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

~Ephesians 5:16

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) Review

I think it's safe to say that just about everyone grew up with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For many people it was the classic 80's episodic comedy adventures, for me it was the highly underrated 2003 incarnation, and today's generation is growing up with the current 2012 show. The previous Turtles movie, (simply called TMNT) came out back in 2007. It was a very good feature, having the darker tone of the 03 show while serving as a sequel to the three films from the 90's. Sadly it was never revisited. This year brought a reboot for the series, which isn't a bad thing in theory. When it was announced that Michael Bay and his company Platinum Dunes would be involved, the backlash against it was justified. One only needed to look at the four Transformers movies to see what kind of tone this film would have. Of course, Bay is not the director, only producer thankfully. The director is Johnathan Liebesman, whose best action film is Battle: Los Angeles. (Which isn't saying too much, and to add to that he directed what is probably the most boring "action" film of all time, Wrath of the Titans.) NINJA TURTLES is pretty much exactly what one expects from Bay being involved in some capacity. Overall however, it exceeds all the Transformer movies and is generally a fun film. It's nothing great, but could have been a whole lot worst. (It's scary to think how worst it could have been if Bay was full on director.)

Here's the official description from Paramount Pictures:

Darkness has settled over New York City as Shredder and his evil Foot Clan have an iron grip on everything from the police to the politicians. The future is grim until four unlikely outcast brothers rise from the sewers and discover their destiny as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Turtles must work with fearless reporter April O'Neil and her cameraman Vern Fenwick to save the city and unravel Shredder's diabolical plan.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the Transformer movies is that the focus is almost always on the humans instead of the robot conflict. That was a fear going into this movie, but thankfully there's a healthy balance of the Turtles and human scenes. Most of them interlock from the middle going forward. First let's look at the cast. Megan Fox from the first two Transformer films stars as April O'Neil, who aside from the Turtles, Splinter, and the Shredder, is the most well-known character in the franchise. For Miss Fox, if you've seen or know about any movies starring her, (the first two Transformers movies, Jennifer's Body) you know she's not put on screen for her acting ability. There's nothing wrong with putting a pretty actress as the lead star, but what Bay likes to do is use sexual appeal to sell tickets. Sadly, there is more than one joke regarding her appearance in this movie, which is very unfortunate.

The morality of film-making is for another article another day, so let's look at the overall performance. While I was expecting a very mediocre portrayal, interestingly she's pretty okay with her character for the most part. Very few scenes feel forced and I actually wouldn't mind if she returned as April in the sequel. (With Bay and Platinum Dunes out of the picture of course.) It's Will Arnett's character, Vern Fenwick, that is easily the worst written thing in the whole movie. Almost every single line he has after he meets Raphael is incredibly forced, jarring, and unrealistic. (Akin to Joshua Joyce in Transformers: Age of Extinction.) The secondary antagonist, Eric Sacks, (William Fitchner) is pretty solid. He's a bit on the generic side, but otherwise not bad. The primary antagonist, the Shredder, is the one who shines the most.

If it's one thing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III and TMNT learned, it's that it's very difficult to have a villain as engaging as the Shredder. Tohoru Masamune delivers a great portrayal of the classic villain. Some say the armor is too much of a radical redesign, and there's some justification there. But, as explained in the film, it being an amalgamation of classic samurai and current technology is a pretty cool concept. Karai also appears, though a very underused role. If the viewer wasn't a longtime fan, they wouldn't know that she was the Shredder's daughter. This is not made evident in the film at all, which is a shame because Minae Noji delivers a solid portrayal of the character. Hopefully she's given more to do in the sequel. And then somehow Whoopi Goldberg is thrown into all this, as April's boss. She may have been a solid actress in Star Trek: The Next Generation, but those days are long over. Every scene she's in here is just to basically tell the viewer, "Hey guys Whoopi is in this!"

Onto the reason why everyone would want to watch this movie: the Turtles. Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo all match their cartoon/comic personalities well. Most of the banter is funny and overall it's pretty much what a fan wants to see in a modern day reboot...for the most part. Unfortunately, some of the comedy seen in the Transformer movies makes it way here. It is possible to have a serious tone while retaining the signature humor of the characters, but as expected from Bay, some of the humor is jarring. The scene where the Turtles are racing in the sewer and Mickey cuts the cheese was very juvenile, the adrenaline scene was overdone, and the elevator one was just strange. There's so much potential, because 75% is solid Ninja Turtles banter. It's a shame some juvenile and sexual humor make their way here. Master Splinter's portrayal at first seems rather different when compared to previous portrayals, but by the end there's really no complaints to be had.

By far the the greatest thing about this movie is the action. From the excellent first Shredder fight scene in the sewer to the climatic final battle on the rooftop, the movie has some of the best fight scenes of 2014. They are choreographed extremely well, and bring justice to the many great battles from the cartoons and comics. The soundtrack is nothing special, but nothing bad either, with easily the best theme being the one which played during Splinter's fight with Shredder. Interestingly, the film is under 2 hours, which is unusual for a summer blockbuster these days. This wouldn't be bad, but some things feel rushed or unfinished (such as Sacks' ultimate fate) but this is due to the writing, not the length.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a solid reboot which is full of potential that is hampered by some poor humor and writing. As a reboot it isn't a bad way to get acquainted with the franchise. The elements are there: much of the banter between the Turtles is genuinely good and the Shredder is one of his most menacing incarnations yet. (Second only to the 2003 version.) If the poor humor was played down and the Vern character completely revamped, we could have had a "great" start to the new film series.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

5 Reasons Why the New Pokemon Movie is Pretty Awful

The poster itself is better than the movie
It's amazing to think that the first Pokemon film came out sixteen years ago. The show itself has been going on for seventeen years. Sadly the anime jumped the shark a long time ago. The movies however are usually a breath of fresh air amidst mediocrity. They usually offer high budget animation, a grand plot, and somewhat good fight scenes. Unfortunately the latest one, Cocoon of Destruction, makes Pokemon 4Ever look like a masterpiece. Instead of this being a formal review I'm going instead list the five primary negatives, because there's not many positive things to say!

1. Length
Diancie isn't happy about being in such mediocrity
Wow, this "movie" is short. It's just a little over an hour. It feels more like a TV special. Because of its pitiful length, there's virtually no time to establish any of the new characters. (And there's quite a few.) Of course, a solid script could do wonders, but this is one of the most mediocre writing attempts I've seen in the franchise.

2.Marilyn Flame & Ninja Riot
Supposed to be an emotional moment
Who the heck were these two? They literally show up out of nowhere with no backstory. After chasing Diance and realizing it's a lost cause, Riot decides it's best to give up and be together with Marilyn. This would be a touching scene if this were any other movie, but these two are so poorly established the viewer feels virtually nothing.

3. Argus Steel & Millis Steel
Easily the worst design for a human antagonist yet
She is the unfortunate product of a good character ruined by a poor script
Same problem as above. These two get no backstory and their goal isn't even that understandable. It's an interesting dynamic that Millis is Argus's daughter, but since once again they're so poorly established as characters, it doesn't matter. I don't even remember what happened to them after Yveltal blew them away.

4. Team Rocket
Easily the most laughable characters in all of existence
Team Rocket is probably the worst written characters in the entire franchise by now. They literally serve no purpose here at all. They could have easily been written out of the script, but I guess there's some sort of rule that says they have to be in every movie and virtually every episode right?

