Friday, December 25, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) movie review

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The Good: John William's amazing soundtrack, flawless special effects, relatable and fully developed characters, excellent acting, homages to the original films, wide appeal, clear and epic filming style.

The Bad: Leaves unanswered questions, disappointing antagonist.

3D Readiness: None. Post production 3D conversion


The saga that enthralled two generations is back to captivate the imagination of a third. A new Star Wars trilogy begins with the much discussed STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. Since the classic trilogy, Star Wars has become synonymous with relatable characters in an old fashioned good vs evil story all set to mind blowing special effects, convention defying designs, and a rousing fanfare that kicks off each story set in that galaxy far far away.

The prequel trilogy heaped on some much needed complexity and real world analogy in the plots, those came at the price of a natural fluent script and the relatable characters. THE FORCE AWAKENS brings that balance back; teetering a little under a new Creative team but finding its footing fast.

Many years after the empire's defeat, a new Organisation is threatening to take over the Galaxy. Dubbed "the first order", this legion consisting of conscripts, conditioned and trained since childhood, are sent after a pilot Poe Dameron and his droid BB-8 who holds vital information leading to the location of the legendary Jedi master Luke Skywalker. Poe is captured by the first order but sprung from jail by a disillusioned trooper, Finn, who has had enough of his life as a numbered masked soldier. Both Finn and the droid are separated from Poe on the planet Jakku and run into Rey, a young girl who makes a living selling salvaged spaceship parts. A series of convenient events lead to the discovery of an old but iconic space freighter and a run in with two old war heroes. Together, they have to evade the First Order forces led by the vindictive dark Jedi Kylo Ren. But unknown to our heroes, Kylo Ren's vendetta could run deeper and more personal while a dark power stirs in the depths of space.

Under the masterful hand of director JJ Abrams and writer Lawrence Kasdan , THE FORCE AWAKENS pays tribute to the original classic trilogy, recreating iconic scenes, memorable lines and bringing back as many of the classic actors to reprise their roles. Some may say that it is a whole sale copy of A New Hope but there are enough differences and twists to keep things fresh. It is new enough for first time viewers yet Familiar enough without feeling like it is pandering to the existing fanbase. The balance struck is extraordinary! 

Actors new and old give a stellar performance. Veterans like Harrison Ford slip right back into their classic roles, completely becoming those same characters the old fans knew and loved. The new ones aren't too shabby either with John Boyega as Finn, Daisy Ridley as Rey and Oscar Issac as Poe Dameron turning in magnificently nuanced performances. These, coupled with strong writing and snappy scripting, brings back the naturalistic dialogue of  A NEW HOPE, giving us characters that are easy to relate to and well fleshed out. Humour is used sparingly but effectively such that the level of tension and danger is maintained, unlike certain comic book movies where we get a laugh every 5 minutes (I'm looking at you marvel) even though the world is going to end.

JJ Abrams was born to direct science fiction. Having honed his craft in two STAR TREK movies, His Free flowing filming style and Long tracking shots make every spaceship scene an exciting roller coaster ride. The audiences weave in and out of battle as gracefully as the starfighters that are blasting away at each other, they run alongside Rey and Finn as enemy TIE fighters fire on them, they are right there in the thick of the lightsaber duels. All this without resorting to the scourge of shakey-cam that so many directors tend to fall back on to "enhance" action. Action is large and sweeping in scale with more personal character moments filmed intimately. A balance. 

For every good balance dictates that there should be a bad. For every hero, a villain. The new villain of Kylo Ren is easily the weakest in the history of black clad STAR WARS antagonists, lacking the menacing presence of Darth Vader, the regal air of Count Dooku, or even manipulative cunning of Palpatine. Kylo is just one angsty angry boy who throws at least two hissy fit tantrums throughout the movie. Maybe it is my age but I find it hard to relate to him as either a tragic antagonist or the next Big bad villain. Adam Diver does his best in the role of Kylo, but he is written Less like a villain and more like an furious fanboy worshiping a famous Long dead individual.

