Posted in DC Comics, Film, Podcast

Justice League || Pulp Culture Podcast

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Posted in Anime, Discussion, Film

What I learnt about film from Pokémon: The First Movie (Yes, Seriously)

As a child of the 90s, there are several things I can’t deny. I watched SM:TV Live on Saturday mornings. Frequently forgot to feed a Tamagachi. Begged to stay up a little longer just to watch shows like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, and the latest episode of Stargate: SG1. And the subject of today, I loved Pokémon. Granted, I was a bigger fan of Digimon, but I still loved Pokémon, alongside many of my classmates, and almost every other 90s kid. I remember being more than a little jealous of my Game Boy wielding classmates, rushing home to catch the new episodes, and occasionally being gifted a pack of the cards. The often celebrated and sought after, Basic Set 1 card deck.

Cue early 2000. The announcement of Pokémon hitting theatres. My 6-year-old mind went insane. Cinema trips were rare due to the expense, but this was something I so desperately wanted to see. No internet to hunt for plot points and images, no money to buy, or knowledge of, film magazines to get the latest scoop. All I had were the trailers on tv, and the rumours and mutters on the playground. I remember begging my mother to take me. Promising to be good. And then, May 2nd, 2000, my mother told me to get my coat. We were going to the movies. 6:30 in the evening, screen 2, of my local, now none existent, Warner Village Cinema.

That joy and excitement of seeing a much-anticipated film, is one that’s stuck with me. And my childish excitement for, what even I’ll admit is, a cheesy film, is something I still foolishly look back on and smile. I was getting to see one of my favourite series on the big screen. And given how long it did take for films to come to VHS, and the price of them. This was the only time I would be able to see it, for maybe over a year.

When it did finally hit VHS, I was graciously brought a copy of my very own. Along with just a few other tapes, such as The Fox and the Hound, Independence Day, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and The Matrix. This yellow brick, that mesmerised me so, was watched, and loved. Repeatedly.

(Yes, the first run of Pokemon: The First Movie VHS tapes were yellow.)

Looking back at that film now, almost 17 years after that first viewing. I can see the beginning of my film education. I can see the little strands of curiosity that the film sparked. The childhood questions I had, and the journey it took me on.

Stereo, Mono and Audio Mixing:

Something about the film constantly bothered me as a kid. The sound. The films main villain, Mewtwo, was a genetically created Pokémon, able to use psychic abilities, and was able to speak English directly to the main characters. In the cinema, it’s amazing. His voice reverberates around you. To a 6-year-old, it’s intimidating. Yet, re-watching this, on a child’s mono TV, at a low volume, I had to try and remember what Mewtwo was saying. The only line I could ever clearly hear from him was, “Fool. Trying to stop our battle”. For years, I thought this was a fault with my copy of the film, or maybe even my TV.

With the passage of time, and how technology advances, I learnt my tape and TV was fine, and that it had everything to do with film production, audio mixing, and mono vs stereo sound. With the audio mixed as stereo, this allowed for tracks to be played as if coming from multiple directions. Mewtwo’s audio is set to play through the back speakers of a full set up, as if surrounding the viewing. Impressive in surround sound, but hard to hear on a mono set. The DVD commentary by the producers, spoke briefly about the effect they wanted to create, and how they used the audio mixing to impose Mewtwo’s immense power to the viewer.

Cell Painted Animation:

There’s a moment when multiple trainers are attempting to get through a storm, using their various skills and Pokémon to get to New Island as quickly as they can. One trainer, one that does make it through the storm, is seen riding a Gyarados, a large blue water dragon, through the storm easily. The problem being is that the lower lip of Gyarados is miss-coloured the entire time, but the next time we see it, it’s completely normal. This is something that really bothered me, as it was incredibly obvious, and I didn’t get why it wasn’t fixed. I know this bothered others, as it was one of the few things I did talk about with others when the film came up.

Answer. Cell painted animation. Classic animation is painted on cells, one frame at a time, and done in layers. While this mistake is obvious, the number of frames it took up, and the fact that it would probably be on one of the first colour layer. Meaning the entire frame, for all those effected would need to be repainted. Something that is not cheap. It was easier and cheaper to leave a few seconds of miss-coloured Pokémon, than to redo the entire section of the film.

CGI and Traditional Animation:

There was something very strange about the castle, doors and stadium lights. As a kid, I could never figure out why they seemed so different to the rest of the film. Even when the characters were stood right in front of them, they looked off. Turns out, it’s because they ARE different. While the rest of the film is traditional cell painted animation, little touches like the castle (in certain shots), the doors when moving, and the stadium lights, are all CGI models imposed over the film. Interestingly, during the film’s original run in Japan, these were all done with cell animation like the rest of the film. But when the film got the go ahead to be released in America, and the rest of the world, they were able to go back and improve parts of the animation, for a little more polish.

And yet that Gyarados still has a miss-coloured jaw….