5. The "Final Battle"
Such wasted animation
This is the big movie based on the X & Y games, so of course a lot of hype was on Xerneas and Yveltal since this would be their first movie appearance. Yveltal has some impressive destruction scenes, which in theory should set up for an epic climax between the two. We don't get that. Instead we get what is perhaps the worst final battle in Pokemon history. The two literally throw a few beams at each other, and then Xerneas wins by...we don't even know! Her final beam did something to Yveltal since it sent the latter flying away. It's not explained and then the deer transformers into a tree for hibernation. This is definitely what players of the game have waited a year for...

Pokemon the anime franchise continues to become more and more mediocre. This movie is an immense disappointment, especially for people that played through X and Y last year. You're better off watching the first film for the 10th time.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction Review

The Transformers movies are one of the most interesting contradictions in film history. They get very negative reviews, (the only one to reach above 50% on Rotten Tomatoes is the first one) yet each does astounding in the box office. It seems the concept of giant robots battling it out is so great that it overrides all the mediocrity. The last one, Dark of the Moon, was supposed to be the final one in this saga. The way it ends makes sense: the Deceptions are destroyed and most of Megatron had been turned to scrap. Director Michael Bay even went on record to say it would be his last one. But alas, when a film makes so much money the company doesn't want them to stop, so here we are three years later with the fourth installment: Age of Extinction. This movie is yet another example of why Bay is one of my least favorite directors. It's not terrible however, and there quite a few factors that deserve praise, such as the amazing action sequences. Sadly the writing and characters is typical Bay fare.

It's been four years since the battle of Chicago. The Autobots have gone into hiding and the Decepticons are no longer a group. Sadly, the CIA group known as Cemetery Wind is hunting down the good guys and making it seem to the public that they are actually runaway Deceptions. They are doing this with the help of a bounty hunter transformer known as Lockdown, who is neither Autobot nor Decepticon. Eventually Optimus Prime is brought back to life thanks to an inventor named Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) and goes on a mission to rally all Autobots. Things turn really bad however when Cemetery is able to make their own Transformers, one of which is called Galvatron, who contains some of Megatron's soul...

Before we get into the many negatives, let's talk about what the film does right. The action scenes are the best of the series, and probably the greatest from all movies this year. Sadly there are too many background shots of them and cutaways to what the human characters are doing, but when the camera focuses on those fights it's amazing. Gone are the days when the viewer couldn't tell what was happening because every bot looked the same. Peter Cullen delivers another fantastic voice performance for Optimus Prime, who is easily once again the primary highlight. Sadly most of the notable characters died in Dark of the Moon, so a good majority of the Autobots and all the Decepticons are new. Galvatron is nicely established, though doesn't get nearly enough screen time. Since this is the start of a new trilogy, it's forgivable.

Lockdown is the new antagonist established. Unlike Shockwave in Dark of the Moon, he's given adequate screen time and an interesting character. Aside from Prime, he was easily the most engaging Transformer. Sadly with Starscream, Soundwave, Shockwave and all the other notable Decepticons dead, new characters are established. They can't talk so basically they're just a bunch of one-shots. It's been stated otherwise, but hopefully a way is found to bring back those aforementioned characters because new ones just aren't going to cut it. Interestingly, Bumblebee is given a rather small role in comparison with the previous three movies. His character portrayal is also much more annoying. Drift and Hound bring something to the table and make for a fine Autobot team. (Crosshairs on the other hand not so much.)

One of the primary things that destroyed the previous movies is the awful human cast. With Shia LeBeouf gone from this movie, some hope was that the main lead would actually be likable and engaging. Mark Wahlberg's character is definitely an improvement. For the most part he's the epitome of what a decent character in a Michael Bay Transformers film looks like. Sadly, it's the directing and writing that kill what could be a very good character. The film's tone is half comedy, which is a real shame and typical Bay-fare. Too often in these movies the story revolves around the humans with the robots in the background; it should be the opposite. (For a great example, check out the Transformers Prime TV show, which is more competently written than all four movies combined.)

Perhaps the worst thing about the Transformer films is the heavy reliance on sexual appeal. Megan Fox wasn't there for her acting skills in the first two movies, and Rose Huntington-Whiteley might have even been worst in Dark of the Moon. (There's something wrong if the very first scene with a lead actress in a movie that is supposed to be about a robot conflict is barely dressed.) This time however instead of being an adult what we have is a 17 year old senior in high school. Nicola Peltz's character (Tessa Yeager) could have been okay if this movie was from a different director. Her very first line to her friends, "After school girls in the summer we're going to get wasted whoohoo!" destroyed any chance of her being likable. From there forward she's displayed as some sort of super model. (Keep in mind again that in-movie she's underage.) Then we have her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) who is one mediocre character. "I'm not helping you save your daughter, I'm helping you save my girlfriend." "I like to be fresh when I'm making out with your daughter." The writing in this movie needs some serious help in producing likable characters and competent dialogue.

There are a few other notable (in a bad way) characters. We have Cade's assistant Lucas who is there just to provide comedy relief. (Thankfully he dies early on, I wonder if that was supposed to be a sad scene because I can confirm no viewer was feeling emotional.) There's Joshua Joyce, who's a decent character until after the middle where he replaces Lucas for comedic relief. The acting is extremely over the top, no one would be acting like this considering what's going on. The human antagonist would be Harold Attinger, who is definitely one of the best human characters, maybe even the best. Moving on to arguably the most hyped aspect of the film: Grimlock and the Dinobots.

For some odd reason, the word 'Dinobot' isn't used and none of them are referred to by name. If the viewer isn't a long time fan, how will he or she know who they are? The actual portrayal is decent. The CGI is absolutely stunning and the rampage into the city destroying the bad guys was easily one of the film's highlights. Sadly, they seem to lack the personality which is present in almost all other continuities. Grimlock in particular if you read some of the comics can see that he was one of the most engaging Transformers. (Hopefully this is fixed in the sequel.) The soundtrack is pretty strong, having plenty of great themes and even some emotional ones when appropriate.

Overall, Age of Extinction suffers from many of the same problems the previous three Transformers movies has. It does improve in some areas, such as action scenes and plot progression. Optimus Prime is the highlight once again, and Lockdown ranks as one of the most interesting antagonists of the movie series. The human characters are very miss, which is in big part due to the mediocre writing. (The day Michael Bay actually has an engaging female lead in one of these movies will be a day to remember.) It's still a pretty fun film for the most part, and might be the best of the movie series aside from the first one. (Not that that's saying much of course.)


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Super Smash Bros. for 3DS Review

There are very few fighting game series which get people excited like Super Smash Bros. There's things like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, but there's something incredibly fun about Smash Bros. that puts it above the rest. It's been 6 years since Brawl came out. With a new Nintendo home console the time was ripe for the next installment in the series. Dating back three years, the game's announcement was met with great anticipation. The next announcement which changed the playing field was that instead of just being on Nintendo's home console, the new game would also be on the handheld, the 3DS. This was unique, because playing Smash on the go has always been a dream for fans. Interestingly, the 3DS version was released first, with the Wii U version coming a month later on the 21st. Whether or not this will hurt the latter's sales remains to be seen. This review however is of course on the handheld version released a few weeks ago. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS realizes something a lot of people didn't think would ever happen: being able to play Smash on the go whether it be in the car, on the plane, or on the other side of the world. The game just about has everything you could want in a handheld Smash, but does fall short in some areas which hopefully the Wii U version will improve.