Some may not appreciate the seemingly "safe" route that the movie takes when it clings to the story beats and mirrors the narrative of the original trilogy. Perhaps they wanted to play it safe after the questionable critical reception of the prequels. After all, familiarity sells and so does nostalgia. The marketing team definitely did their research. I for one did not appreciate a return to the simplistic "hero's journey" where good is good and evil is evil. I missed the more complex themes of the prequels and the real world analogies within the narrative of the clone wars and the rise of the empire. But again, this could just be the producers playing it safe. 

The best part of the movie for me was not the breathtaking special effects or the acting. It was the music by veteran Composer John Williams.  From the first notes of that legendary fanfare to the more quieter character centric themes,  William’s score retains the feel of old school space opera and never caves in to modern movie scoring conventions. He eschews the heavy drums and electronic sounds of recent blockbusters for the traditional brass, strings and woodwinds. The general tone, distinct melodies and some old favourites bring us back to an era where a movie's soundtrack is its own performance that can be enjoyed with or without the movie itself.

With all the homages to the older STAR WARS movies, one can really feel that the creative team were fans themselves. That is not to say that this movie would only appeal to fans. On the contrary, it has something for everyone to love, even relative newcomers to the franchise. This is one movie that would definitely have everyone talking about it after the closing credits; reminiscing, recollecting, speculating, and waiting eagerly for the next instalment in the STAR WARS saga. 

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

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

BTW. I’m calling it now

REY is somehow related to Emperor Palpatine. A section in her theme (a 6 note motif somewhere in the middle) is just palpatine’s theme given a more upbeat tone and less minor key.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) movie review

Overall verdict: 7/10

The Good: Flawless CGI effects, snappy dialogue, memorable villain, professional acting, stellar cast chemistry

The Bad: Superficial story, no deeper themes, misplaced humour, lack of tension or stakes, overly choreographed and unrealistic fights. 

3D Readiness: Post-Production 3D conversion

In 2012, there came a day unlike any other day where the worlds greatest heroes were united against a common threat and THE AVENGERS blew away audiences of all ages with the first ever comic book movie crossover. In 2015, there came another day unlike any other day and this time the world is threatened by a Ultron, the cynical critical atypical child of Skynet and Megatron......
No actually he's just a wisecracking artificial intelligence with delusions of godhood and all round evil. Turning on his creators, he threatens all life on earth with his sidekicks "illusion-woman" and "not-the-flash"....I mean, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, and it is up to the Avengers to take him out before he can usher in THE AGE OF ULTRON. 

Instead of the robot dominated dystopian future that we saw in the comics, what we do get is more "the next few days of Ultron". No matter, it is an exciting few days with director Joss Whedon balancing the intercharacter dynamics with awesome action pieces from claustrophobic close combat, to a freeway chase, to the much advertised no holds barred beat down between the Hulk and iron man's new "hulk buster" Armour. All this is supplemented with beautiful special effects from Industrial Lights and Magic ILM. Flawless work befitting the movie's massive Budget.

In The villain, Ultron, the Writers have crafted a memorable though under utilised bad guy. Ultron could have been the vehicle to explore deeper themes, themes that were merely hinted at but never fleshed out. Instead, His cynical yet refined snarling courtesy of James Spader reminds me of the those magnificently passionate Super villains that were so common in Saturday morning cartoons of old.

And that is exactly what this is. AGE OF ULTRON can be described as a true live action cartoon. The dialogue is light hearted, the story is straightforward, the tone is fun and the action is immense. And this is not exactly a good thing. Intense scenes are interrupted and spoilt with poorly placed humour and once again the story does not seem to take itself seriously.  

Fights are over-choreographed, more like some fancy ballet than an all out battle. The fact that it cuts to graceful slow motion once in a while only emphasises the dance like nature of the fights. 

And yet the movie felt like pieces of it were cut out. The narrative does not flow as smoothly as the first with inexplicable scenes like Thor suddenly going off on his hallucination trip. Much of the premise and the characters development up to this point very much depends on the viewer watching prior marvel movies. 

