Part 3 - The Best Movies of 2014

Well Space Monkeys, it is now time to finally close the door on 2014.  Time for me to finally put out the Best Movies of 2014 list.  It was an interesting roller coaster of a year, lots of ups, just as many downs.  I wound up going to E3, I got to go to the New York Film Festival.  Blog posts hit a higher standard of quality than ever before.  But there have been post droughts, I spend the last year trying to find my voice and my purpose in life.  And unfortunately I am no closer.  So best thing to do is ignore my problems and focus on other people's problems.  Thus the magic of movies.

Every year I make one of these lists, and every year I have striven to make the list diverse and interesting.  However, most of the time the Top 10 or Top 15 or whatever number I come up with is essentially just the only great movies I saw all year.  If you read those lists, you read every single great movie I could think of.  2014 was different.  This year I saw more great movies than ever before.  This not only could have been a Top 20, it could have been a Top 30.  But in order to remain true to myself, I had to keep things limited.  There is a wealth of amazing movies in the world, too many for me to see, and far too many to fit on any arbitrary list.

Now as always, this is my list.  My opinions solely.  Therefore you may disagree.  The final ranking as to what made it on the list was what I felt was quality and genius for any reason.  Ultimately then I did not take into account certain other factors.  Like I did not do a count as to how many movies starred White males, how many took into account racial issues, and whatever other business people get mad about.  I did notice that four out of my fifteen films are animated, and you can read whatever immaturity you want into that.  Really all I care about is story, and quality of cinema.  If I am perpetuating cycles of inequality by liking a certain type of movie, I honestly do not care.  When there are movies this good, the world at large might as well not even matter.

Honorable Mentions:

"Jodorowsky's Dune"
"Selma"
"Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier"
"The Babadook"
"Enemy"

The list after page break:

2014 Year in Review Part 2 - Unfinished Business and Accolades

Look, I know nobody cares about 2014 anymore. It has already faded away into myth and memory. But I didn't get a chance to talk about the year in depth, so we're doing it now.  This episode is two things 1) a quick review of six films that I never got a chance to review, and 2) my accolades for Best Performances, Best Trends, Most Entertaining Bad Movie, etc.  With a little bit of talk of the Oscar Race too.


Movies discussed in this episode, with their directors, are:

1. Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller
2. Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier
3. The Imitation Game, Morten Tyldum
4. Enemy, Denis Villeneuve
5. The Normal Heart, Ryan Murphy
6. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Midnight, Ana Lily Amirpour

Accolades after page break:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

American Sniper - The Fake Baby Movie Is Not Very Interesting

The worst reaction for a critic to have to a movie is "meh", when there just is not all that much to say about a movie.  My goal here is to get exciting and energized, making great analysis.  I should have some kind of strong reaction here or there, good or bad, and then prove my points with a series of convincing rhetorical, humorous asides, and brilliant insights.  Instead I feel nothing.  I'm numb I'm not sure if I even saw a movie or took novocaine/

"American Sniper" is a horrifically okay movie.  That is exactly what I have come to expect from gunslinger movie star turned director, Clint Eastwood in the latter stage of his career.  Crushing amounts of apathy is his primary style even since stopped making cowboy films.  Eastwood has spent this century making high-concept personal dramas.  Or to put it more cynically, sniffing around for Oscar Gold by making dull period pieces or "actor movies".  Take the dreary Award-stompers "Mystic River" or "Million Dollar Baby", or the actively miserable "J. Edgar".  The last movie that Eastwood has made that actually had a sense of personality about it was "Gran Torino".  Frankly Eastwood in his last decade of work does not even feel like a passionate director anymore.  His work is by the numbers Oscarbiat:  solid premise, strong central lead playing a fantastic character - do you really need to put in any more work?