Most of the time you'll be spending in the game is in vs. mode, or rather "Smash." Though if you're playing the game alone often, chances are you'll be spending more time in the online "For Glory" mode. This is one added feature that is a nice touch when playing through Wi-Fi.. Nintendo has never really dealt with leadership boards like rival companies Sony and Microsoft have. Sadly "For Glory" is a bit of a disappointment because there's no technical leadership boards; you can't see where your stats line up with players across the globe.. Hopefully there's more of a standings in the home console version. Also, after the horrible lag that plagued the online matches back in Brawl, one would think Nintendo would have fixed it for the sequel 6 years later. Sadly that's not the case, you will run into lag. In a modern first party Nintendo game, it's a real shame.

Moving back to normal offline play, the 3DS game plays extremely smooth and well. Is it better than Brawl's gameplay? Not necessarily, but it isn't worst either. It takes away the unnecessary tripping from the Wii game, which most players are happy about I'm sure. Interestingly, "edge guard" is no longer a factor. So you can't hold onto a ledge and the other player plummets to his or her doom anymore. Whether that's a good or bad thing is up to the person. The controls transition well from the standard controller onto the handheld. They can of course be configured to the player's needs, but as default there are no complaints to be had.
One of the things that sets Smash above other fighting games is its list of unique and fun modes. The main as usual is Classic. It generally works the same as it usually does, except this time if you set the meter above 6 difficulty you get a very different kind of Master Hand/Crazy Hand battle. It's a nice change of pace and the final level of difficulty provides a challenge to even the greatest of Smash players. The other main mode is usually Adventure Mode, but it has been replaced by "Smash Run" in the 3DS installment, which is easily the most underwhelming aspect of the entire game. One of the most hyped things about Super Smash Bros. Brawl was its adventure mode, "The Subspace Emissary." It upped the bar not only for the series, but for fighting games in general. It was a detailed story mode with CGI cutscenes. Almost no fighting game since has replicated such an amazing mode. Instead in games such as Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Playstation All-Stars all you get is just the standard "Arcade." Sadly, at least in the 3DS version, Adventure Mode so to speak is extremely mediocre. It's a neat novelty the first time around, but after that first time I haven't gone back to it since because really there's nothing motivating about it besides just doing it for the challenges. It's an extremely disappointing aspect of the game.

Unarguably the biggest draw of Smash is the character roster. Leading up to its release, there was always hype to see which character would make it in. The game has a solid selection, bringing in a lot of the veterans while adding in quite a few awesome newcomers. Mega Man and Pac-Man are arguably the biggest of the new characters, and they don't disappoint in the slightest. Shulk, Greninja, and Little Mac are also worthy additions with diverse movesets. There are however a few questionable decisions regarding the characters. For one thing, it's awesome Bowser Jr's alternate costumes literally transform him into different characters, so why can't that be applied to others? Why is Dark Pit his own character when he could be a swap for regular Pit? Why can't Samus go all the way with her color swap and be Dark Samus? If Robin has a girl palette swap, why is Lucina a separate character from Marth when she's essentially the same thing? Same with Mario and Dr. Mario, why have two separate characters? It's not necessarily a bad thing to have those characters, but when you think about it they're taking up space for others. If Dr. Mario could be brought back, why not Mewtwo? The latter is the one everyone had been clamoring for. Unlocking the characters is rather easy also, there's very little challenge in acquiring them.

The game boasts a solid selection of unique stages. One of my favorites is Dream Land, which literally puts inside the Game Boy as it navigates through that first Kirby level. There are a number of 3DS exclusive ones, so it'll be interesting to see what the Wii U version brings to the table. One of the most notable things about the Smash series is its soundtrack. Each game brings impressive themes and remixes from all different games. The soundtrack here is generally underwhelming in comparison. For example, the Final Destination theme is definitely the worst yet. Still, that's not to say the soundtrack is bad, (the new Battlefield theme sounds nice) it's just underwhelming when compared to the stellar soundtrack from Brawl. If it's one thing the game does improve on over its predecessors, it's items. It has a lot of impressive new additions, such as the Ore Club and Blue Shell. Final Smashes are for the most part improved. Kirby has a much more impressive sword attack, Luigi has a more "normal" one with his Poltergeist 3000, and even Mario's, while still not amazing, is actually (and thankfully) improved.
One of the more interesting additions to the new game is the customization of characters and the ability to use Miis in fighting. Customizing a character's moveset when played around with can yield some interesting results. Then there's the Miis, which can make for a very humorous fight when playing with friends. These things don't make up for an underwhelming Adventure mode, but they're still neat the nonetheless. There's a solid amount of challenges, which range from easy to long. Street Smash however shouldn't be a challenge, because what if it's impossible for the player to complete it? And he or she had used up the hammers? Then they'd be stuck. Sadly, stage creator has been cut out, at least for this version anyway.

Overall, Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS is an incredibly fun game with some shortcomings. (The first mistake is no intro cutscene, how lazy is that? Even the original, which came out on the Nintendo 64 15 years ago had a CGI intro.) A lot of the previous paragraphs may have sounded negative, but that's because this game was held to a very high standard and in many areas it didn't achieve the greatness of brawl. Hopefully the Wii U version delivers the definitive next gen Smash experience. Nonetheless Super Smash 3DS is a must have, what beats battling on the go?


Sunday, September 14, 2014


Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking a visit to the city known as Manhattan. When one lives in New Jersey, a trip to the Big Apple is always quite the event. Arguably, the biggest place in the city to visit is Times Square. On my way to Nintendo World I walked into it, and out of it. The things which set Times Square apart from other parts of the city are the many unique stores and also the big billboards of pictures and videos. Sadly, about 90% of those billboards showcase scantily clad women.

Things change.

Years and years ago you wouldn't find this kind of stuff in public settings. As the years go on, things change. What was once considered to be unheard of is now the norm. For example, years ago it was insane to think a certain word that starts with an "f" would make its way into a PG-13 movie. Nowadays, if one heard it, it wouldn't be "Whoa! How could they allow that?!" Instead it would seem normal to the viewer because these types of words are almost basic language today.

The culture changes, and dictates what should be allowed in society. Magazines that were once held behind a counter can now be seen almost right away when you enter a Barnes & Noble. As the culture allows this stuff to be in abundance, the further away it gets from morality and wholesomeness.

People change. Society changes. Culture changes. There are only two things that remain unchanged: one is the Bible, and the other is Jesus Christ.

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." ~Hebrews 13:8

Murder, Assault, Killing, Suicide; These kind of things have been happening all throughout history, even during Biblical times! Now, let me ask you question...has the society and culture gotten better or worse? Do you hear more stories of people being heroes or committing those things on the news? Sadly it has gotten much worse because the culture has shifted away from the principles God has established.

The Bible has remained unchanged for thousands of years. How amazing is it that a book written so long ago could be incredibly relevant today? How nicer would society be if more people simply followed things like "Love Your Neighbor as Yourself" (Mark 12:31) and "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church." (Ephesians 5:25) The Bible is technically still the most read book today, but people just don't put it into practice. Even some believers choose not to follow Biblical principles and instead follow the world thinking they're good to go because they simply believe God exists.