It is here that Marvel studio's continuity heavy Creative direction rears its ugly head. To know what is going on in this movie, one would have to watch the previous movies. Captain America the winter soldier, iron man 3, the first avengers movie. But perhaps that's the point? Force people to go buy the Blu rays or the video to rewatch and get up to speed. In the end, the real big winner is distributor Disney. Ka-Ching $$.

I like a good comedy. In in a big action blockbuster, I like to believe that the stakes are real, that the dangers faced by our heroes are real, that they are really fighting for the fate of the world. Instead, we get this cartoony violence, with equally cartoony superficial story, where heroes joke around with quick lighthearted quips in the middle of a fight scene where people could die. This kills tension. And if it weren't for the magnificent effects, action and direction, AGE OF ULTRON would have scored a bit lower.

****Review End****

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Scorch Trials (2015) movie review

Overall verdict: 5.5/10

The Good: Bigger scale than its predecessor, consistent bleak tone and sense of tension, continues "maze-like" elements from predecessor, deviates from the more corny elements of the book (e.g: telepathy), continues sense of mystery

The Bad: Mediocre music, cliched story and setting, overly frenetic camerawork, lack of originality

3D Readiness: None

Remember the unique setting of 2014's MAZE RUNNER? There constant sense of tension and mystery? The twists, the turns and the wholly original production design? Nope. In this sequel, we get rid of the maze, we get rid of the originality. What we are left delves into every single post apocalyptic video game cliche ever created, only with teens gifted with unlimited stamina.

Picking up where MAZE RUNNER left off, THE SCORCH TRIALS sees our heroes Thomas, Minho, Theresa, Frypan and Winston seemingly rescued by a group that claims to have their best interests at heart and who oppose WCKD(the evil organisation that trapped the kids in the maze in the first movie). It would have been believable if not for the incredibly evil sounding Irishman leader Mr Janson. Hearing him talk, you know all this "safe haven for the kids" is bull. And yes a short while later we find out that the kids have been actually captured by WCKD again and are about to get their brains drained. Something about some fluid in the brain and some mutation virus caused by solar flares. No answers are given of course and in true teenage fashion, the kids rebel against the controlling adults and venture forth into the burnt out desert wasteland city known as "the scorch".

From then on, the movie starts to resemble Dawn of the Dead: Post Apocalypse, or "I am Legend: Teenage Edition". There are zombies in dark tunnels and the kids only have themselves to rely on. Then they run into other humans. Some of them want to sell them, some want to broker a deal, some want their help in fighting back against WCKD. Evil organisation, resistance group, wasteland survivors, zombies, that's it! This is Uwe Boll's Fallout 3. It's like the writer started binge gaming after the success of MAZE RUNNER and just threw in what he liked about the various post apocalyptic games he played.

The characters don't change much other than for Thomas, the designated hero. He goes from  the confused mess he was in the last movie to the confused leader of a confused group in this movie. The rest are calafare at best, accessories to Thomas' journey. At least they go beyond being mere token minorities for the sake of diversity and actually contribute to the story in a crucial way.

Amidst the cliches, boring characters and overly shakey cinematography, THE SCORCH TRIALS does manage to hold on to its constant sense of tension in its second and third acts. Foe after foe comes at our young heroes, each one deadlier than the last. You have some magnificent set pieces showing off the post apocalyptic landscape in its full glory and at no time could I tell the practical sets from the CGI. But after a while, you sort of accept that these youngsters have olympic level stamina and can still look pretty escaping through sewers, trudging through ruins and hiding in holes. Kudos to the writer for continuing the "maze like" elements from he first movie, hence justifying the need to leave "Maze Runner" in the title. Sure, they aren't in an actual maze, but getting lost in zombie filled abandoned building, chased through a warren of tunnels and dodging stray lightning bolts in the dark, all call back to the dangers of the maze.

