Comics, Movies, Video Games, and More

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

~Ephesians 5:16

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thor: The Dark World Review

Thor has always been a major fixture in Marvel Comics. Adapting the God of Thunder for the big screen is an interesting thing to do, and the 2011 film more or less succeeded. It wasn't a great movie, but it established Thor and his characters well enough. Audiences were introduced to the wondrous realm of Asgard. Sadly the Earth scenes were tedious, and the romance between Thor and Jane Foster was forced. Loki was nicely established as Thor's mischievousness brother. All in all it was a decent origin story from the MCU. The Dark World is an improvement over its previous installment. It's not a 5 star movie by a long shot, but director Alan Taylor delivers a solid flick.

The story apparently takes place one year after The Avengers. Loki is taken to Odin, which the latter sends away to the dungeons. (I really like how the MCU is basically one big comic book universe where events have effect and continue on to other movies.) Malekith, the leader of the Dark Elves, awakens and wants to bring darkness to the entire universe. Sadly, the thing Malekith wants has been inhabited by Jane Foster, so his mission is to get her. Thor can't have this, so in order to ensure victory he enlists the help of his estranged brother. Of course, even having the God of Mischief may not make them victorious.

The story is solid enough. The flashback with Odin's father taking on Malekith and the Dark Elves was well done, albeit slightly cheesy narration. In present day, we're treated to many scenes in Asgard. It's refreshing to see most of the film taking place away from Earth. Thor's portrayal is pretty solid for the most part. I've said this in the past, but I was never crazy about Chris Hemsworth's performance. He didn't seem so sure about the role in his film and was only slightly better in The Avengers. He's a bit of a cardboard version of the character from the comics. This film is is an improvement, though Tom Hiddleston stole the show away, Loki has cemented himself as the fan favorite character in the MCU. Some of his scenes are highlights, such as the one where he uses his shapeshifting ability to annoy Thor. Loki is involved in two unexpected but great plot twists.

Natalie Portman's portrayal of Jane Foster was alright. To me she's like Skye from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the girl we're supposed to like but ends up being more annoying than likable. Sif and the Warriors 3 sadly got a mild role in Thor. At least here they did a few things. It's a shame Sif is a side character, she would make a fantastic focus and a much better love interest for Thor. The chemistry between those two in their short scenes together is much more natural than him and Foster. Anthony Hopkins returns for another good portrayal of Odin. Sadly his role is minimal compared to the previous film, and the viewer actually finds himself/herself disliking him after he shouts, "As many as are needed!" when talking to Thor on how many of his men need to die in order to take down Malekith.

The antagonist, Malekith, is portrayed by Christopher Eccleston. Sadly, he's ultimately forgettable. Thor's mother, whom is one of the best characters in the whole thing, alone was more powerful than him. He just doesn't do anything, it's his right hand man Kurse that does all the hard work. Kurse is portrayed by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. He is by far the much more engaging antagonist, his fight with Thor was fantastic and easily more exciting than the lackluster climax. He actually knocks away Thor's hammer like it's paper! Kurse should have overthrown Malekith, the latter just wasn't as great as he could have been.

Thor's mother Frigga has one of the most powerful scenes in the entire MCU. She was actually a more engaging character than the majority. Jane's Foster quirky friend Darcy returns. She was actually genuinely funny, I actually liked her more than Foster. For some reason, Darcy has an intern by the name of Ian. This guy ultimately serves no purpose, other than for comedic effect. (And this film has enough of that without him.) Idris Elba's Heimdall returns for another powerful performance. Eric Selvig is nothing but comedy, and not the good kind. Seriously, I don't think anyone comes to a Marvel movie to see a guy streaking over property or walking around in underwear. The MCU loves comedy and hates gritty, yes, but this is borderline dumb.

The climax is alright, but laughable when compared to the final battle between Superman and Zod in Man of Steel. The falling-in-between-worlds portal is an interesting -but quickly turns into a lame- gimmick. There's virtually no blows thrown, instead they keep falling through portals. The ending nicely sets up Thor 3 or perhaps a storyline for a future Avengers movie. The mid-credits scene isn't too exciting, but an interesting setup for Guardians of the Galaxy. The after-credits scene is alright, nothing special but the very last part is funny enough to justify staying in your chair. The soundtrack is pretty solid. It has some good opera when necessary.