It's important to remember that God and his principles have remained unchanged all these years. However, human laws are always changing, and will continue to adapt what society wants, and not God. People would rather  live a "fun" purpose-less life than put God's plan to action. I can say that it is a lot more meaningful to live a life dedicated to living out God's Word. In my years before accepting Christ into my life, I had no purpose and this emptiness inside. Today however, I wake up each morning ready for action and with joy because I know God is with me and He and His words don't change.

Society will continue to change and plunder its way into Hell. Jesus will continue to remain unchanged as this happens. Will you stand with an always changing culture that doesn't care about an individual unless he or she is a famous person, big money maker, or what it deems as beautiful, or with a God that loves and cherishes you as His creation?

Friday, August 22, 2014

The LEGO Movie Review

LEGO is unarguably one of the most popular toys on the market. In recent years it has expanded itself to video games, TV, and more! Interestingly, there has been very little films. The most popular example is the Bionicle franchise. At its height it was the most popular Lego-related thing. (It's thanks to that series I started playing with Legos.) But those films were straight-to-DVD. The LEGO Movie is the first theatrical film to entirely star...Legos! Not many thought it would end up being in the top 10 movies of 2014. With guest stars, great characters, cool music and an excellent message, it's hard not to appreciate it.

The story follows Emmet, a seemingly nobody who's thrust into an adventure to save the universe from Lord Business. As shocking as it may be for him, he's the chosen one according to a prophecy. He might not think he's special, but he'll have to accept it because the fate of the world depends on him!

The overall message is evident from the start, but it doesn't take away from the powerful speech spoken by Emmet in the climax. It's easy to sometimes think you're not anyone special, but it's important to remember that you are and everyone is. It's quite a lovely moral that the film perfectly portrays. Emmet is a likable character throughout who gets fantastic development within the hour and forty minutes. The first major character he meets is Wyldstyle who is seemingly the complete opposite. The two grow on bond that nicely develops throughout the film. Of course, one of the most hyped things was the inclusion of a lot of guest stars...

How amazing is it to have a movie where Superman, a Ninja Turtle, and Gandalf are all in the same room? It's a true spectacle, though sadly of course some will get the shaft. While these are all parodies of characters, one has to wonder the reasoning for having Superman lose and get thrown in jail, that was disappointing. Still, one cannot deny how amazing and humorous it is to have all of them together. Once Emmet arrives in Cloud Cuckoo Land (try saying that with a straight face) is when the cast is established. We have him, Wyldstyle, Vitruvius, Batman, Benny, Metal Beard, and Unikitty. Batman was of course featured in a lot of the marketing. Will Arnett does an excellent job voicing him. And he was a lot of fun to have around, (surprisingly he didn't steal the spotlight from Emmet) but some of his portrayal was questionable. "Every man for himself" is one thing, but only saving Emmet because Wyldstyle convinced him to? I understand that he was a parody, but still in some aspects it went just a bit far. Still one cannot deny how great it was to have The Dark Knight feature in a film and be funny. (His last film appearance until 2016!)

Benny was a pretty humorous guy you have around. Metal Beard was solid too, contributing some great backstory in the middle of the movie. Unikitty however proved to be the most entertaining, and adorable. The scene where she tried to remain cheerful despite her world crumbling around her was both humorous and emotional. She was basically a Lego version of Pinkie Pie, (the most cheerful character of all time) which is always a great personality to have. Surprisingly, one of the best characters ended up being Bad Cop/Good Cop. Liam Neeson delivers an Oscar-worthy voice portrayal. It's a shame the villain only had a run-in with Batman once cause it was one of the most entertaining scenes of the film. Lord Business was a pretty solid villain. On the onset he didn't seem like much other than being a generic comic relief bad guy, but the scene where he threatened to throw Bad Cop into the oblivion put that fear to rest.

The LEGO Movie definitely had a strong cast! Ultimately though, while it's great to have all these diverse characters and guest starts, it's about Emmet's journey to realizing he actually is special. The climax does a bit of a 180, introducing a new factor. The inclusion of live individuals to contrast what's happening in the Lego world was an interesting move. It was touching to see as it went on, and I can't help but wonder if the story would have been better if the humans were established early on with some cutaways here and there. It's an interesting thought to ponder, but it ultimately doesn't matter. What we got is solid enough.

Like Wreck-It Ralph, the film boasts some unique animation. Since the world and characters are made of Legos, it makes for some interesting sequences. The action is stellar; it actually boasts some of the most impressive fight and chase scenes of 2014. The soundtrack is one of the many highlights of the film. It boasts some impressive disco-video-game-like themes throughout the film. And of course "Everything is awesome" is quite an awesome song. Last year was dominated by "Let it Go," this year it's "Everything is Awesome."

Overall, The LEGO Movie delivers plenty of fun and action. It's a unique film with a compelling protagonist as he learns a valuable life lesson: that everyone is special. The cast is diverse and engaging, with of course Batman being a highlight. It does feature some humor that is solely aimed at an extreme young audience, but nothing too bad. "Everything is Awesome" perfectly describes The LEGO Movie in three words.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Aliens: Colonial Marines Review

Aliens: Colonial Marines has one of the most infamous reputations in modern gaming. Apparently it had been in development for 5 years, and when it finally came out it garnered MASSIVELY negative reviews. So disappointed were people that SEGA was actually sued for what was claimed to be "false advertisement." The company lost the lawsuit(!) and literally apologized for the product. How sad is that? Now you can buy the game for less than $10 on Amazon. Colonial Marines is definitely not a great game, especially in comparison with other similar titles. (Resistance: Fall of Man which came out seven years prior is a far superior experience.) Still it isn't absolutely terrible and actually pretty fun. It is however not the ideal Alien experience. (Hopefully Isolation will fulfill that.)

You and your friends against the deadliest killers in the galaxy. Another glorious day in the corps. Buckle up, soldier! Welcome to Aliens: Colonial Marines. Created by Gearbox, the critically acclaimed and fan-favorite developers of Borderlands and Brothers In Arms, this first-person shooter is steeped in the eerie, claustrophobic and terrifying atmosphere that made the Aliens films successful worldwide. You and your friends will become the most bad*** military outfit in the galaxy - the US Colonial Marines. It's down to you to not just survive but wipe out the Xeno infestation.

The back of the cover claims the game will have you "Fight the fear." The problem is that there's very little fear to be fought. For some odd reason the game almost always warns you ahead of time that there's danger coming. Using that takes away the horror element, which the movies are famous for. (Another reason why games like Resistance are better.) There are a couple of instances when the game doesn't warn you, and those are very well-done. It's a shame the rest ends up being pretty much just an arcade shoot em' up.

The gameplay is pretty straightforward. Over the course you gain access to quite a few different type of guns, an impressive selection. There's one level where you're on your own with no firearms. It's decently well-done, though could have benefited if the player was forced hide rather than simply walk past the Xenomorphs. What's most impressive about the game is the play time. There's 11 missions which might not seem like much, but each takes about 20 minutes, sometimes longer. We're looking at a 10 hour game, which is pretty solid. It's a shame the story isn't that interesting due to poorly developed characters...

The game has a few main characters, but sadly by the end I had a hard remembering almost any of their names. They are poorly developed and it's hard to feel sad when one gets destroyed by a Chestburster since they don't leave any kind of impact on the player. While the story isn't all that great, it has an impressive Alien Queen sequence. Now that was horrific watching her escape her prison and killing all the marines. Unfortunately the final boss fight against her is extremely disappointing. It's one of the worst final boss fights in recent history. You don't actually fight her, and it's over in under four minutes.

