Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wonder Woman (2009) direct-to-video animated movie review


Before she was a hero, she was an amazon. And before she had a live action movie, she had an animated one

The Good: snappy well written dialogue, perfect casting, underlying thought provoking themes, sympathetic antagonist, well developed protagonist, epic soundtrack

The Bad: occasional sub par animation, uninspired fight scenes

Wonder Woman makes her live action solo movie debut in 2017, but that is not her first feature length film. In 2009, the animated Wonder Woman movie was produced by Warner Premiere as part of its then-new direct to video series of movies. Overshadowed by higher profile releases like Batman Gotham Knights (no doubt bolstered by the success of Christopher Nolan's dark knight trilogy), the 2009 Wonder Woman animated movie failed to perform as well in terms of sales. Surprising when you consider that on its own, WONDER WOMAN is a well made, thought provoking, energetic little movie that deserved much more recognition than it got.

Our story opens in ancient times where the amazon women wage a bloody war which ended with the imprisonment of Ares, but at the cost of many lives. As a reward, the greek gods grant the amazon queen Hippolyta a child fashioned from clay: Diana. The amazons flourish in isolation on paradise island where Diana grows up into a fine young warrior. But a part of her seeks greater adventure outside the boundaries of the island. Her chance comes when pilot Steve Trevor survives a frantic mid air battle and crashes on the island.

As the amazons hold a contest to determine the one most worthy to escort Trevor back to america, Ares escapes with the help of a traitor just as Diana wins the contest. Tasked with tracking down Ares, Trevor opts to help Diana as the enter man's world in search of the missing god of war. But Ares has a far more sinister plan in the work, one that could spell the doom of the world and the extinction of the amazons.

Right from the get go, the first thing that struck me was the dialogue in the movie. Written by comic scribe Gail Simone, the dialogue is witty, clever and mature. Take the visuals out of the equation and it feels like watching a well written live action movie or prime time tv show.

Our characters are brought to life by a perfect cast; Alfred Molina is truly menacing as Ares, Rosario Dawson as the regal queen, and Keri Russell imbuing a nuanced inner strength to Diana.

However the true standout performance is Firefly's Nathan Fillon as daring scoundrel pilot Steve Trevor. Steve is part Han Solo, part Maverick Mitchell from Top Gun and Fillon slips into it perfectly. He completely owns the roll, delivering his dialogue in the most natural way possible, sharing a magnificent chemistry with Russell.

The story is deeper than your average cartoon. Aside from being an origin story for Wonder Woman, showing her growth from reluctant and slightly defiant girl to a champion of the oppressed, the narrative weaves in many underlying themes relevant to our times.
Themes of sexism, gender bias, racial privilege and the differing expectations on man and woman are all interwoven into the narrative and brought to the forefront. It is refreshing to find a movie that is this smart in its handling of such themes; indeed a rarity in american animated works.

Unfortunately, the movie is not without its flaws and WONDER WOMAN's flaws are in the visuals. The animation was done by Moi Animation, a Korean studio who worked on many critically acclaimed works such as Legend of Korra and Young Justice. WONDER WOMAN was their first feature length work, having only done animation in the past for TV shows like TEEN TITANS and BOONDOCKS. The animation is ok. Nothing horrible but nothing as stunning as their later works. The often uninspired way the fight scenes are done does not help matters. Fights either involve one too many cuts or just do not feel as dynamic as other later DC animated movies.

The art work is also up to personal taste. Director Lauren Montgomery brings a look that mixes 90s Disney cartoon aesthetic with the more simplistic designs of the Bruce Timm cartoons, but the mix tends to look a bit lazy at times.

I personally did not like it as all the women looked the same, with big emphasised lips and angular hips, only differentiated by different hair styles. The few attempts at using CGI for vehicles just came off looking cheap and unprofessional.

On the bright side, composer Christopher Drake bring an epic score to the movie, giving otherwise mediocre fight scenes a sense of intensity and danger.

At 75 minutes, some would call the movie short, but i call it succinct. A lot happens in that time, going from paradise island, to america, to the depths of the underworld, and then to a climatic showdown in Washington DC. This brisk pace may leave it up to the viewer to connect some of the sub plots but the main story of Diana's more innocent nature contrasting with the ways of the modern world works to develop her character from sheltered princess into a true warrior and hero. This movie in a word is terrific, let down only by its technical shortcomings. If you can forgive that, that you would be in for a truly wonderful experience.