THE SCORCH TRIALS could have had some brains to it. At points I get the feeling the writer was trying to tie it all down as an analogy for growing up. If the Maze in the previous film represented a youngster's school life, with its rules, unique culture, sheltered learning environment, and first exposure to girls, then the Scorch almost seemed to represent that youngster taking his first steps into an adult world. It has some nice analogies to what regular teenagers face nowadays. Conflicting loyalties, conflicting emotions, a fling with drugs or just a tempting fling. Some would give up and yearn to return to the sheltered life in school, some would become corrupted by their newfound freedom; some would sink into the same vices that have plagued the adults and yet a few would rise to the occasion, becoming better people in the process.  This analogy of the scorch to the trials of young adulthood could have been played up a little better. And it was a real pity too.

In the end, THE SCORCH TRIALS cannot be forgiven for its reliance on cliche, even if it was in the original book. I cannot say for certain how much it deviated from the source, but I have learned that the book involved psychic powers. So i guess the lack of psychic powers in the movie is quite an improvement. Other than that, it is yet another movie with lost potential and a sequel that is no where as good as its predecessor.

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

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

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fantastic Four (2015) reboot movie review

Overall verdict: 5/10

The Good: Intriguing premise, opens up fascinating concepts, replaces typical superhero styled story with hard science fiction horror, 

The Bad: Mediocre music, stale lead characters, undeveloped concepts, incoherent plot, underwhelming climax, some questionable casting, special effects quality does not fit the budget

3D Readiness: None

Much has been revealed about the fiasco that was FANTASTIC FOUR 2015. I'll leave the details of the isolationist director, close shaves with angry cast members and a studio's overboard executive meddling for your Internet search engines. Let's get down to the movie. Caught in-between the deep and gritty of Warner/DC and then kid friendly comedy of Disney/Marvel, FANT4STIC FOUR (as it is stylised in promotional material) is a curious creature which tried to do both and ended up.......not so successful. It tried to go for the "grounded fantasy" style, all angsty, deep and tragic, while still wanting to maintain the appeal to youngsters with witty jokes and superficial laughs. 
Many have slammed this movie for its lack of action and deviation from the explosive norm that has become superhero films. I feel that audience have just become spoiled by the action heavy formula of modern blockbusters. FANT4STIC FOUR is not a superhero movie in that sense. It would be more in line with the "science gone wrong" genre of movies that were real big in the late 1980s through 90s; David Croneberg's THE FLY was cited as the main inspiration for this movie, SPECIES, the film SPLICE for a more recent example, the most famous being HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS (which, once you cut out the humour, is the kind of science horror story that ANT-MAN was supposed to be before getting squeezed through the mighty marvel movie maker machine). And yet, it's many flaws came in the execution.
What FF lacks first of all is coherence. The story starts off as a kind of "science fiction Harry Potter". It's the story of boy genius Reed Richards and his childhood pal Ben Grimm. Reed creates a teleporter and thanks to a convenient meeting with  doctor Franklin Storm, Reed gets recruited into the "Baxter institute"; essentially a brain trust of genius young adults. Among the geniuses, There's Doctor Storm's adopted daughter Sue and his biological son Johnny who joins Reed in the teleporter experiment. There's the nihilistic jerk rival (Victor), benevolent mentor (dr Storm), the morally ambiguous military head honcho and a lack of Ben. So the teleporter is finished, Ben appears, the bunch of drunken friends boldly go where no man has gone before to explore the Planet of CGI wonders. 

