Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them [2016] review

Characters:

In the lead role, we don't have Harry Potter, but a man by the name of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne).  Based on his previous bodies of work I wasn't sure if I'd like him as the main character, but overall I thought he did an ok job.  Jacob (Dan Fogler), baking entrepreneur, stole the show for me especially at the end.  I would have appreciated a little more dialogue and banter between the two of them to enhance their budding friendship, but it never fully got there.  Newt did admit to Jacob that most people didn't like him and it's fairly obvious why because of Newt's eccentric ways.  I understood that his behavior was intended for his character, but it didn't do him any favors for the audience to care about him.  I wanted to care.  I wanted to care about his beasts.  His primary relationship and concern was with his beasts, to be sure, but the movie didn't do anything to make you care about them save for the twiglike creature that could pick locks. 

As for the two main females, Tina and Queenie, sadly they were only integral to the plot in the simplest terms.  Tina (Katherine Waterston) didn't really pick a stance on how to play her role and just came off weak and disjointed.  Queenie (Alison Sudol), while very one dimensional, was surprisingly crucial at two specific moments in the film.  It made me appreciate her as a character even though I didn't fully understand what she did for a living and what purpose she served in the overall new yet familiar Harry Potter universe.  Overall, they felt under-used and valued and when it came to the scene where Tina's mind was going to be erased or something, I didn't feel vested.

The Barebones were the epitome of creepy and I know I should care about the abuse of Credence (Ezra Miller), but I couldn't get there because the characters were so weird and uninteresting.  Maybe it was the haircut, but I had no sympathy towards any of the children, especially since they appeared to be against magic users and I am a fan of magic users, especially the ones that do good.

As for Graves (Colin Farrell), the President (Carmen Ejogo), and the rest of the MACUSA, none of them showed any warmth or caring and they were simply operating on their own unknown agenda that was kept from the audience until the final act when it was too late to sympathize or commiserate.  Up until the final act their decisions and actions were confusing and misguided.  Some breadcrumbs and explanations along the way would have been nice.

Story:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them conjures an image in my mind of thestrals, dragons, centaurs, trolls and other creatures previously introduced in the Harry Potter universe.  So why should I care about them and why would I want to find them?

So far, J.K. Rowling has done a successful job in making me care about an owl, a phoenix, a hippogriff, and even a giant spider when it passed away.  Sadly, this movie doesn't really make me care about any of Newt's beasts, and most of the creatures are just a means to an end.  So to what end?  Is that at least interesting?

Well the premise of the movie is that "something" is terrorizing 1920s New York.  Things are even more dark and grim than the already dark and grim set pieces.  Towards the end of the second act, it is finally brought to light that MAYBE something from Newt's case is the cause of the terror.

So what is the movie doing in the first act concerning the beasts?  Well it's telling you were to find them - they're all in Newt's briefcase.  The first act also name drops Grindelwald via a newspaper and maybe he's mentioned one other time and that's it.  The movie is afraid to mention his name because ultimately it's revealed that he's behind the attack.

So did Grindelwald somehow lure Newt to New York as part of his plan?  No.  It just seems to be by happenstance.

Strip away the beasts, and what you really have is a story about an Obscurus.  What is an Obscurus?  After all the character-lack-of-development and the childlike method of catching escaped beasts, we finally learn that an Obscurus is created when a child is forced to suppress his/her magical abilities.  Keeping it all bottled up inside will create a powerful dark force within the child.  At a certain age, I believe it's said to be 10 years old or younger, the Obscurus will explode onto the scene killing the child and creating havoc.  It is revealed that Newt found an Obscurus in an 8 year old in his travels and he was able to extract it, but the child died regardless.  The Obscurus is shown in a frozen floating bubble in a specific part of his briefcase where all his beasts are kept.

At the end, we learn that the child named Credence, believed to be a squib, is so powerful that he was able to contain his Obscurus well beyond the age of 10.  Graves, who has random contact with this boy, doesn't realize until it's too late and Credence takes the form of the Obscurus and back and forth while wreaking havoc all over Manhattan.

It's also revealed that Tina was demoted as an Auror as she helped Credence once and she had an obsession with the 2nd Salem-ers.  Guess they should have listened to her in the first place right?  Anyway, she's able to calm the boy down and he gets destroyed by the MACUSA who all look the same in their brown leather coats and hats.  Graves is revealed to actually be Grindelwald in disguise and he's taken away.

Again, in the third act it's revealed that Grindlewald's plan all along was to use the Obscurus to inform the No-Maj/Muggle world of the existence of magic and in the end his plan succeeded.  So how to fix it?  Well Newt references something from earlier where he has a potion or poison from one of his creatures that will act as an Obliviate spell.  He uses his one giant hawk like beast to spread the poison into the atmosphere which dispenses it via a rain storm.  As everyone's mind gets wiped (not sure what happens to those not touched by the rain), the MACUSA fixes the broken buildings.