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

Saturday, May 6, 2017

X-Men The Animated Series (1992) Tv Series Review - 76 Episodes


The Good: Detailed artwork, good balance of action and drama, comic accurate designs, improves on certain comic book storylines, delves into socio-political themes, mature tone of script

The Bad: occasional over-acting, inconsistent animation, drop in quality of final season

Nostalgia. It is a disease that infects our senses to perceive products through rose coloured glasses just because of some fleeting connection to good memories of our younger days. In reviewing the much loved X-MEN THE ANIMATED SERIES it is only right that nostalgia is removed from the equation and we can review those shows as objectively as possible to the standards of that era. The end result is really a mixed bag with its ups and downs when it comes to technical quality, writing, artwork and voice acting. It is not a bad show but not the epitome of perfection that many may choose to believe.
A roaring action packed opening sequence, done in beautifully detailed art and amazing animation, kicks off each episode to the electronic fanfare of the now iconic X-men theme. As we segue into the episodes proper the drop in quality is very noticeable. There has always been a trade off between the level of detail and the smoothness of the animation motions. Here, they tried to mimic the detailed art of the era's comics. The designs are straight out of the 1990s comics particularly those drawn by artist Jim Lee, maintaining lots of shadows and contrast with lighting effects, clothing folds and skin creases painstakingly drawn frame by frame.

The level of detail is almost on par with direct to video Japanese Anime of that era, no simple feat coming from Korean studies AKOM. Unfortunately the quality of the animation leaves much to be desired. There is a stilted look to many scenes particularly in the more crowded action sequences. Backgrounds seem unfinished at times and the occasional animation error can be quite jarring. Close up shots fare better only because there is less to animate and the detailed art more than makes up for the mediocre animation.
The stories are very close adaptations of tales straight out of the comic books, particularly the best works by Chris Claremont and Fabian Niceza. Overarching story lines spanning multiple episodes give each season a grander more epic feel. Stand outs include the Phoenix Saga, the Cable and Apocalypse conflict, and of course Magneto's Insurgency. There is a good mix of "event" episodes and more intimate character centred ones where there is less emphasis on action, more on drama and development.
Initially both scripts and actors fell into the trappings of typical Saturday morning cartoon fluff: overacting, juvenile dialogue. Come season two and the script took on a more mature tone (again a result of adapting lines directly from the comics). Characters die and relationships get broken then healed as the episodes tackle themes of discrimination, extremism, illegal experimentation, and even some existential philosophy. The status quo continually changes unlike many other cartoons which always revert to status quo by the end of the episode.
Slowly but surely the voice actors eased into their roles and by season 3 they were emoting like experts; subtle, nuanced, perfect. Many of the voices like Iona Morris' extra dramatic Storm, Norm Spencer's heroic leader Cyclops and Cathal Dodd's scowling Wolverine have gone down in history as  being THE iconic voices of the characters that comic readers hear in their heads whenever they flip through their Favourite books.
It is easy to see why the series garnered such a wide appeal, pleasing both casual viewers and long time comic readers alike. It's faithfulness to the source material and visual aesthetics of the comics are tampered with necessary tweaks to make the continuity less convoluted. Having read the comic, I dare say that some of the changes are actually an improvement over the original stories. The cartoon's biggest asset is its willingness to show the more mature subject matter of the comics without dumbing stuff down for kids. The artwork is beautiful in all its rich detail, a cut above other cartoons of that era but sadly let down by sub par animation. Though it takes it's time to find good footing, X-MEN THE ANIMATED SERIES is right up there among the best of 1990s cartoons. Not perfect, and definitely not aged well when compared to shows of today, but excellent nonetheless.