Something goes wrong, tragedy strikes, science Mumbo jumbo and boom, new superpowers. From there the tone whiplashes into a Syfy original with the four friends captured and experimented on. Guilt ridden Reed escapes, and we get another tone shift into a fugitive movie with Reed on the run and his former friends trained by the military to take him down. But wait there's more! A new teleporter is completed which brings back a powerful new foe who wants to destroy the world leading up to a climax right out of Dragonball Evolution. You see where this is heading? From science fiction Harry Potter to Star Trek substitute, then to a poor man's Incredible Hulk with super soldiers, and then to Dragonball evolution. It's 4 movies spliced haphazardly into one. 
FANT4STIC FOUR (FF) had intriguing ideas that I could get behind with enough twists from the original comic to make it fresh. None of those ideas get developed at all! Second big mistake. Sue and Reed being intellectual rivals is something new but it just gets turned into......not even a romance or a friendship for that matter. Johnny not being able to live up to his father's expectations. Yes he acts out, yes he finally gets to step out of daddy's shadow by using his new powers to make a difference to American peace keeping efforts......but that is only implied with some dialogue and never brought up again as if Johnny were a token minority character. 
Then we got Ben who could have turned out most refreshing. Unlike his comic counterpart who is was a baseball champion, US marine, pilot and an all round big tough guy, Ben in this movie is a scrawny loser picked on by his siblings, living in a junk yard and with little future to look forward to if not for his friendship with Reed. What an intriguing character arc it would have been for Ben who goes from wimp to rock covered Captain America. He becomes a war hero in the service of his nation all the while despising the inhuman Thing he had become. 

Do we get to explore that internal dissonance? No. His grudge against Reed for turning him into a monster? Forgotten in 5 minutes. Ben who was shown to never hurt a fly has been made to kill for his country, but no single mental ramification at all. No regret? No crisis of conscience? No character development, pure and simple. The 2005 movie, Heck, even the cartoons managed to give Ben Grimm a more developed character than this movie showing him grappling with the loss of his humanity going from all American hero to ugly Monster with all that entails. Mishandled and miscast, Ben Grimm as the Thing looks great in all his motion capture rock encrusted glory. But every time he speaks and that wimpy TinTin voice comes out, it's almost hilarious. 
Boasting a budget of $120 million, one wonders where all that money went. I've already mentioned how good The Thing looks great thanks to the motion capture expertise of Weta digital, the guys behind Lord of the Rings. But everything else looked cheap. From the CGI Baxter building to a CGI monkey likely reused from Dawn of the Planet of The Apes to the entire CGI "planet zero" looking like a video game. 
Throw all that in with a climax that is all to short and sloppily edited and you have FANT4STIC FOUR. The best example of wasted potential in a superhero movie. It had great ideas, bright new concepts open to exploration and development but alas got caught up in all the behind-the-scenes debacles. The drama during production overshadows the lack thereof within the actual movie. Who knows? To recoup on the loss Fox may release "the making of" feature and makes tons more money capitalising on the controversies involving director Josh Trank.

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

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

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes (2005) animated series review. 26 Episodes

Overall verdict: 5.5/10

The Good: Well detailed artwork, generally smooth animation, good integration of 2D and 3D CGI, crafts original tales instead of copying the comics, tactful usage of anime tropes, 

The Bad: repeated use of stock footage, mediocre voice acting, boring action sequences, lack of character chemistry, superficial plots, lack of narrative continuity
In the wake of Fox's 2005 FANTASTIC FOUR movie, marvel commissioned a new fantastic four animated series. This time, marvel rode on the wave of Japanese anime and turned to Moonscoop animation, a French studio famous for such anime styled cartoons like Martin Mystery. They even got voice actors who were best known for dubbing anime to portray the characters here. The result is a decent blend of East and west, traditional 2D art and CGI animation. Decent yes but no where near fantastic.
Visually, FF: WORLDS GREATEST HEROES or FFWGH as I will call it, is a real treat to watch. The vibrant colours have this luminescent glow and The art is pretty to look at once you get past the whole anime styled designs. No it's not all doe eyed little girls and big breasts. This show takes its visual cues from anime aimed at an older audience.

Yes there is spikey hair, yes the characters look anorexic and a little on the long side but nothing that sexualises them. The animation itself is smooth for a TV show and with a decent level of art detail: there are action lines, freeze frames and a few cost cutting measures but nothing as obvious as the typical TV anime.

At 26 episodes, each episode features an original story not directly lifted from the comics but containing elements inspired by the comics. They are relatively self contained with only thin threads of continuity like Doctor Doom's recurring presence. Other than that you get guest stars like Guardians of the Galaxy's Ronan the accuser,



Squirrel-Girl for goodness sakes!