Overall, the Thor sequel is a good followup. The story is interesting and Loki steals the show. Thor is pretty good, and the fight between him and Kurse was fantastic. Unfortunately, Malekith is underwhelming. The sad part is that this is becoming evident with any MCU film not labeled the Avengers. The main female lead doesn't come close to the coolness of Lady Sif. Ultimately, The Dark World isn't a great film. The action is just sad when compared to Man of Steel. The film however still beats Iron Man 3 and is far from being called 'lackluster.' Though it is kinda disappointing when a 5 minute preview for Captain America: The Winter Solider gives the impression that it's going to be 10 times better than this.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Why The Conjuring is a Step in the Right Direction for Horror Films

You'll find that horror is one of the most popular movie genres. Unfortunately the term 'horror' has been clitched too many times. Not only that, but logic seems absent in most of them. Hollywood loves to play the demonic angle. They love showcasing demonic possessions, demonic hauntings, and won't hesitate to have the characters completely eradicated by these entities. So what's missing? God is missing. Not too long ago I wrote an article on this. Hollywood loves to use demons for entertainment, but God or angelic intervention? Nowhere to be seen. Seriously, when I watch these movies I'm always wondering why no one whips out a Bible and does something. You would think that since the human characters know they're being haunted they would perhaps think a God exists too. But you won't find that for the majority of the time since Hollywood just wants to use the dark part of spiritual forces for entertainment.

The Conjuring surprised me.

The Conjuring came out back in July, and was surprisingly a huge hit. It made a lot of money and got pretty positive reviews, with some even calling it one of the best horror films of the decade. That's cause it gets so many things right. It's free of stereotypical clitches found in a lot of horror movies. It's apparently based on a true story, with the Perron family being haunted by a demonic entity, so they hire demonologists Ed and Loraine to expel the demon.

The first thing I want to get into is that this film had virtually no cursing and no nudity whatsoever. This was pretty amazing since you'll be hard-pressed to find a horror without one or the other. The Conjuring proves a film doesn't need that stuff and can survive simply on having a genuinely good, scary story. The second thing is that the family actually acts like real people and feel genuine. Often in horror films the characters are usually unlikable or jerks, but here they seem like a real family. Third, no main person dies. It has an actual ending, a nice one at that which is an extremely refreshing change of pace. Not all horror films must have a bitter ending. 

The main thing I want to get into is the portrayal of God. It was pretty interesting to see Ed use Him as a source to expel on the demon. "In the name of God, I command you back to Hell!" It's good to see someone using holy power against a demonic entity. It's not perfect however. The annoying thing that stood out was when Ed went to ask the Priest to get permission for the exorcism. The Priest didn't want to at first since the Perrons aren't members of the Catholic church. This to me is sad because I don't think God just wants us to help people in the church, we're called upon to help all people in time of need. So that stood out to me. The church God ordained will want to help out all people, not just members.

The part that made the film for me was the final line, a quote from Ed. "The devil exists. God exists. And for us, as people, our very destiny hinges on which we decide to follow." That's right, those words were stated in a theatrical Hollywood movie that thousands of people saw. It's an absolutely fantastic quote. The Conjuring is a great movie. It's a horror film the Christian can also appreciate. It's a step in the right direction for horror films, but unfortunately with Hollywood it's doubtful we'll get another movie like it anytime soon. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Sonic Universe Volume 1 Review

Picture for a moment if the Marvel Universe were condensed into a single comic series, let's say The Amazing Spider-Man. It would be cool, but eventually the reader would yearn to read other stories within that world. What are the other heroes doing while Spidey is saving the day or taking a nap? This is the same concept with Sonic Universe, a spinoff series from the main title. The Sonic games have established a fantastic mythology that has transitioned well into the comic world. As much as we love the Blue Hedgehog, people were definitely interested in stories starring the other characters. In the games it didn't quite work out that well with Shadow the Hedgehog, but perhaps in comic land things would be different. Sonic Universe Volume 1 contains Issue #1 to #4, which has been dubbed 'Shadow Saga.' It's a fantastic read for people especially that grew up with Adventure 2 and up.

The first issue features Shadow on a mission to acquire a Chaos Emerald. It's an interesting story for a few reasons. It opens up with him battling Metal Sonic. Shadow has always been a fan favorite character for the obvious reasons. This issue is particularly interesting since we see how far he's come as a character. He actually sympathizes with Metal Sonic, saying that the two aren't very unlike. The other intriguing part is that Shadow lands in Blaze the Cat's world. It's pretty cool since it references Sonic Rush Adventure. (The comic's version anyway, but close enough.) This is apparently the first time they meet, so it's cool to see how personalities collide. Ian Flynn really nails all of the characters. The dialogue between Metal Sonic and Shadow in the final part was fantastic and easily the best part of the issue. Even if Marine was a bit annoying, this is easily the best issue of the bunch.

The second issue isn't quite as good, but still has a nostalgic touch. This time Sonic joins in on a mission with Shadow and Rouge. It's cool because while they're doing their thing in present day, there are also panel flashbacks to Adventure 2 in-between. Yes, the classic battle between the two in Green Forest is recreated with dialogue and everything. (This makes me want to pop in the disc.) It even manages to showcase the Biolizard and the Super Hedgehogs. While this wasn't quite as good as #1, it was still nice to have a little bit of nostalgia thrown at me. Plus, the banter between Sonic and Shadow is fantastic and shows how far their relationship had come.