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

Friday, May 5, 2017

Guardians of The Galaxy (2014) movie review

Overall verdict: 6/10

The space Avengers and their shallow funny romp among the stars

The Good: Well written comedy, amazing visual effects, excellent cast chemistry

The Bad: lack of character development, mediocre music, badly timed comedy kills drama and tension, comes off as a bad parody that does not take itself seriously, unnecessary changes to existing comic characters

Guardians of the galaxy is the fluff of a Saturday morning cartoon aimed to please the lowest common denominator of audiences. It's special effects loaded visuals and overdone comedy act like drugs, numbing the senses to the narrative incoherence, overly convenient plot twists and flat characters. Furthermore it commits the worst crime of any comic book adaptation of completely misinterpreting the original characterisations of the characters just to serve the writers' own ends, which in this case seems to be more comedy.
We open on young Peter Quill who gets abducted by aliens following the death of his mother. No doubt we are supposed to feel much sadness for this unfortunate youngster. But this traumatic event hardly factors into the story as we cut to 20 years later where Peter Quill has grown up to be a space faring Indiana Jones, minus the gruff charm but with added dose of "American pie" style goofiness. He is comic relief number 1, and starting with his introductory scene the movie throws all heavy stakes and any sense of peril out the proverbial window as the self named "star lord" dances through a dangerous cave casually kicking aside carnivorous critters, all to the tune "come get your love". And that is the first problem with this movie; it never takes itself seriously.
One strange artifact later, Quill runs into a green woman (Gamora) out to get that artifact, a talking raccoon comic relief number 2 and bellowing alien tree comic relief number 3 who are bounty hunters after Quill. They land in prison where they meet comic relief number 4, a green tough guy named Drax who's talk is bigger than his brain. Bearing only a visual resemblance to their comic counterparts, the titular characters have been changed for the sake of comedy. And that's the second problem: unnecessary changes to existing characters. 
What was once a diverse team of warriors, each with their own skill and unique personality have been neutered into a rag tag bunch of losers who exist just to be funny. As mentioned, Starlord Peter Quill is Chris Pratt playing himself, all fun loving snarky, instead of the veteran intergalactic soldier from the comics. The cunning warrior Drax has been changed into a dim doofus for us to laugh at his inability to comprehend figure of speech. Groot, the scary tree with a berserker rage has been made peaceful and cute!
Conveniently they team up to escape from the prison, pursued by glorified space security Guards that claim to be the powerful nova corp from the comics (again, another stupid change). Somehow big bad Thanos is involved but we never know anything about him other than his underling Ronan cutting him off mid conversation and wanting to take over as big boss. And he needs Peter Quill's artifact to do that. There's some dude named The Collector, a jive talking blue dude named Yondu, and so many characters that we never know any back story about. Third problem: way too many character, much too little development.
Our characters don't seem to go through any development arc from start to finish. Nothing was changed by the experience of facing down Ronan and the characters are still who they are by the end of the film, other than the fact that they are now a team. Convenient plot hijinks ensue which causes an unprepared face off with Ronan, splits the team, reunites Peter with Yondu, and the team gets back together again in time for the big planet wide special effects laden showdown with Ronan's attacking force. These story beats are a dime a dozen, a relatively typical story of its kind with no surprises.
Of course credit where credit is due and credit goes to the first drug which is the special effects. They are magnificent. Space ships, aliens and more are right up ILM's alley having done the Star Wars movies. The action sequences are a breathtaking roller coaster worthy to have their own Disneyland ride. Credit also goes to the chemistry among the cast. While the frequent attempts at comedy kills the mood and any sense of danger, the interplay between characters can be genuinely funny and at times heartwarming. The dialogue is snappy and filled with energy as we are shown each characters' motivations and quirks. Like any good cartoon cast, they are a diverse bunch with distinct, if at times exaggerated, personalities which all contribute to the fun of the movie.
And that is practically it! Guardians of the galaxy is as fun as a cartoon, appealing to children and children at heart, playing heavy on nostalgia through its use of classic pop songs to spice up and otherwise run-of-the-mill tale. There is barely any depth or development of the characters, barely any deeper themes explored other than the whole "importance of putting aside differences and coming together" cliche that so many movies have done. 
While I admit the comedy is well written, it can get overdone and when it comes right smack in the middle of drama, it kills the mood of more intense scenes, negating the sense of danger and peril. Ultimately GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY should have been titled as a movie completely separate from the comic book that inspired it considering all the liberties taken with the characters. It is fun fluff, but fluff nonetheless, dressing a mediocre story, shallow narrative and flat characters in the modern movie drug of humour and special effects.

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