Which leads me to wonder.  How am I supposed to get invested in this movie when it does not feel very invested in itself?  "American Sniper" is not really a movie about anything.  It is a drama based on the life of real-life sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a veteran of the Iraq War who became the deadliest sniper in American history.  Kyle is a plain old American patriot - loyal to his brothers in arms, fearless, and apparently beyond all issues of politics.  Eastwood attempts to create in "American Sniper" a classical hero tale, after a career of deconstructing that very concept in films like "High Plains Drifter" and "Unforgiven".  No wonder it feels so hollow.  "American Sniper" is the first attempt at an apolitical movie on the Iraq War, simply about men on the ground and their families.  Eastwood winds up making a movie without greater context, and unfortunately, without much other than a single very good Bradley Cooper performance.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Into the Woods - Not the Disney Movie You Were Expecting

Disney probably should have thought twice before adapting "Into the Woods".  This is a company that has built it's entire reputation on family-friendly adaptations of fairy tales.  When you think Disney, you think of loopy cursive font, beautiful pure princesses, and happy simple endings.  "Into the Woods" is a deconstruction of all of those things.  Stephen Sondheim essentially wrote an anti-Disney musical.  True Love does not exist, endings are never simple, Prince Charming is a prick, and the Wicked Witch is the voice of reason.  This is a dark show.  What on Earth is it doing being rated PG and being sold as family-friendly entertainment?

On the surface one can see what Disney was thinking:  "musical, fairy tales, princesses, this is our genre!"  The plot of "Into the Woods" is what happens if somebody takes a copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales, puts it in a blender, then tapes the book back together, mixing the stories up into random order.  Then a depressed nicotine-addicted misanthrope finishes the story with a bizarre coda.  Since blockbusters based on fairy tales are inexplicably popular among studios lately, one can describe "Into the Woods" as a crossover of "Red Riding Hood", "Jack the Giant Slayer", "Tangled", and Disney's own upcoming "Cinderella" in one giant movie.  I can almost feel the heat coming off a studio exec's genitals as they imagine the profits.  That being said, either the Disney corporation is run by true lovers of American theater or none of them have ever actually seen "Into the Woods", because they really should know better.

Because it is bitter and dark, I happen to be a fan of "Into the Woods" (full disclosure, after all).  Soundheim wrote a difficult, complex musical, full of well-developed characters and ambiguous morals.  It is not the usual kind of Broadway fair that gets adapted into films:  either song and dance fun like director Rob Marshall's earlier "Chicago" or romantic period pieces like "Les Miserables".  Live-action musicals in the 20th century are always a gamble.  None more so than a morally ambiguous show breaking the rules of childhood fantasy to create a nightmare out of bedtime stories.  "Into the Woods"'s metafictional disturbing moments moments are toned down weakening the tone of the film.   Yet despite sacrifices, Marshall creates a quality love letter to Sondheim.

Friday, January 23, 2015

2014 Year in Review Part 1 - The Worst Movies of 2014

New Freelancin'!  Two more will be coming up over the weekend, as I begin my grand epic trilogy of 2014 Posts.  Yes, it is nearly February, yes I am late.  Whatever agony my shame of missing deadlines might be can hardly compare to the agony of the films below:


Here is the list, for those too dull to listen to the video:

10. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - Peter Jackson
9. Transcendence - Wally Pfister
8. America: the Movie - Dinesh D'souza
7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Jonathan Liebesman
6. Jauja - Lisandro Alonso
5. Pompeii - Paul W. S. Anderson
4. Altus Shrugged Part III: Why is John Galt? - J. James Manera (some random dude)
3. God's Not Dead - Harold Cronk
2. Vampire Academy - Mark Waters
1. Left Behind - Some Asshole

So there. I saw a lot of really bad movies last year for your entertainment. And I have no regrets (other than Jauja, nobody ever heard of it and it still sucked). Hope you enjoy me suffering to what may be even worse films in 2015! Thanks for a great year, Space Monkeys.

2014 Accolades are coming next, followed by the big one - Best Movies of 2015.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Selma - A Great Film an Imperfect World Deserves

We do not often speak of people this way, but there are American Saints.  These are figures so beloved, so important to our history, that they become semi-divine.  They are legends beyond reproach, not real people with petty terrestrial concerns.  According to my count, there are six such icons.  Four are Presidents:  Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy, and Reagan.  But one stands alone, a man who never took elected office, but still has his own individual Saint Day in January.  That man is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the greatest figure of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.

