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"Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."

~Ephesians 5:16

Monday, September 30, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness Review

Star Trek is the most popular Science Fiction franchise, aside from Star Wars. It's no surprise that the reboot movie from 2009 did so well. It introduced the series to a whole new generation of fans, plus it somehow managed to be a prequel/alternate timeline for Trekkies. I have quite a few gripes with that obnoxious flick, but I won't deny that it succeeded in being a modern adaption. It's been four years, way overdue for a sequel. In fact, if we're going by two year deals, this should have been the third film. It's just too big of a gap. Was it worth the wait? Directed once again by J.J. Abrams, Into Darkness is not a perfect movie, but definitely better than its predecessor and a step in the right direction for the series.

The story follows James T. Kirk, whom is relieved of his duties after disobeying protocol. This changes when he's put back into the captain's seat to hunt down a Star Fleet traitor by the name of John Harrison. The film opens up with a fast-paced sequence on a planet called Nibiru. The scenery is quite lovely and shows how far special effects have gotten to the point where it can show off an alien planet's beauty. The plot gets going once the assault on the Starfleet commanders happens. Before that two major things happen, Kirk is told he's going back to the Academy and a Starfleet person accepts a deal from Harrison to save his daughter. It's a pretty powerful dynamic when you think about it, the guy blew himself up and the archive building with all the people to save his daughter. It gives the viewer an early impression on just how ruthless Harrison is. But is he the only really good character in the whole thing?

The primary thing I didn't like about the Star Trek reboot was the characters. It looked like Abrams and the team were doing their best to make all of them 'edgy' and 'modern.' Captain Kirk for example was one the most unlikable, arrogant, and obnoxious characters in the last decade. Bones and Scotty brought nothing to the table and Spock was a pale representation of his former self. Thankfully, almost everything wrong there is fixed in the sequel. Kirk (Chris Pine) is arrogant and annoying, but to a much lesser extent. This time we do get the feeling that he genuinely cares about his crew. When he said "I'm sorry" to them, it was one of the most powerful scenes in the movie. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is a highlight, instead of just trying to be a modern take on the classic character, he actually feels like a younger version of the Spock we all know and love. The battle between him and Harrison in the climax was fantastic. And finally, Scotty, Bones, Sulu, and Chekov are all great and actually feel like characters. Even Zoe Saldana as Lieutenant Uhura was pretty solid.

Dr. Carol Marcus got some mild hype in the trailers and such. Alice Eve just did not do quite a believable job. This is one of those cases were eye candy was the primary factor involved. I'm not saying it's Michael Bay bad, but really this character was truly unneeded and added nothing to the table. (To further the eye candy theory, just look at the short scene in the Shuttlecraft with her and Kirk.) Now, let's get on with the main event, the antagonist, John Harrison, or as I like to call him, KHAANN! Abrams and the marketing team did a stellar job hiding the fact that Khan was in this. There were constantly rumors of the egomaniac being in it, but he was hidden until the very end. He's rather different than his previous incarnation which hardcore fans may not like, but I thought he was great. He's definitely villain of the year material, Benedict Cumberbatch was easily the best actor in the whole thing.

One of the greatest parts of the film is the arrival of the USS Vengeance, which is basically a larger, darker version of the Enterprise. The trailers had you believe it was Khan's ship, but it ended up being commanded by Admiral Marcus at first. The second biggest plot twist, (the first obviously about Harrison being Khan) was that the Admiral was a traitor. It's pretty well done since the film has you believe that Khan will actually end up being a misunderstood hero and Marcus the villain. But, it doesn't go that way. First, you really have to admire the Vengeance's design and how it looked in conjunction with the little USS Enterprise. One of the best scenes is when the Enterprise goes into warp and then the Vengeance actually chases them and shoots them out of the warp field. The climax might be disappointing to some since Kirk doesn't get into a fight with Khan, it's Spock. It's definitely disappointing, but the battle between him and the Vulcan was fantastic nonetheless. The soundtrack is pretty solid, no complaints. It was nice to hear a remastered version of the classic theme.

Overall, Into Darkness is an enjoyable second installment in this rebooted series. Kirk is still too arrogant for my taste, but he isn't as grating to watch as the previous film. It's very nice to see the crew having a chemistry that was lacking in the origin, they actually feel like the Star Trek crew we all know and love. John Harrison, or rather Khan, is a fantastic antagonist and easily more memorable than Captain Nero. I look forward to the next installment. (Which hopefully will include antagonists other than the Klingons, because they weren't that impressive here, though their Predator helmets were pretty cool.)