Namor The Sub-Mariner

Avengers like Iron Man

 and even the Incredible Hulk (whose brawl with The Thing is always something fans look forward to).

With original stories comes the good and the bad: it's original so it allows for some surprises. However it does not achieve the level of storytelling that the comics did instead choosing to go with an overall light hearted juvenile tone. There is no sense of peril no matter how many times the world is at stake. There is no thrill seeing as how formulaic each episode can get. Then There are episodes that left me bored beyond belief and it wasn't for a lack of action.
It was the lack of chemistry. Touted as "marvel's first family", the FF here are more like "marvel's college dorm buddies". You never get that sense of togetherness and most of the time they come across as flat archetypes. While the comics and some of the previous cartoons delved into their inner demons and insecurities, FFWGH barely skim the surface with story after story offering little depth and even less world building. It doesn't help that only half the cast do decent voice acting.

TV actress Lara Gilchrist does well in the role of Sue Storm and Brian Dobson does an impressive (for a Canadian) tough Brooklyn accent as Ben Grimm but Christopher Jacot as Johnny is a one note loudmouth and Hiro Kanagawa's Reed Richards sounds like he is on the verge of yawning half the time.
As history shows, Fantastic four once again got the short end of the stick. Mainstays like Galactus and Silver surfer were prevented from being used and Marvel promptly dropped the anime styled property to focus on direct to video productions and the more Bruce Timm inspired Wolverine and the X-men.

FANTASTIC FOUR: WORLD's GREATEST HEROES is no travesty but neither is it a smash hit. Not bad, just unremarkable. Everything about it pales in comparison to other super hero animation of the era. So If you do come across a copy going for cheap, it wouldn't hurt to give it a spin just don't expect know...

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

Entertainment: C+
Art: A-
Animation: B+
Story: C-
Voice Acting (English): C
Characters: B-
Music: C+
Replay value: C+
"Brains": D+

Fantastic Four (1994-1995) animated series review. 26 episodes. 2 seasons.

Overall verdict: 5/10

The Good: Generally all of season 2's superior art and animation, spot on voice acting, faithful adaptations of the comic stories, thorough and gradual character development, insightful explorations into each character's personality and struggles.

The Bad: Season 1's low quality animation, constant off model art, generic background music, juvenile tone, corny humour, shallow narrative.

Ah! the corny chorus of the 1994 Fantastic Four Theme song. To the untrained ear of a five year old, it is a catchy upbeat little piece that brings a quaint smile. "Just call for four!. Fantastic Four! Don't Need No more. That's ungrammatical!".  But listening to it years later, that smile is one of bemused disgust; an uncomfortable smile to hold back the disbelief that one ever considered this "cool" back in his younger days.

Debuting in 1994 as part of the "Marvel Action Hour" along side "IRON MAN", FANTASTIC FOUR boasted two seasons of wildly varying quality to the point where they were almost like two wholly different shows. Other than the voices, everything from the music to the art and animation changed drastically between seasons and thankfully for the better.

The first season of the 90s Fantastic Four animated series can only be described as dismal. First you had the low quality animation courtesy of a Taiwanese Animation studio Wang Film and the Manila based Kennedy Cartoons. Weird poses, clunky character motion and a mediocre frame rate; a few fluid shots here and there could not make up for the generally horrid quality. It looked like something 15 years behind the times! A relic from the worst days of Hanna Barbera!. Art-wise, the designs lacked detail, the colors used were bright and cheery and characters continually went "off model" ending up looking silly. Obvious compositing gaffes pop up occasionally leading me to question the quality control department.

On the bright side, the voice cast do an impeccable job of becoming their characters. Particularly noteworthy is Chuck McCann whose pitch perfect Brooklyn accent captures the spirit of the ever lovin blue eyed Thing, Ben Grim. For comic books fans, The stories within this season were faithful recreations of the classic 60s fantastic four comic tales by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The coming of Galactus, the Skrull invasion, adventures in the Negative Zone, and more.

