Friday, November 28, 2014

My Little Pony Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks (2014) Animated movie

Overall verdict: 7.5/10

The Good: Retains the captivating personalities of the original characters, top notch voice acting, beautiful animation that exceeds TV series standards, catchy well written songs,   
The Bad: trivialises its themes and core morals, lacks a credible story villain, much wasted potential, plays 'safe' with the status quo

3D Readiness: none
IMax-ability: none

There were two things I did not like about the previous "EQUESTRIA GIRLS" movie. First was the shallow theme that fantastic musical talent wins you friends. In the last movie, instead of showing Twilight winning over the hearts and minds of her school mates through her honesty, sincerity and helpfulness, she wins them over through the magic of song and dance. Next is the tons of wasted potential to tell a much deeper or more mature story that one couldn't show in the regular MY LITTLE PONY FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC series. Instead of that we get unnecessary musical numbers. RAINBOW ROCKS takes a dive off the deep end and make the music the central driving force behind the whole plot. Surprisingly, it works. And what we have is a decent musical movie that works around music to deliver the morals and themes that the franchise should have from the get go.

As Canterlot High prepares for its annual talent showcase, three mysterious girls with mind controlling voices turn the showcase into a "Battle of the Bands". Their sinister songs bring out bitter rivalries between the bands, negative emotions which the girls seem to feed on and grow more powerful. Only the 5 main characters, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy and AppleJack are unaffected by the spell due to their contact with Equestrian magic. Also unaffected is a reformed Sunset Shimmer, the antagonist from the previous movie. 

In an interesting reflection of the original 1986 MY LITTLE PONY cartoon, Twilight Sparkle takes on the "friend from another world" role that Megan had in that series. Only this time, it is a magical pony who travels to the human world to help solve her human counterparts problems. So in comes Twilight who soon realises that trouble is brewing from within. The gang ain't getting along due to conflicts of interest, egos and generally familiar problems that tend to crop up in any group of pals. Thankfully, the day is not saved once again through a song and dance routine but through some actual character development and harsh lessons.

Generally the writing is an improvement over the lacklustre first entry of EQUESTRIA GIRLS. There are good lessons to be learned from the way the group dynamics of our main characters grow and mature. The bottom line is that RAINBOW ROCKS keeps the conflicts real. The characters go through real problems that real people face everyday, solving them like real people and in doing so makes those characters all the more relatable. Most intriguing is Sunset Shimmer and her journey towards redemption in the eyes of her peers. Now the black sheep of the school, Sunset's character arc of regaining the respect and trust of her friends can get quite heart wrenching when you see how hard she tries and still people remember only her bad deeds of the past. This is a very real problem that youngsters face. Just as real is Twilight Sparkle's dilemma of being the designated "hero" and cracking under the pressure to live up to everyone's sky high expectations.

"Sky High" also describes the production quality on this. RAINBOW ROCKS earns its status as a "movie" by showcasing a tremendous leap in terms of animation quality from anything seen in the TV series. The production team experiments with bolder shot set ups and action scenes and more detail in the art. Just look at the way the shadows from the refrigerator plays off Twilight and Sunset during a night scene in the kitchen! It is beautiful!. Designs have been tweaked slightly, making the humans look less uncanny. The characters facial expressions are the definite highlight here; dynamic, perfectly drawn, and covering a wide range of emotions that are complimented with some of the finest voice acting in modern animation.

Of course, we have the songs. Expertly written and composed by Daniel Ingram, the songs are catchy and fun. As usual, one could compare them to the best of disney musicals but with a more modern spin.  Think of it as a fantasy styled retelling of Glee with a bit more depth. Moving into more mature storytelling seems to be the way to go, and a way that works well for the Equestria Girls franchise. 