Overall, Colonial Marines is definitely disappointing as the next big Aliens experience. It has very little to no horror, and the story is disappointing due to massively underwhelming characters. For under $10 now however, you do get an impressively long campaign with plenty of fun to be had shooting Xenomorphs. For $60 upon release however, it's hard to find any good things to say about it.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Batman: Assault on Arkham Review

Assault on Arkham was a pretty intriguing announcement. The Batman Arkham games are critically acclaimed for their gameplay and story, so one would assume that one day DC would make an animated adaption of them. Instead of going that route, the company decided to add another installment into the series. The games have some of the best characterizations of Batman, Joker, and Harley Quinn, so it was fantastic to see the film utilizing this universe. Assault is a very good watch, though one has to wonder why the Suicide Squad is featured so predominantly to the point of making Batman a guest star. (Maybe to hype the new comic series?)

When the government teams up a group of supervillains with the code name Suicide Squad and forces them to break into Arkham Asylum to bring back top secret information the Riddler has stolen, Batman soon becomes involved. But things go from bad to worse when one of the Squad (Harley Quinn) frees the Joker, who has the means to not only blow up the asylum, but most of Gotham City as well.
Joker is technically the main villain by the end, but he isn't featured on the cover or mentioned in the summary on the back, interesting. Without prior knowledge, it would gave been a cool surprise. So based on the description above you would think you'd have this film down. It plays out pretty different than you'd expect. The first scene is great for a few reasons. Besides Matthew Gray Gubler's standout portrayal of the Riddler, the scene where Batman battled a government guard comes to mind instantly. Not only is the fight well choreographed, it perfectly mimics the style from the games. After that the film gets better or worse depending on your liking of the Suicide Squad. Since this is only a 76 minute film, there's not going to be much time to introduce six characters that, outside the hardcore comic audience, people have no idea who are. To be fair what we get is pretty good; every character is distinct from one another. The thing we to care?

Most people buying this film will fall under two camps: the first being players of the Arkham games looking for something before Arkham Knight next year, and people who just love a good Batman film. The climax is the most exciting part because Batman and Joker feature predominantly. While the Suicide Squad is far from bad, by the end it's unknown exactly what happens to some of the few that don't get their heads blown off. We have no idea what happened to Killer Frost or Captain Boomerang. Deadshot and Harley Quinn are really the only ones in the climax that do anything. Still, it's commendable that the characters were introduced and made distinct in such sort time.

Batman's portrayal is a perfect rendition of his self from the Arkham games. Kevin Conroy as expected delivers a fantastic performance. Thankfully the title character becomes a primary focus in the climax. There's nothing against the Suicide Squad, but most viewers are picking this up for Batman, and every scene he's in doesn't disappoint. While it takes a bit for the Joker to leave his prison cell, when he does the film becomes 10x more epic. The games are known for their fantastic portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime. For some, it's the definitive version. Troy Baker from Arkham Origins reprises his role, and it's fantastic, arguably the standout performance. The Joker commands every scene he's in. Another plus is that he actually fights. He is rarely seen having an extended fight scene from anything, so it was great to see this. (And fighting a character other than Batman, that battle was one of the highlights.)

The soundtrack is unique, considering the universe the film is in. The games are pretty dead serious, yet a lot of the music here is pop rock. Still, it isn't bad, just unexpected. The other part of the soundtrack features good themes, such as the very soft choir when Joker escapes. The climax of the film features a breakout of the Arkham inmates. Somehow the film managed to squeeze this in. It is a bit rushed, since Bane, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy and among others are among the escapees. Amidst the chaos is when the Suicide Squad is put to the side after being the primary focus. While perhaps not wrapping up that great, it's still a pretty exciting scene, especially for Batman fans.

Overall, Assault on Arkman is a very fun watch. It successfully brings the fantastic Arkham game universe onto the small screen. Both Batman and the Joker are great, easily one of their best animated portrayals yet. (It is a bit disappointing that the two of them didn't get much back and fourth dialogue.) For better or worse however this is more of a Suicide Squad movie with the Batman/Joker conflict taking the focus near the end. The team is established nicely, though one has to imagine just how much better the film would have been without them.

Friday, August 8, 2014


Christian movies in theaters are a rarity these days. This year has been slightly different with Hollywood dubbing 2014 "The year of the Bible." It started with SON OF GOD back in February, then this film, then NOAH, and soon we'll see Exodus: Gods and Kings, which tells the story of Moses. The one that sticks out the most arguably is GOD'S NOT DEAD, because it isn't based on a Bible story.

The title puts a spin on what Friedrich Nietzsche said over a hundred years ago, "God is dead!" It's an interesting metaphor. One can't kill God, but seemingly people can kill the idea of God according to Nietzche.

That's what the Professor Jeffery Radisson wanted his students to believe in the movie, that God didn't exist. One student however, Josh Wheaton, couldn't write what Jeffery wanted. Josh believed in God, and was challenged to prove His existence. So what happens is a debate between him and the professor. Both sides bring up compelling arguments, but ultimately it's Wheaton who gets to the heart of the matter with one simple question, "Why do you hate God?" The professor then goes on a rant with reasons, and after Wheaton asks, "How can you hate Someone that doesn't exist?"

Tough question.

God is most certainly not dead! People think they can kill Him by removing Him from public schools and separating His principles from government. We aren't killing Him by doing that, we're killing us. The more people wish to remove Him from daily life the more they will feel empty. When there's a lack of God in our culture, it takes a brave person like Josh to stand up. It doesn't matter how smart your opponent is; what matters is how strong of a conviction you have that God is not dead. Read the Bible, pray, and do research.

Josh Wheaton may not be a real person, but he's an inspiration nonetheless. I want to be able to stand up for my faith if the time ever arose, and that should be a goal of every believer. God's not dead, He's alive and wants His followers to stand up for what's righteous and holy in a society that thinks they've killed Him.

And if you haven't, give God's Not Dead a watch as soon as possible!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY when it was first announced garnered a pretty big surprise response from comic fans. The team has never been mainstream. One could say the same thing about Iron Man once upon a time, but at least he was a founding Avenger. These guys have never been that big or involved in many huge events. It was pretty much the definition of a "risk" for the studio. The first trailer captured a positive response for the most part. Marketing since then has been modest, but its over 90 million opening weekend speaks volumes. Guardians is the most unique film from Marvel yet. It somehow introduces brand new characters and gives them each notable scenes. THE AVENGERS had it off easy because the audience already knew the characters from previous movies. Somehow Guardians replicates what made the 2012 film so much fun. The comedy isn't forced like in Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World; it's actually pretty funny. The main characters are all likable and the main villain isn't a throwaway like Malekith. Director James Gunn delivers one of the best films from Marvel Studios yet.

The film opens up with a rather emotional scene. In fact, it might just be the saddest scene from any Marvel movie to date. 26 years later after Peter Quill, aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt) watches his mother die, he's put on a scavenger mission to retrieve an artifact which houses an Infinity Gem. This leads to spiral of events which puts him in the path of other "losers" such as Gamora, (Zoe Saldana) Drax, (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot. (Vin Diesel.) These five realize that in order to save the universe they'll have to work together and stop the Kree extremist known as Ronan the Accuser.