The third issue is pretty interesting since it features the debut of Omega. The plot has Eggman activate Omega to hunt down the traitor Gamma. This is also a pretty cool thing, since these two robots have been compared many times by fans. Shadow's mission is to recruit Gamma to G.U.N. His dialogue with Gamma was pretty great since we see again how Shadow relates to being a weapon and how now he sees having allies is a good thing. After Omega sends Shadow skyrocketing away, the former has a battle and chat with Gamma. Flynn can write some pretty emotional stuff despite these comics usually being on the happier side. The entire scene with Omega blowing up Gamma but the latter sending his 'soul' into the former was fantastic. (It was also a good way to get Omega on Team Dark since these comics differ from the events of Sonic Heroes.)

The fourth and final issue is most notable for one reason: the formation of Team Dark. This of course adapting a part of Sonic Heroes. Kids today reading might not know that, but for people like me it's pretty nostalgic. First, Shadow and Rouge are sent into the Special Zone to acquire a Chaos Emerald. This Zone is governed by a god-like being called Feist, who is pretty awesome I have to say. (How many god-like talking pandas have you seen?) The mission is a bust and the two are sent back to the base. Shadow goes to sulk since he believes he shouldn't lose. The next scene is pretty interesting. He is comforted by a character called Hope Kintobor, who is exclusive to the comics. It's a pretty touching scene, since Shadow thinks of Maria when talking to her. After, Omega is sent with Shadow and Rouge. Together, they form Team Dark. (And the sparring match between Shadow and Omega before was great since it established the friendship between the two.) The mission into the Special Zone is accomplished thanks to teamwork. In the end, the issue nicely sets up Team Dark for the comic world.

Overall, the first volume to Sonic Universe is an extremely fun read. It harkens back to the quality writing of the Adventure 2 days. (No offence to Colors or Generations of course, but those games' writing have nothing on any game between Adventure 2 and Unleashed.) Shadow is arguably the greatest character in the Sonic mythos aside from the Blue Blur himself. He makes for a fantastic focus and reading through this makes me want to see a Team Dark-centric series. Sonic Universe Volume 1 is a must have for longtime Sonic fans.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Nightmare Before Christmas Review

There are many movies everyone knows. Star Wars, Jaws, and more recently The Avengers are just a few of these films. Perhaps the most well-known and influential stop motion film is Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. It was originally based on a poem, which is a pretty good read. However, what a lot of people forget is that it wasn't directed by Burton, he was the producer. It was directed by Henry Selick, who would go on to direct Coraline 16 years later, another great (and I would say better) stop motion flick. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a unique movie. I'm personally not into musicals, but the story is whimsical and doesn't get dull.

The story follows Jack Skellington, the 'Pumpkin King.' He's basically the leader of Halloween, every vampire, ghost, and werewolf looks up to him when it comes to the yearly event. Jack however has grown tired of Halloween Town, he yearns for something different. While traveling deep into the woods he stumbles upon a few trees. The one with the engraved Christmas tree stood out, so he enters and is transported to a place called Christmas Town. Here he sees the wonders of the Christmas holiday, from the trees to Santa Claus himself, he becomes amazed with all of it. So, when he comes back to Halloween Town, he wants to experience the Christmas spirit himself.

The story is pretty fun with a contrast between Christmas and Halloween, two vastly different, almost opposite holidays. Jack is a legendary character, one of Disney's best, right up there with Buzz Lightyear. His personality never gets old, being that of a horror figure, genius, yet a bit blinded by ambition. In short, he's one of the best characters Disney has brought us. The other main character would be Sally, a creation by Doctor Finklestein. She's a sweet girl with really the most sense in the whole thing. She easily grows on the viewer since she has a sad demeanor and often 'trapped' by Finkelstein.

The antagonist is Oogie Boogie. Despite appearing almost of nowhere and not having that much screen time, he's definitely a highlight and one of the best Disney villains. Seriously, he's fantastic. Ken Page does an excellent job voicing him, almost a mocking gentlemen tone of Jack's elegant voice. Santa Claus has a nice little role, despite being captured for most of it. Dr. Finklestein is your average jerk mad scientist. The film gave the illusion that he was perhaps the main antagonist. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. There aren't many other notable characters other than perhaps the bumbling mayor who provides some funny scenes.

The music is a major part of the film. I can't help but wonder how it would have gone if the music were absent. But, it's a musical and it's handled pretty well. The opening Halloween theme perfectly sets up the tone and atmosphere. Danny Elfman did a solid job with the soundtrack. The climax is pretty exciting, even having a 'final battle' against Oogie Boogie. In the end, you're left with a nice picture of Jack and Sally.

Overall, The Nightmare Before Christmas earns the title of 'classic.' No matter how many years go by, it's a fun watch. The film pioneered Burton's dark stop-motion type that is still in effect today. (Go watch Coraline.) Jack is a great focus, and is countered by the fantastic Oogie Boogie. Sally is a nice girl and the romance between her and Jack is subtle throughout and only blossoms in the final scene. Nightmare is a truly whimsical 76 minutes!