I didn’t know this at the time, but read online that a sliver of Credence survived so see ya in the sequel I guess.  Newt has an awkward goodbye with Tina and Jacob who was Obliviated with the rest of Manhattan is able to open his bakery thanks to an anonymous donation from Newt.  Queenie enters the shop, Jacob freezes, rubs the back of his neck and smiles.  We get a happy ending, but the ride there wasn’t the best execution.  With a muddy story and lackluster characters, this isn’t a great start to a new series of stories.  I do want more and hopefully we’ll get more about Grindelwald, his connection to Dumbledore, which will hopefully enrich the Harry Potter universe with interesting characters and stories.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Spider-Man Homecoming [2017] Non Spoiler review

1) A lot of "Marvel" movies get flack for their lack of a good villain. Michael Keaton was my favorite part of the movie and I enjoyed his performance more than Tom Holland's.

2) Tom did a fine job, but I would say I enjoyed the choreography, cinematography, and his general quips in Civil War more than anything in Homecoming. It's not that Homecoming was bad, I just felt they could have added a few more acrobatics and maybe a few more POV shots. Nothing really jumped out at surprising and maybe that's a product of the trailers giving away too much.

3) Even though this movie isn't a Spider-man origin story, there are still moments that felt that way which is a tiny negative. We do have a 15 year old sophomore Peter who is a little whiny but thankfully he not full or angst and crybaby-esque like Maguire or Garfield, so that was very much appreciated. Tom/Peter is still slightly awkward as expected, but he's kind of graceful about it, like a swan in roller skates.

4) I did find myself smiling throughout so it was a fun ride overall with very little lulls. I don't recall any moments where it dragged. There was some good humor sprinkled throughout.

5) Small gripes: I felt Happy was used a little too much and Zendaya wasn't needed in this film.

FYI:  Two end credit scenes. One after the cartoony "ball room blitz" credits before the black and white scroll ones start AND one at the very end that is a must see.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ghost in the Shell [2017] review

In the world of RT, I'd give it 70%. Visually it's very stunning and I thought the CG looked really good blended into the world it was presenting. The story was also good. It's not super complicated but it is your typical "who really is the bad guy" plotline. There were shades of gray so it wasn't completely cookie-cutter. I did find the characters interesting and wouldn't mind seeing more of them if they decided to do a spin off or sequel. I'm not a huge Scarlett Johansson fan but she did an OK job. I've seen bits and pieces of the Japanese anime that it is based on but not enough to spoil this experience so I went in pretty fresh.

This isn't a must see and normally I would recommend to just wait for this on Blu-ray, but the visuals in IMAX 3-D were really good and they did not disappoint.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Beauty and the Beast [2017] review

In a word, it was okay.  I think it had a lot of problems.

The director/writers had the ability to show and not tell us in the live action adaption of what happened with the witch and the prince in the beginning, but instead we were given voice over again. Why not let the actors speak the lines?

Emma Watson can sing and did a great job, but the standout was the Beast. I wanted to see more of him and it felt like he was in the movie the least.

I appreciated the movie fixing the cursed for "10" years to "many" years, and the brainwashing of the townspeople concerning the castle and the prince made sense. I don't know how much time Belle and the Beast spent together while the events of the real world were happening, but it can be easily explained that it was "magic" or "sorcery".

Gaston was good acting wise. He was believable and his actions in "helping" Maurice made sense compared to his actions in the cartoon. I guess I expected more power from his singing voice so I was a little let down there.

LeFou was also ok and funny for the most part. I liked him spreading money around the bar to get them to sing with him about Gaston. I wish I hadn't heard that his character was gay as I would have liked to experience that organically. It's a shame that when the media got a hold of the information that it blew up the way it did.

Maurice was pretty well done. I appreciated the backstory even though I didn't think it was really needed. He was a lot better than his idiot cartoon counterpart.

I was pretty disappointed, overall, concerning the enchanted objects. The attention to detail to make them look realistic and the animation were spot on, I just think the chemistry wasn't there like it was in the cartoon version. The candle cared more about the feather duster than the clock and one of the appealing aspects of the cartoon version is Cogsworth and Lumiere's friendship which seemed pretty non existent. In the end, I cared more about the coat rack than any of the ones that could talk.

Moana [2016] review

- the story: I enjoyed it and I didn't think it dragged at all. I was "hooked" pretty quickly.  I appreciated the South Pacific culture and my appreciation only grew after watching the bonus features. With the character of Maui, I thought it would be more of the story of Hawaii and/or how it was related to Hawaii, but realized it was much bigger than that.

- the music: While I thought the music was culturally appropriate and fitting, none really stuck to me after viewing like other Disney musicals.