Peter Quill isn't the most well-known superhero, but after this film you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who didn't know the name 'Star-Lord.' When the first trailer came out some viewers accused him of being basically another Robert Downy Jr. Tony Stark. Thankfully from the time-skip in the opening it's evident that Chris Pratt brings a whole new, interesting character to the table. While he was a lot of fun for his love of 80's pop, each character brings something unique. Gamora at first from early marketing didn't seem like much other than a love interest for Quill. Thankfully that element has very little focus. Drax was solid, though despite arguably being the strongest brute-strength-wise, he didn't get to really showcase it as much as you would think. Still, he had some of the funniest scenes, such as not understanding Quill's Earth metaphors. 

"I am Groot!" Groot, like in the comics, is always an interesting character to have around. Despite only being able to utter three words, he displayed the most emotion from any of the characters. Of course, as expected, Rocket Raccoon was a highlight, perhaps the highlight. He steals the show in every scene he's in. One has to give credit to Bradley Cooper for such an incredible job; he perfectly nailed the character. At some point in time people would have laughed at the idea of a talking raccoon on the big screen; today they laugh with the character at almost every line he has. There are a couple other notable characters. Michael Rooker portrays Yondu: a bandit who could have been throwaway villain, but thankfully ended up being a little bit more. Karen Gillan as Nebula, the biological daughter of Thanos, was solid. She'll most definitely be appearing again; though it would have been nice if we had any idea of what she's going to do next. Also the film makes a point to bring up that Quill's father was not of Earth, yet the story doesn't delve into that. Hopefully in the sequel we'll get a little more backstory regarding this.

One thing that happens perhaps a little too fast is the Guardians deciding they need to work together. Rocket targets Quill, who is battling Gamora, then after they're all thrown in jail decide they need to team up. It's definitely feasible, but it happens rather quickly. It's just a minor thing, since by the middle of the film you're fully absorbed into the story and action. Ronan the Accuser is a big character in the comics, so fans were anxiously looking forward to his appearance here. I'm happy to say that he's one of the best Marvel antagonists to date. He has a commanding presence every time he's on screen, hats off to Lee Pace for delivering such a great portrayal. 

One of the most hyped things in this movie was the first talking appearance of Thanos. The titan first appeared in the after-credits scene of Avengers and fans have been eagerly awaiting his next appearance. In a scene just under 5 minutes he steals the show. It is a shame that the film teases a Ronan/Thanos fight, but doesn't actually happen. The soundtrack is very solid and unique since it utilizes a bunch of songs from the 70's & 80's. One thing that needs to be said is the incredible CGI. Groot and Rocket look fantastic and fit right alongside the actors. The scenery is beautiful, with Morag in the second part of the opening being a highlight. 

Guardians of the Galaxy delivers one of the most fun times I've ever had in the theater. Each main character brings something unique to the table. Marvel films are known for its comedy, but sometimes that humor is horribly forced. Most of the comedy here is natural; there's never a dull scene. As stated earlier, the film replicates the things which made The Avengers such an enjoyable movie. A year ago I didn't think I'd be saying this, but I'm more excited to see Star-Lord and his team's next adventure than Iron Man's or Thor's. Everyone involved deserves a thumbs up for churning out the most fun movie of the year.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Make an Impact

Not too long ago at work a customer asked me a question. "Why are you so nice?' She asked. I was unprepared for such a question, and I didn't formulate as great as an answer I wanted. I told myself that if anyone ever asked that again, I would be ready to give a definitive answer.

And just this week, someone asked me the same question, this time a coworker. "Dude, how did you become so nice?" He asked.

There wasn't too much time to chat, (the cashier life) but I managed to give a better answer than before. I showed him my cross chain and said, "This is why."

While I am happy to know that striving to be nice is making a difference, it also makes me sad to see that showing compassion to your neighbor is more of the exception than the norm today. While in theory that could be a discouraging sentiment, it should actually light a fire in your heart to make a difference. You can make that difference wherever you are. In school, in college, at work: everywhere. At first being something like a cashier doesn't seem like a place for making a difference, but as I've learned it greatly is.

It's easy just to be nice to family and friends, but it takes a special compassion to be nice to everyday people in the outside world. When people are rude to me on the job, it's tempting to give back snarky responses. With God's strength, I'm able to avoid that. Jesus acted with love, even to the people who put Him on the Cross. If He can do that, then we should strive to be like that.

Being nice to everyone isn't fake, it's genuine compassion. The world needs more of that. YOU can

Make an Impact

Friday, July 18, 2014

Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance Review

The first Evangelion Rebuild movie nicely re-introduced the famous Japanese mecha anime. With cutting edge animation, quality writing and epic action, You Are (Not) Alone is definitely a must-watch for anime fans. It's not a perfect film however, and many of the same problems are amplified in the sequel. You Can (Not) Advance furthers the story slightly. The cliffhanger ending from the previous movie doesn't actually become a real plot point until the cliffhanger of this movie! Not only that, but the unnecessary fan service is nearly doubled. Despite such problems, You Can (Not) Advance remains a quality sequel, though is a step down from the previous movie.

The story opens up focusing on another pilot, Mari. Her Eva is sadly destroyed when she eliminates a runaway Angel. Meanwhile Shinji has seemingly accepted his role of being an Eva pilot. Another new pilot, Asuka, makes Shinji's life a little more hectic. Could she secretly have feelings for him however? Meanwhile Rei is trying to get Shinji and his father together for a quality meal. All this and the Angels keep invading! Even though the movie is technically longer than 'You Are (Not) Alone,' not many truly important things take place. In fact, really the only major thing to happen is in the final minute where the supposed "Third Impact" makes landfall. It can be easy to forget however that Evangelion focuses on the main character and his growth just as much as the overall conflict.

It is great to see Shinji active in his role. His quiet, still-wondering-about-everything persona is still present, but there's solid character development between film 1 and 2. Rei continues to be a compelling focus, though for people who didn't watch the original show her story seems very vague. That is a problem that carries on from the first film: vagueness. Why do the Angels want to get to Lilith so badly? What is the Third Impact? There's so much vagueness that one wonders how exactly it will be paid off. Misato has some very welcome backstory, furthering her character. While it's great to see the main characters develop from the previous movie, You Can (Not) Advance introduces some new key players.

Asuka adds a bit of arrogant loudness to the team. Despite her annoying personality, she has a certain likable charm. She adds some eccentric character to the rather quiet team of Shinji and Rei. The other new pilot introduced, and exclusive to the Rebuild universe, is Mari. Like Asuka, she adds a whole new dimension to the story. In fact, she actually ended being more engaging than Asuka! The final new character introduced is Ryoji. This guy adds a sense of charisma not seen in almost any of the characters. Despite the very strange locker room scene with Shinji, he remained one of the more interesting characters.

While getting a bunch of new characters is good, sadly they are often drowned out by the fan service. No matter how you slice it, there's no justification for fan service in anything. Almost all of it here focuses on kids. There's something really wrong if kids (under 15!) are subject to this type of thing. Evangelion has compelling characters and an engaging story, so why the people doing these movies feel the need to add it is beyond me. The action is very awesome, as you would expect from a theatrical anime film. The Angels aren't cannon fodder, but they're starting to feel like gigantic one-shots. Hopefully in the next two films they'll be explored a little more.

Evangelion's second Rebuild continues Shinji's story nicely enough. That's basically all that continues however, the actual grand part of the plot doesn't really further until the last minute.The final scene was also pretty strange in itself, since it literally comes out of nowhere. The soundtrack is fantastic however, and the fights are as great as they were in the first movie. Also, it's hard to beat the intense scene when the Tenth Angel absorbed Unit-00. Sadly the fan service hurts the overall viewing experience. If it continues to add more and more, it's going to be hard to recommend Evangelion to anyone.