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Powerpuff Girls #1 Review

The Girls are back! Is the first issue a trip down nostalgia lane with a fun story?

Here's the official description from IDW
Citizens of Townsville, fear not! The Powerpuff Girls are back! In this IDW debut issue Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup are back to take down the meanest of the mean and the ugliest of the ugly! Plus, what fiendish secret is Mojo Jojo hiding? The answer is sure to surprise! 

In many ways, The Powerpuff Girls is the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic of yesteryear. A show supposedly aimed at girls, but quickly gained a following from both genders of all ages. It's easy to see why, it has great heroes, action, and the stories are both engaging and funny. It's been many years since the series finale, you can say the franchise has been dead. Leave it to IDW to resurrect it with a brand new comic series. Sadly, it will only be five issues strangely. Perhaps if they sell well enough it could evolve into an ongoing series. So, how does this first issue fare? I haven't had this much nostalgia in awhile.

Troy Little writes...and draws! It's pretty amazing how he handles both duties. The prologue is very appropriate, with the classic "The city of Townsville..." I'm guessing longtime fans will be the primary readers of the book. They, like myself, will hear the narrator and all the sound effects from the show throughout. Little perfectly captures the personalities of the characters. Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup are as diverse as they are in the show. Mojo Jojo is almost a parody of his former self, realizing that he keeps seeing defeat over and over again. It's an interesting change of pace since like the reader, he realizes it's almost futile to keep trying. There are quite a few jokes throughout, funny stuff such as Mojo talking about working in retail.

The art is perfect. It's almost as if the exact renders were taken from the actual episodes. Some might wish the book had more of a stylistic take, but I personally liked how it's 100% show accurate. Like with the MLP comics, there are lots of covers. Cover A is a pretty solid piece of the girls with a rather depressed looking Mojo. Cover B, C, and D all feature one particular Girl, so fans can pick their favorite. Those three combine to make the fabulous RI. The subscription variant by Stephanie Buscema is the most unique of the bunch and the one to get I'd say. As for store exclusive variants...there are too many awesome ones! I personally like the Hastings cover.

Overall, the Powerpuff Girls are back with a pretty great start to this new series. IDW has worked their magic again with bringing back a great property and giving it life once more. It's fun for everyone, whether you be a longtime fan or a new reader. Young and old alike can pick it up and have a blast, just like the show.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Review

When one thinks of Final Fantasy, chances are the seventh game in the series first comes to mind. I recently played through it, and definitely see why it's legendary. The story is unbelievably engaging, especially the struggle with Cloud against Sephiroth. Since then, there have been quite a few things released relating to that particular game. Prequels, ovas, but perhaps the most popular and important of them all is Advent Children. Released in 2005, eight years after the game came out, it acts as a direct sequel, taking place two years after the fall of Meteor. I had seen it a few years ago, but now that I've actually played the game, I've gained a newfound appreciation for it.

The story like anything Final Fantasy related, (well, maybe not the Theatrhythm games) is pretty complex. Remnants of Sephiroth have risen from the Northern Cave and are looking for 'Mother,' aka Jenova. This Geostigma sickness is spreading, affecting especially the children, It'll take a reunion between friends to put an end to it and Sephiroth's revival. That's probably the best way I can summarize it. While obviously not as deep as the game's story, it's a lot to take in. And this is the only minor negative, you can't really appreciate this movie unless you've played the game. I don't suppose that is a negative, but it's definitely made for fans. (Which is also kinda refreshing in a way, since it doesn't bother trying to hook in newcomers and instead throws the player into the World Map once again.)

It's pretty cool to hear all the voices, everyone is pretty much perfect. Cloud is more quiet and passive than even his game-self, but one must expect that after all which has happened between the ending of the game and film. Tifa appears the most out of the group, and is just as cool as her game-self. (Her fight with Loz is one of the highlights.) It takes awhile for Barret, Cid, Yuffie, Cait Smith, and Red XIII to appear. I personally thought it was a blast to see them all in glorious CGI. Vincent, despite being an optional character in the game, has a pretty strong presence. He was definitely a highlight.