- the voice work: My fear was that the Rock was going to be too much Rock (if that makes sense), which he was at first, but thankfully he disappeared into his role as Maui. I wanted Maui the character to stand on his own regardless of who was voicing him and the movie succeeded in doing that. Props to the director.

- overall: This movie didn't blow me away like Frozen first did, but I remember it fondly as I type this review and wouldn't mind watching it again. I know as a kid I would watch the heck out of the Disney movies and the songs would just stick over time.  I think the same would be true with this one after multiple viewings. It's a very fine addition to the Disney animated musical pantheon.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild [no spoilers] review

My first experience with the Legend of Zelda franchise was the third installment “A Link to the Past”.  It was a fantastic game, and I instantly fell in love with it.   I played it many times over, explored every part of the map, and bomb every crack I could find.  I was a big proponent of not just beating a game, but completing it.  I learned the game to the point that I could help my friends with it over the phone with no frame of reference other than my memory.  

Concerning the first and second games, I didn’t play those until years later, and when I did, I didn’t appreciate them.  Both were extremely difficult.  I remember using the Game Genie with "Zelda 2" and the game just frozen after the Thunderbird boss fight and it didn’t proceed to the final battle.  Even with “cheating”, I couldn’t beat "Zelda 2".  To this day, I don’t have a memory of beating that game, and I think I may have beat the original "Legend of Zelda" (LoZ) but I did so on an emulator with save states.

Fast forward to the present, and I recently revisited LoZ on the NES Classic console.  I actually did research to learn where the heart containers were located and I got the white sword before entering the first dungeon.  It made the game much more enjoyable, as I didn't have the patience to explore the entire map.  I know there are clues throughout to tell me where the secrets are, but my goal was to beat it and complete it at 100%.  At the end of the day, I did it and it felt good.  Even though the NES Classic does provide save states also, I found the overall experience was more enjoyable, and still very hard even with 100% item collection.

I recently read a review by Shigeru Miyamoto that LoZ was supposed to encourage social interaction.  You were supposed to chat with your friends, discuss your findings, and proceed accordingly.  I remember playing "Super Mario Bros" in 1986 and my dad coming home from work to show me where a secret warp zone was.  I assume that he was discussing the game with a coworker who found it and I recall him being excited to share the news, so it makes sense that LoZ was treated the same way; I just didn't have that experience during my childhood.

With all that said, after three years of development, we finally have Breath of the Wild (BotW).  With each passing game, the developers have challenged themselves not only to make a fun game, but for each game to be a little bit different so the franchise wouldn't get tired or boring.  They didn't want each game to be (1) collect items, (2) find dungeon, (3) defeat boss, (4) save the Princess. 

While each game does celebrate variations on that theme, BotW reinvents them by going back to its roots - the original Legend of Zelda (LoZ).  When a player begins LoZ, he/she has no items, no weapons, nothing.  The player is dropped into a world where there are monsters that damage him and when his hearts are depleted, he dies and must start over from the beginning.

BotW does the exact same thing.  There are a few breadcrumbs at the start to help push the player in the right direction, but those can be ignored and the player can essentially explore in any direction.  Even with the minimal amount of stamina that the player starts out with, one can achieve great heights in climbing in certain areas.  The game doesn't stop him until he reaches a height or an area that is too cold to explore without the proper protection so he is forced to retreat and explore an area where the temperature is more moderate.

Enemies don't drop hearts or rupees, but they may be cooking a steak over a fire that Link can obtain and eat to replenish him.  The enemies may keep their weapons leaning on a log nearby while they enjoy the fire they've built, so if Link is quiet enough, he may be able to grab one to defend himself.

I don't want to say much more as it may be regarded as a spoiler, but the game encourages exploration and it hands the player nothing.  In beginning, the player might find himself using a tree branch and only having a few apples to survive.  Once the player interacts with people, animals, and enemies in the environment, is when the game really begins to take shape.  There is a joy in finding and having a direction in the game only to be distracted by a task one may stumble upon and wanting to solve it before proceeding.

At the time of this review, the game has been out for 20 days.  During said days I've played it a total of 31 times and my total play time is 55 hours and 17 minutes.  There are a total of [redacted] and I believe I found and completed 56 so far.  I've completed possibly half of the objectives in the main storyline.  I've completed many side quests.  I feel like I've only scratched 1/4 of this game and I love coming back to it every day.  There are a few issues and nitpicks that I could only really address in a spoiler discussion, but those aside, I find the game very rewarding and enjoyable.  When I'm not playing it, I'm thinking about what I want to do next when I'm playing it.  Then when I start playing it, with tasks in mind, I find that I'm taken off task by something else fun I find along the way.


Side note, I’m playing the Wii U version of BotW.   If you have a Wii U, this is a must have.   I can’t speak to a Switch experience, but if I didn’t own a Wii U, I would probably have bought one just to play this game.