Monday, July 7, 2014

X-MEN: Days of Future Past Review

Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the greatest continuity-driven comic book series were the X-movies. 14 years ago, the first X-Men came out. It predates even Spider-Man! The film still holds up well today, but it's the sequel which a lot call the best X-film and one of the greatest comic book movies overall. The Last Stand however is often regarded as the worst of the bunch. While I personally think it's very enjoyable, it does feature some questionable things. The killing of Cyclops and the weakened Phoenix were pretty awful decisions. We wouldn't get another X-film until 4 years later, in the form of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. (Which many people thought was worst than X3.) It wasn't until 2011 when First Class came out that the film series started to gain great momentum from the comic book community once again. Just last year saw the release The Wolverine, whose ending led straight into the title film. Days of Future Past shares its name with what is known as one of the greatest X-Men stories of all time, so it had a lot to live up to. It is definitely one of the best X-films yet. Not only is it well-written, but director Bryan Singer in just 2 hours and 11 minutes takes the X-Men universe right where it should be.

Like the comic, the film is set in the future where mutants are being hunted by robots called Sentinels. In order to stop this war from ever happening, Professor Charles Xavier sends Wolverine back into the past to change the future. The story starts out very fast, and very confusing if you haven't read the comic or seen the previous films for that matter. In fact, it is essential to have the seen all the main X-films to fully grasp and appreciate what's happening here. The future is established as bleak and depressing, but with a glimmer of hope. The characters are all established nicely. It is however a shame that such a major character like Bishop is seen for so little time only referenced by name once. Most of the film however takes place in the past.

A complaint a lot of comics fans had with the trilogy is that Wolverine was the main focus and the X-Men almost costars. This is true, characters like Cyclops and Storm were regulated to almost background status in those films so the spotlight could be on Logan. While he is of course a major focus here, the film does an excellent job utilizing the whole cast. Michael Fassbender reprises his role from First Class as the Master of Magnetism. Just like in the aforementioned film, he is very big highlight. While it's always great to see Ian McKellen's take on the character, this younger version is fantastic and easily an Oscar winner. James McAvoy returns as the younger Professor X. Unlike his self in First Class, the film portrays him as a broken, given-up-on-life man. He was good then, and he still is good. Jennifer Lawrence returns also First Class as Mystique. She had a considerable amount of screen time in the original trilogy and First Class, so it's natural that she has a pretty substantial role here. There's not much too complain about, though she isn't quite as engaging as Rebecca Romijin's portrayal from the trilogy.

Hugh Jackman of course does another great Wolverine. Like Downey Jr.'s Iron Man, he's become so much the character that it's hard to picture someone else in the role. While I didn't like Nicholas Hoult's portrayal of Hank McCoy/Beast in First Class, he's pretty solid here, a major improvement.  A controversy surrounding the film was the inclusion of Quicksilver. (Evan Peters.) Next year's Avengers: Age of Ultron will be including him also, so fans saw his inclusion as a bit of laugh from Fox to Marvel. Not only that, many people weren't thrilled with his design. Surprisingly, he ended up actually being a highlight and had one of the most memorable scenes in the entire film. It's sad that he couldn't come with Charles and Logan, because as you'll see later there's a scene where his speed would have been perfect. In fact, it's surprising they didn't ask for his help after breaking Erik out of prison.

This is a very different kind of comic book film. There's not really an official "main antagonist." Both Trask and Magneto can be called the villains, also the Sentinels. Trask (Peter Dinklage) was pretty well established. The Sentinels were one of the most hyped things in the entire movie. They don't disappoint power and portrayal wise. However, they are quite different than the ones we're used to seeing in the comics. Instead of being giant robots, they're more Hulk-size and have the ability to adapt. Not only that, but they can open up their heads and shoot a powerful beam. (An attack that is strikingly similar to the Destroyer's in Thor.) While it would have been nice to see the more classic-looking Sentinels, these bots don't disappoint. While there's a lot of fast paced action, there isn't a whole lot of fight scenes like we're used to seeing in these movies. Because of that, there's no really standout action scene. The greatest scenes include Magneto using the outer edges of a baseball stadium to enclose the White House. The soundtrack is fantastic, by far the greatest from any X-Men film and one of the stronger comic book movie soundtracks.

Days of Future Past is a very good watch with little holding it back. Almost all the performances are excellent, namely Fassbender's Magneto and of course Hugh Jackman's Wolverine. The film is very story based with little fight scenes. If the writing wasn't this good, that'd be a problem. The after-credits scene could use a little work, since anyone who hasn't read a comic isn't going to recognize the character in question. (They should have implanted the letter A somewhere.) Still, the film has many standout scenes that are accompanied by a spectacular soundtrack. By the end, the X-Men universe is back where it should be.


Thursday, June 26, 2014


MALEFICENT is one of those films that in theory doesn't have much purpose. No one prior to its announcement was clamoring for a film starring the antagonist of Sleeping Beauty. Often in life however it's the unexpected things that prove to be the greatest. This film is an example of that. It was a unique and risky concept for Disney. Instead of simply going the easy way and simply making a modern adaption of the classic story, they decided to throw the villain in the spotlight. Not only was this a daring move, but it also opened up some very interesting possibilities. It was marketed as a prequel to the classic story originally, but later we soon realized it was going to be a full on adaption, just with Maleficent as the lead. How exactly can a villain hold up a film? Director Robert Stromberg answers this question. This answer is a truly very good story. Do not think of it as the original film with the antagonist as the focus. Think of it as a new adaption of the material with a twist on the "villain."

The film begins as a prequel, when Maleficent was a little girl. (Or rather fairy) She meets a young man by the name of Stefan. The two over the years become and closer, until Stefan leaves to become king. What follows is a tragic tale of betrayal of love, as Maleficent takes her revenge on Stefan by cursing his baby, a girl named Aurora. However, Maleficent soon begins to grow fond of the young princess and wishes to remove the spell. The problem is that she can't! Only true love's kiss could...

If it's one thing the trailers did well, it's that they showed just how great of a portrayal this Maleficent is. Angelina Jolie does such an amazing job; I haven't seen such a great acting performance where it feels like the actor/actress is the character in a long time. It would be a crime if she wasn't nominated for her amazing portrayal. She portrays evil quite well, as you would expect from the character. However, in this version we learn the reason why she cursed Aurora. The viewer actually feels greatly sorry for Maleficent throughout the story. It's hard not to feel sad when she realizes cursing Aurora was a mistake, and that she couldn't do anything to reverse the spell. Jolie commands a great presence every time she's on screen. If the story is right, it would be great to see her character brought back for a sequel.

Of course, it can be a bit jarring for longtime fans to accept a Maleficent with compassion. That's the problem with putting the antagonist as the focus in this type of story. Unless he/she is somehow made into the hero, it won't work. Again, it's important to think of this as a new adaption of the original story, not a remake of the 1959 classic. With that in mind, you can go forward and watch the story of a fairy who goes from broken, to revengeful, to regretful, and finally having humility. The writing is great, but there a few things done pretty wrong. A minor one is that Maleficent turns more toward the evil side quickly. The scene where she has the woodland creatures bow to her seemed kinda fast and should have been put in just a little later. This is a minor problem, the bigger ones are a couple of the characters.