As for the sixth American Saint?  Elvis Presley.  But he's not in this movie.

One cannot envy the task that "Selma" has given itself:  to make a human portrait of Martin Luther King.  Biopics are typically beloved fair of Oscarbait, but they are always tricky movies to make.  Few lives add up in total to a single dramatic formula that fits a two hour movie.  The worst-structured biopics end up meandering and often boring.  For example:  the otherwise brilliant "Mr. Turner".  These problems are multiplied infinitely when your figure is an  irreproachable member of the modern Pantheon, more sacred than most actual divinities in this country*.  "Selma"'s solution is as brilliant as it is simple:  do not be a biopic.  Focus on a single moment in time and make your figures merely actors in a grand historic play.

"Selma" borrows much of it's structure from "Lincoln" - be a drama about a single battle in your hero's life, not a drama about his entire life.  This film is only about the 1964 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.  King orchestrated protestors to strike at the very bastion of White supremacy, forcing the US government to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  "Selma" goes somewhat further than "Lincoln".  It is not a story about one civil rights leader, but a tale about the entire movement, with MLK merely being the appointed star.  King (David Oyelowo), fresh with a Noble Peace Prize, uses the Selma march to convince a relunctant President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to side with him against Southern tyranny.  "Selma" manages to juggle reverence with drama, building a tight, intense, and emotional movie giving a clear, modern picture into one of the most difficult chapters of American history.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Dear White People - We're Still Here, America

PSA: This review has been written by a White American male.  I am a creature with the highest level of privilege in the entire world.  Feel free to ignore my opinion and anything I say involving race relations.

2014 was not exactly a great year for White-Black relations in America.  People who called the election of Barack Obama following a relatively quiet decade at the start of the 21st century 'the end to racism' are so clearly wrong.  It was not that racism went away or that racial divides suddenly healed because one man got one job, it was just that other issues took center stage.  The honest racists or dishonest manipulative race-baiting politicians of this country had plenty on their plate what with Jihadist Terrorism and the immigration debate.  I do not think anybody actually believed racial divisions were over, they just wanted to stop thinking about the issue.

The End of Racism is not so much a moment of true harmony and equality, just a moment when those in power can say "There, Black people, haven't we given you enough now? Can you finally be quiet?  Can we stop talking about this race issue?"  Well, as riots in Furguson and protests in New York tell us, race is not over.  It will never really be over.

"Dear White People" is a movie I really wish was much better than it is.  The title evokes a wake-up call to every White person who nicely decided that they had done enough in their lives when it came to Black culture, or ones who never cared at all to try.  "Dear White People - we still exist, we still have problems, and just because you don't wear a white bedsheet or vote Republican, you are not innocent.  And no, crying home alone while watching your Redbox rental of "12 Years a Slave" is not enough."  It is the story of four Black youths living in the fictional Ivy League school, Winchester University, taking stock of their racial identity and difficulties of growing up.  "Dear White People" has a great deal of important things to say, but unfortunately needs just a bit stronger structure, more biting humor, to actually get people to listen.  It has a sharp edge, but this blade just cannot cut deep enough.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Whiplash - Sadist Bebop

A mentor can be the best person in your life, or the worst.  If they're the latter, you're in for some very bad years.  This is the pedagogy of pain.  Even now I'm sure you can remember that one teacher, coach, or Bar Mitzvah-prepping rabbi who truly infuriated you like nobody else ever can again.  They pushed you more than was fair, beat you down, and seemed to enjoy it, the sick-os.  There is a method to this tough love, and maybe the cruel mentor is actually brilliant teacher who pushes out of love.  You can thrive, coming out stronger than ever thanks to being pushed beyond your limits.  Hell, you might even come to thank them for their punishment.  Then again, they could be pushing just for the sake of pushing.  Pushing to knock you down and indulge in your tears of failure.