However the execution of those great stories was nothing short of terrible. Silly dialog and Random humor was added particularly in the form of the FF4's new landlady who was continually trying to evict them. That, coupled with unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) moments like a rapping Ben Grimm, The great Galactus hungrily licking his lips and Stan Lee himself pausing the show to break the fourth wall, all of it adds to the utter silliness of the first season.

>Season 2 in 1995 to 1996 saw a vast improvement in the overall quality. The most obvious change was in the animation. A higher level of detail, darker colors, actual shading and more consistent artwork complemented the smooth animation courtesy of a new Production studio "The Philippines Animation Studio". Surprisingly, this same studio that turned in some of the worst looking episodes of X-MEN THE ANIMATED SERIES have stepped up their game for FANTASTIC FOUR. The writing also takes a darker turn, adapting stories from the 1980s Fantastic 4 comic book run, particularly the work of John Byrne. 

The humour is toned down, replaced now by more mature narratives and actual human drama. No matter what foes the FF4 must face, their greatest conflicts comes from within themselves and among each other. Reed's inner guilt over the ill fated experiment, Ben's ongoing quest for acceptance and coming to terms with his monstrous exterior, Sue's feelings of inadequacy being the only woman in the team, even Johnny's broken heart and repeated tragic romances, all of them very real themes that people can relate to. Themes that a family faces. These were the episodes where the FF truly shine and came together as a real family. Some did get a little angsty but no more angsty than those Japanese anime saturating the internet nowadays. 

Guest stars abounded in season 2, building up the world of the Fantastic Four and giving shape to a shared cartoon universe where all the 90s Marvel Animated series characters co-existed. 


The Inhumans

Black Panther

Ghost Rider


Even the Incredible Hulk

Stories expanded in scope and scale leading up to titanic struggles against Ego the Living Planet, Psycho Man, and a new sinister Doctor Doom. A palpable sense of peril is prevalent in the many conflicts where our heroes just barely scrape by a victory for a bittersweet ending. Threads of continuity allow our characters to grow with each episode that by the end of season 2, the FF are fully fleshed out individuals who went through trials and tribulations together, a family that stayed together and emerged stronger.

Owing to the vast differences in quality in the respective seasons, the rating above reflects the averaged rating between the two. I would rate season one as a disappointing 2/10. But season two is the quintessential translation of the FF4 into animation so it gets at least an 8/10

Casual viewers should just sit through season two but long time fans of the comic books could check out both seasons and see their favorite stories faithfully translated into animation.

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

Season 1

Entertainment: B-
Art (season 1): D
Animation (season 1): D+
Story: C-
Voice Acting (English): B+
Characters: C-
Music: D
Replay value: D+
"Brains": D-

Season 2
Entertainment: A
Art (season 2): B-
Animation (season 2): B
Story: B+
Voice Acting (English): B+
Characters: B+
Music: C
Replay value: B+
"Brains": B+

Friday, July 17, 2015

Terminator Genisys (2015) movie review

Overall verdict: 7/10

The Good: Strong cast chemistry, filled with homages to the previous films and TV series, top notch special effects, continues themes of James Cameron's original films, actualises scenes and concepts that were previously cut in prior films.

The Bad: Mediocre music, stale lead characters, uses the "alternate universe" concept as a cop out, lacks any sense of tension despite the "chase" plot, 

3D Readiness: Post filming 3D conversion.

"An unknown future rolls towards us". This was a quote from the award winning classic science fiction movie TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY. But if poor Sarah Connor could only look further into the future, maybe she might not be facing it with a sense of hope. In THE TERMINATOR (the first movie), we end off the ominous quote "There's a storm coming"; an insanely accurate self-prophesy about the multimedia franchise that Terminator would become. A storm of half baked sequels, cliche ridden comic books, meandering novels, and a TV series cut down in its prime. Come 2015, the latest downpour in this storm rears its noisy head: TERMINATOR GENISYS.