*****************************Review End***************************

Entertainment: A-
Story: B+
Acting: A
Characters: A
Music: A
Replay value: C+
"Brains": B

Friday, November 7, 2014

Tekken 2: Kazuya's Revenge aka A Man Called X (2014) directo to video review

Overall verdict: 3.5/10

The Good: Kane Kosugi in a starring role, realistic fight scenes with good camerawork

The Bad: overall cheap feel, confusing story, tedious pacing, boring, generally muddled direction, bad editing, has nothing to do with the Tekken franchise

3D Readiness: none
IMax-ability: none


TEKKEN 2: Kazuya's Revenge aka A Man Called X is a movie with an identity crisis. Ironic that the movie itself features a main character with a similar identity crisis. TEKKEN 2 is not a sequel, and has little to do with the beloved video game franchise it claims to be based on. The "man" in question is called "K", not "X" and "Kazuya's Revenge" is possibly the worst case of spoiler in the title, especially since the main plot is about K rediscovering his identity as Kane Kosugi, oops sorry, I mean, the titular Kazuya, after an unexplained bout of amnesia.

Waking up In a dystopian corporation run future which looks an awful lot like a present day south East Asian slum, K (who is obviously Kane Kosugi) is haunted by an obnoxious voice in his head, hunted by rent-a-cops in old army wear, and discovers he knows kung fu. Still he gets knocked out and recruited by a criminal Organisation run by "the minister". This Organization (consisting of mostly homeless Asians and stunt people) pits its members against one another in fights to the death. The victors are sent on assassination missions, something about cleansing the world or some dope like that. So when K gets tasked to take out Gary Daniels (who everyone mistakes for a Tekken character called Bryan Fury) he finds out that the Minister is not the holy man his followers think he is.

There's a bit more to the story about K discovering he is really Kazuya and a showdown with Tsang Tsung.....erm, wrong franchise....Cary Hiroyuki (although he claims to be one Heihachi Mishima) and a couple of thugs but one's patience would be truly tested by then. The story is just THAT badly paced that it actually comes across as tiresome. For example you have this whole 10 minute sequence of K taking a walk through Slum Town.......doing nothing. For 10 whole minutes while the voice-over from the Minister goes on and on about how his army of homeless beggars, sorry looking ruffians and old ladies are going to rid the world of evil. It is laughable, really.

Laughable too his how this movie is obviously not related to the Tekken franchise at all. The first TEKKEN movie starring John Foo and Ian Anthony Daniel at least looked like Tekken. Despite the mixed up story, Characters looked like how they do in the games, they wore familiar costumes and hairdos, and many familiar set pieces are showcased. In TEKKEN 2, it is a completely unrelated movie which had some characters names changed to names from Tekken.

Martial artist actor Kane Kosugi is wasted on this misbegotten prequel. Having had nothing but supporting roles so far, Mr Kosugi deserves a good movie as a main character to really showcase his skills. He does his own stunts, he is a trained martial artist with a flair for movie fighting. He could have been Hollywood's Donny Yen or at least followed in his father's footsteps (Sho Kosugi) in becoming a cult classic Kung fu star. Instead, he gets shoehorned into a production directed by "Wych Kaos".

Instead of looking like a Hollywood movie, The whole film has that "shot in my backyard" feel and visual nature akin to those cheapskate Malaysian or Singaporean TV productions. Some good camera-work does show up in the fight scenes, eschewing the usual close ups and jitter cam for wide sweeping angles that gives you full view of the fight. Unfortunately many of these scenes are edited like some amateurs on YouTube. You have a scene where K lifts his leg to kick but when the blow connects, the next cut shows K punching the guy.

Boring for the most part, tediously paced, and obviously done on the cheap, TEKKEN 2 would not have been judged any less harshly had it discarded the video game's moniker and presented itself as a martial arts movie. Kane Kosugi's fights and stunts are impressive no doubt, but their impressiveness is undermined by amateurish directing and editing. Take this sorry excuse for a movie, splice together all the Kane Kosugi fights, then trash the rest. You'd get a far more entertaining short film than TEKKEN 2.

*****************************Review End***************************

Entertainment: C+
Story: C-
Acting: C
Characters: C
Music: D-
Replay value: C-
"Brains": F