The villains until Sephiroth's return are his 'remnants,' Kadaj, Yazoo, and Loz. The story doesn't do the best job establishing that they are Sephiroth's remnants. Unless you're really paying attention to every single word being said, you may miss that part. As for they themselves...they're okay. They're more annoying than likable and you can't help but want Sephiroth to come back already throughout since these guys are pretty lackluster. The Turks are surprisingly highlights, being what they were meant to be in the game: funny and likable characters. It was good seeing Rufus and his wanting atonement. I really like how it gave a flashback to when Weapon exploded his base in the game.

The CGI is very good, and looks quite stunning in glorious Blu-ray quality. The fights are fantastic, from Tifa's fight with Loz to Cloud's bout with Sephiroth, this film has some of the best fights you'll find. In the course of two hours, the film manages to squeeze in two major battles, the fight against Bahamut and the one with Sephiroth. Bahamut looks especially fantastic in this CGI rendition, full of power and some personality. The soundtrack is great, with a couple of themes lifted straight from the game. The biggest one is a new version of 'One Winged Angel.' Some parts of the soundtrack I thought could have perhaps been more lifted from the game instead of new themes such as the one with TIfa against Loz. Though, I do love how Loz's ringtone is the winning theme from the game.

Overall, Advent Children is a very nice companion piece/sequel to the legendary Final Fantasy VII. You can't really appreciate or truly comprehend what's happening without having played the game however. (Other than Vincent and Tifa, I don't remember any other characters being referred to by name except maybe Yuffie.) It's not very new-viewer friendly, but in a way it doesn't really matter in the long run since this was made for people that did play the game. It has fantastic CGI fights, the characters are a blast to watch in motion, and it's FF VII. Pick up the Complete Blu-ray edition if you haven't already.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 Review

The End Times, the book of Revelation, is probably the most popular story Christian movies like to portray. From Left Behind to A Thief in the Night, there are many films portraying the end of the world. One of the most interesting is Megiddo. The story is of course identical to many end time movies, but there are quite a few factors making this one stick out. If the book of Revelation was used to become a summer blockbuster, this would be the closest to that. There are faults, but overall it's a very enjoyable watch from beginning to end.

The Omega Code 2 is directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, who has directed many low-budget flicks. He's went on board to say he's not a 'Pentecostal Christian.' I find it interesting that they went with a non-Christian director to direct a Christian movie, many things could go wrong. But, I have no fault with the directing, Trenchard-Smith delivers a rather fun take on the story. The plot follows Alexander Stone and his rise to power. He has a vision of a new world order, and he's going to achieve it one way or the other. His brother David realizes his brother is evil, and will eventually have to make a decision concerning coming to faith.

First off, I really like how the story focuses on Alexander's/The Beast's/the Devil's rise to power. Many end time movies follow a main character, or a small group and their journey to faith while The Beast is a background force. The first 20 minutes of the story devotes its time to focusing on Alexander's early days and shows how the Devil used him as a puppet. It's great, Michael York does a phenomenal job portraying Stone. I have to give credit to the writers for some great pieces of dialogue. My personal favorite is when Stone says, "Television, wonderful invention. It does the work for me!" Stone was definitely a highlight, I would give Michael York and Emmy award.

David, Stone's brother, is technically the protagonist. He succeeds the president after Stone murders the latter. I have no problems with Michael Biehn's portrayal, it's pretty solid. I do think he converted to faith a little too fast, there just wasn't enough build-up. The whole scene in the church I felt could have been handled better. God sending a message to him was good, but having the people and priest turn to him and shouting "Save us!" was kinda strange. Another prominent character is Gabriella, Stone's wife. Her conversion was more fluid and felt more real than David's, her death was handled pretty well.

Now, the main thing I like about Megiddo is that Stone/The Beast actually transforms into his Demonic, Satanic true form. In a pretty awesome scene, he becomes the actual monster. I have never seen an End Times movie where it actually has The Devil reveal his true form, so that was exciting to see. The CGI is surprisingly good, it easily puts all SyFy Original movies to shame. (Which is kinda sad since this was made in 2001 while something like Sharknado is out of modern day.) The entire climax is pretty exciting, though the ending is slightly abrupt. It would have been nice to perhaps get a glimpse of the White Horse and Jesus riding on top of it.

Overall, Megiddo is a really fun take on Revelation. It's not very grim and chooses to be more of an enjoyable ride from start to finish. How many movies have you seen where you get to see the actual Devil in his demonic form? It is not the first end times movie I would recommend to someone however, since it lacks the powerful message of Jesus coming back. There are quite a few other films that symbolize that better. But, it's still one of my personal favorites. It shows that there can be a really good Christian action movie.