With TERMINATOR GENISYS, the franchise goes back to basics. You know the drill: The future war ends in victory, the defeated machines send a killer back through time, good guys send a protector, killer and protector die while young protagonist accepts destiny and prepares to fight the future. But wait, there is a twist! That twist begins with this wooden piece of man named Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese, the guy destined to be sent back through time to protect Sarah Connor. Courtney, looking bored and buff, lacking all sense of intensity and nuance that Michael Biehn had, tumbles into 1984 with mysterious new memories more unexpected twists. He is pursued by a shapeshifting liquid metal creature in the form of some Korean dude and is saved by......Sarah Connor and her pet robot Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I want a robot Arnold Schwarzenegger too, just not one that looks like a grandfather and grins like a moron. This is not your grandfather's Terminator. This craps all over your grandfather's Terminator. GENISYS shows us that James Cameron's first two films could have ended in a fraction of their run time. It does this by having our protagonists dispatch the terminators, who for the longest time were the epitome of "unstoppable killing machines", within this movie's first act.

Does that make this a bad movie? Not exactly. It is genuinely enjoyable, both for new fans and for followers of the franchise. For the latter, you have more references and homages to all past Terminator media, in some form or another. I admit, picking out all those homages was part of the fun of watching this. Adding to that is how this movie finally brings to the big screen scenes and concepts that were left on the cutting room floor in the past movies. Think of this as "Terminator: The Deleted Scenes". We get to see the final future battle with humanity capturing Skynet's time machine (cut from Terminator 1), we get to see two Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminators duke it out (original concept for Terminator 2), we get to see a terminator made out of cybernetic nano particles (a "gaseous" terminator which was a planned concept for T3 to continue the theme of "solid" in T1 and "liquid" in T2). And even if you never knew all this useless trivia (now you do) the spectacular special effects would leave you stunned.

Emilia Clarke and Schwarzenegger shine here. They share good chemistry between a joyless Sarah Connor resigned to her fate and an increasingly human Terminator cyborg dubbed "Pops". Kudos to the writer for continuing the strong theme of "family" that James Cameron had in his movies. Pops is the over-protective dad, Sarah is the rebellious teen daughter and Kyle Reese is the new boy who is destined to date and bed daddy's little girl. That chemistry between the cast gives their characters' relationship a good deal of weight and lends itself to some genuinely humorous scenes. The same can't be said for the wooden Jai Courtney or Jason Clarke's hammy over-the-top John Connor who looks like his face met the wrong end of a rake.

Story-wise, the whole "alternate universe" thing is such a cop-out, ripped from JJ Abram's STAR TREK. Yes it invalidates T3 and T:Salvation, but it also invalidates T1 and T2: Judgement Day. The direction by Alan Tylor is a bit of a mess here. Action gets a little hard to follow and the erratically paced plot never maintains its sense of tension. Unlike previous films, you don't really feel like our protagonists are in any real peril. In the past films, the protector is barely able to knock down the killer, and gets nearly killed each time they go one-on-one. The obsolete "old" Pops seems able to hold his own perfectly well against the new deadlier killer cyborg.(which thanks to a retarded advertising campaign, everyone knows is John Connor himself).

Where the director does nothing special with the camera, the writers at least try to continue the theme of blurring the line between man and machine. This theme is actualised in the new John Connor cyborg himself; a machine who is 100% the human it is designed to mimic. Then you have Pops. The most inhuman, rigid, machine-like cyborg who can't even mimic a proper smile. Slowly but surely, his knowledge of humanity grows right up to a simple but emotionally powerful climax where you realise that a machine, a Terminator, could finally learn to love.

I would rank this just ahead of Terminator Salvation and right behind TERMINATOR THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES. It is by no means as groundbreaking as the first two movies, but it is not as insipid as the third nor does it deviate from established themes like the fourth. A director that favours spectacle over character development and a musical score that remixes Brad Fiedel's original music in the style of Steve Jablonsky makes TERMINATOR GENISYS a slight disappointment for me. Until a worthy successor to the Terminator brand comes along, I'm going back through time and I am going to watch James Cameron's Terminator 1 and 2 all over again.

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