Besides Maleficent and Aurora, the character the movie focuses on is King Stefan. The opening established this guy very well, with a genuine friendship and then romance blossoming between him and Maleficent. It's in the present day when he turns king and things take a turn for the worst. The actual story part is great but the problem is the actor. Sharlto Copley just couldn't play this part well, and all his "angry" scenes felt very forced. Unlike Jolie who actually felt like she was the character, Copley was just an actor reading the lines and giving forced emotion when the script called for it. Another problem is Philip. (Brenton Thwaites.) The problem is not the character or the actor, it's how he's used. He comes in over halfway through the film, and does nothing. Unlike the original movie and story, his true love's kiss amounted to nothing. This character could have easily been written out since he contributes nothing.

With this technically being the Sleeping Beauty story, much of the focus would of course be on Aurora. Elle Fanning's portrayal is solid. It doesn't quite match Jolie's portrayal, but it's good enough. She's sweet, but beyond that there's not much else to say. It would be a problem if she was the main character, but she's not. A surprise character was Diaval, a crow Maleficent transforms into a human (and later many different creatures) to be her personal assistant. In the long-run he doesn't serve much purpose other than for a little comedy and providing the exciting climax as a dragon, but unlike Philip and Stefan, he's actually fun to have around. He also provides Maleficent with a voice of reason in some scenes, which was a nice touch and adds a little more purpose to the character.

One more character that had mild potential is Leila, King Stefan's wife. She actually dies off screen, and has very little lines. Like the King, the acting just wasn't very good. It's also the writing's fault for not doing much with her. The Three Fairies are there for obvious comic relief, which they serve greatly in. Amidst almost all blockbusters now clocking in at over 2 hours, it's almost refreshing to see a film that's just a little over an hour and half. Because of the shorter length, the story doesn't waste time or drag on in any scene. The CGI is abundant, as you would expect from this type of movie. It definitely brings to life the fantastical Disney world. The tree beings and the snake monster were true wonders to behold. The climax was exciting; who would have thought 55 years after the original movie you would be rooting for the antagonist? The soundtrack is very solid, featuring music worthy of a modern Disney classic.

MALEFICENT is a very enjoyable film. Angelina Jolie turns in an Oscar worthy performance, having such a powerful presence every time she's on screen. It might be a bit hard to accept how the classic antagonist is portrayed, but the film, and Jolie herself, make it possible to see a Maleficent with humility. There's quite a number scenes with incredible emotion, where you might actually feel like shedding a tear or two. One major factor holding the film back is King Stefan, who was horribly miscast. The story part is fine, and in fact quite engaging. It's just the portrayal that ruins the concept of Maleficent's former love turning on her. Despite that, Maleficent is a modern Disney classic. It is far better than recent films like it, such as OZ: The Great and Powerful and Alice in Wonderland. I dare even say it's in league with FROZEN. If you're a fan of the Disney classics, this film is highly recommended.


Monday, June 9, 2014

The Ultimate Friend

There's no such thing as a bad friend.

A friend is someone you can talk to. Above all else, a friend is someone you can trust. You know he or she would never betray or harm you in any way. A friend is someone whom steers you in the right direction, and when seeing you start to fall, be there to comfort you and help you get back on track.

A bad friend is a contradiction. A "friend" cannot be "bad." Because if that person whom you call a friend is bad, then he or she can't be called a friend. A friend is someone whom is always ready to listen to you with a caring heart, and would never try to cheat or take advantage of you in any way.

Even so, the greatest of friends cannot be there 24/7.

The Ultimate Friend a person can have is Jesus Christ. He is always there for you. You can always talk to Him.

Jesus said in John 14:6:

"I am the way and the truth and the life."

Friends are very important to have in life. Like you however, they are still human. Jesus however is infallible, He is without sin and can always be counted on to get through every rough situation.

Is He your friend?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone Review

If you're an anime fan, you've definitely heard of Evangelion. It has been called legendary, infamous, and everything you can think of. Giant robot anime is nothing new, but Evangelion stands above many. For a new fan, going back and watching the original Neon Genesis show can seem a little daunting. This is where the Rebuild movies come in. Serving as a reboot/retelling of the series, it's supposed to be perfectly accessible for new viewers and an update for longtime fans. You Are (Not) Alone is the first film in the tetralogy. For someone first entering the Evangelion realm, it proves to be a very interesting watch. It's basically what you get if you combine Pacific Rim with Serial Experiments Lain. The result is a solid opener with plenty of great things but could definitely use a little more detail.

The story follows Shinji who reluctantly must pilot Eva Unit-01 to stop the sinister Angels from destroying mankind. Along the way he meets Rei, a mysterious 14 year old girl. While that miniature plot summary sounds simple, the actual story is a lot more in-depth without actually being in-depth. Shinji is established early on as a depressed individual, not sure what his role in the world is. The fact that his father basically considers him nothing other than a tool doesn't help matters. It's an interesting dynamic, since it seems like his father, Gendo, cares for Rei, but not for Shinji. Since the tetralogy is basically one long story, I will assume it'll explain why exactly there's no relationship between the two in the next one.

The opening 20 minutes is quite impressive. The Angels are definitely one of the more terrifying anime villains. The first Angel especially (technically in movie it's the 4th) is very cool to watch. The city destruction and subsequent battle with Eva Unit-01 is worthy to be called cinematic and just awesome. If it's one thing Evangelion 1.0 doesn't disappoint in, it's the Angels and level of destruction. The other Angels that appear aren't quite as scary as the fourth, but still were impressive. (You know you have a winner when a shape-shifting diamond thing, the Sixth Angel, makes for a good final antagonist.) Like a lot of mecha anime however, over half of the focus is on the problems of the main character and everything around him.

Things happen very quickly from the start. Shinji is almost forced into the cockpit of Eva-01, and by the end of the film the viewer is still not entirely sure why. Why does it seem like only kids can pilot the Evas? There's a large amount of vagueness throughout the movie. Of course, since there's a blunt "to be continued" at the end, it's natural to assume this series is one of those things where answers will present itself as it goes along. Still, the film could have benefited from a little more information. When Misato was showing Shinji Lilith, the Second Angel, and its role in the birth of humanity, I'm thinking, "Great, this is interesting! Tell me more!" But that scene is over before it began.

A lot of anime are known for its fan-service. Sadly, Evangelion falls culprit to in. Perhaps the original show had some of that, but it doesn't mean it's necessary for it to be in the movies. There's a few awkward scenes that truly don't belong. Keeping in mind that it happens to be's very strange. (Rei is 14, so I had to grimace and turn away from a certain scene...) Anyways, aside from Shinji, much of the focus is on Rei. She's rather quiet and alone, which perplexes Shinji. The bond they form and the end is nicely done. Misato is established early on as bubbly, but quickly becomes serious when leading the military group: NERV. It's interesting to see her happy personality in the home and then her military character on the job. The soundtrack is what you expect from a big budget theatrical anime film, quality stuff.

Evangelion's first Rebuild movie is a solid entry to get into the franchise. You Are (Not) Alone has great animation, an intriguing story, and epic fights. It however does lack a lot of information which will hopefully be explored in 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0. The fan service is a bit jarring, but thankfully it isn't a focus and happens rarely. Hopefully the sequels don't escalate it. Overall, the film is a great way to enter one of anime's greatest stories.