"Whiplash" dances enigmatically across the motives of a cruel mentor.  It is the story of an ambitious young music student, Andrew (Miles Teller), who falls right into the hands of the most brutal conductor in New York City - probably also the world.  That man is Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a name that rings with fear and respect across the halls of the fictional Shaffer Conservatory.  Andrew sees Fletcher as his ticket to stardom, the one figure he needs to convince of his greatness who can then convince the world.  He wants so badly to be noticed, even if in the worst ways, that he seems wicked taskmaster as the best guide to greatness.  However, Fletcher's own reasons for thrashing Andrew's body and soul may not be quite so benevolent.  In a film about really only two characters and a drumset, "Whiplash" creates a stirring and thrilling collision of two characters in a very warped non-sexual courtship.

If you thought Amazing Amy from "Gone Girl" was the most manipulative character of 2014, then obviously you have not yet seen "Whiplash".  J.K. Simmons steps into this movie completely bald, lanky but with clear muscle tone.  He can bark and scream and belittle like the best of R.L. Ermey's "Full Metal Jacket" monologues.  If you're gay, he'll torture you for sleeping with men.  If you're Irish, he'll torture you for having red hair.  Hilarious stuff to watch, probably not very nice to be the victim of.  His tight elderly skin stretches and warps as Fletcher warps between human and demon, breaking his students into dust.  However, it is not the screaming you need to watch out for.  It's the moment he's not screaming, the moment he tries to be your pal.  That's when he finds the weapons to truly smash you into nothing.  Give me him a little trust, just a hint of your psychology, and he'll betray you to stab right where it hurts most.  It is a tremendous character at the heart of a great movie, well deserving of it's Best Picture nomination today*.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Gambler - How Cool is Too Cool?

Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is cool.  He dresses cool, he acts cool, he wears cool sunglasses, he sits under the sun in a sissy umbrella cool, he asks dating advice from random Mexican ladies on parkbenches cool.  As a professor he makes nihilistic arrogant speeches to his literature class, dashing their dreams and their foolishness to even try.  He dumps incredible fortunes for the empty thrill of it cool.  And even after proving himself to be a paramount asshole, Bennett remains chill.  So cool in fact, he freezes into a dangerous Wahlberg iceberg, threatening to smash his movie into the brink.  "The Gambler" is so enthralled with how cool its star can be, it actually forgets to explore the character.

Somewhere within "The Gamber"'s DNA is a sleazy 1970s-style antihero flick about a man who has everything, looks cool while having everything, and then meaninglessly tears it out down just for the Hell of it.  Those pieces lie in the original James Toback film from 1974 starring James Caan*.  Marky Mark's character begins the film marching into an underground gambling den, blowing several hundred thousand dollars on a ridiculous bet on blackjack.  Then he borrows another forty thousand dollars and blows it just as quickly.  Bennett's demeanor obviously shows he is too cool for the entire world - too relaxed to care that he has entrapped himself into monstrous debts with ruthless crime lords that he could never hope to pay off, and too calm to care what happens to him.  One starts to wonder:  is there anything beneath the chill?  Are there eyes underneath the sunglasses capable of weeping?  Is there really a person below that messy "Boogie Nights" haircut?  Or is it all just a very fashionable prop?

"The Gambler" is a movie with style.  It's well-shot, it's fantastically acted, and importantly, it carries it's story with an original wit and energy.  There are wonderful performances across the board from a selection of fantastic actors, relishing their moment to play viscous mobsters and give grand Shakespearean speeches.  Director Rupert Wyatt sets a strange darkly humorous tone to the entire affair.  From the use of entirely diegetic musical score (many in-jokes are made about the source of songs being car radios or choir practices) to brilliant use of montage and color, "The Gambler" feels like a movie with it's own identity and refined tastes.   It is all rather compelling on the surface.  What we have here is a near-triumph of style over substance, but still ultimately not dramatic or human enough to be a truly great film.