Framing:

During the three on three battle in the middle of the film. Ash’s Charzard goes up against a clone Charzard (trying to explain scenes sometimes gets surreal when you realise how crazy some of this sounds to people unfamiliar with the film). As the two dragons are crashing back to the ground, the camera holds on a shot of Ash, Misty, Brock, and the other ‘good’ characters. On the VHS tape, there is an odd editing jump, where the camera cuts from one side of Ash while Brock speaks, only to jump to the other side of him when Misty speaks. As a kid, this was a little jarring. I used to wonder why they weren’t both on screen at the same time. Why did they have to jump from either side, when they could have just had all three characters on screen? Why do I remember seeing this cut a different way?

Well, I had. The original cinema cut of the film had all three characters on screen, taking full advantage of the widescreen format. Emphasis on widescreen format. While not talking about this film, Bordwell and Thompson’s book, Film Art: An Introduction talks at length about framing, and screen resolution. To put it simply. VHS and televisions at the time, had a different frame size, closer to a square than the rectangle we are more familiar with now. Had the VHS release kept the scene the same, then both Brock and Misty would have been out of frame, and the voices would have seemed like they were coming out of nowhere. Thankfully, newer releases, such as the current Blu-Ray, return it to the original aspect ratio.

VHS Tapes can wear:

Film can wear. The more film is used, the more the image can fade, and become crackled and fuzzy. As a kid, it’s hard to understand why is it that your film looks different the hundred and fiftieth time, then on first viewing. Sadly, despite my love of my childhood VHS tapes, watching them so often taught me why the then upcoming DVD format was a good move. DVDs can scratch. They can break. But they are also fairly easy to copy. Later Blu-Ray’s are even harder to scratch. But the footage on those discs will never fade.

 

There are plenty of moral lessons the film taught me, and ones I can still recite from memory. Take Meowth’s realisation that “we do have a lot in common, huh? The same Earth, the same air, the same sky. Maybe if we focus on the same, instead of always on what’s different, well, who knows”. But it’s those curiosities it sparked in me then, that still bring me back to it every few years.

The first three Pokemon films are available on Blu-ray here: Pokemon Movie 1-3 Collection [Blu-ray]

Posted in Comics, Film, Marvel

Thor: Ragnarok – the film that finally got me to laugh at THAT Avengers joke

Contains spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok

Comedy is said to be very subjective. Something I completely agree with. What you find funny, may very well not even register with the person sat next to you. When it comes to comedy, I’m fairly used to being the only one not laughing at times. Either I don’t get it, or I just don’t find it funny. On the flip side, I’m also used to being the only one laughing. When Avengers Assemble hit theatres in 2012, I happily sat there along with hundreds of others. Excited to see what was the culmination of several solo films. Eager to see the Avengers finally team up on the big screen. I thought back to the animated Ultimate Avengers film. So eager to see a bigger, better, live action film. By the films end first time round. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Was I happy? Was I satisfied? Why did it feel like something was missing? The only conclusion I could draw, was that the structure of the film felt a little off. It is, but it doesn’t ruin the film. After a few viewings, I happily admit that I like the film, and it’s something I put on from time to time when you just want to watch something fun.

After losing count of the number of times I’ve seen the film, and having seen it often in the theatre, I love sharing this film with people. That moment in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, when Ego reveals the fate of Star-Lord’s mother, is still one of my favourite cinema experiences of the past 10 years. That moment of complete silence, even with a packed IMAX screen. When it comes to Avengers Assemble, there are some wonderful group moments in the film. The audience cheering for the Avengers finally assembling. The gasp when the Hulk starts to transform. And the one I’ve never managed to take part in, the Hulk smashing Loki into the ground.

It’s a moment that incredibly iconic to the film. A rallying point for fans, and something, I have never found funny. Even on first viewing, I’ve never laughed at it. To the point that it actually used to bother me. On paper, it’s hilarious. It works great as a Hulk moment, and as a moment of revenge against Loki. It’s set up is great, the reaction perfect, and especially the timing. And yet I’ve never laughed at it. Until I saw Thor: Ragnarok.

Thor Ragnarok is easily the best Thor film. It’s incredibly funny, the characters are great, the main weakness of the film seems to be Hela herself, but even then, it’s a fun, action paced film. Though at moments, a few jokes seem to skew older than you would imagine. Not to mention a brief, but wonderful cameo from Matt Damon. The film contains multiple call backs to jokes and events in previous films, and easily, one of the best moments, is a call back to this iconic scene in Avengers Assemble. During the Contest of Champions (a cute call back to what is considered the first Marvel comics event), Thor and Hulk battle it out, with a nervous Loki watching on. In a moment of calm, Thor attempts to calm the Hulk down and talk to him, only for the Hulk to grab Thor and mimic the original scene frame for frame, while Loki cheers on. Screaming, “That’s how it feels! How do you like it!?” It’s a fantastic moment, and made the audience roar with laughter. Including myself. This was it, the pay off to a joke that never managed to grab me.

Much like Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarok is an incredibly funny film. Filled with laughs and great action pieces. When it comes to comedy, it is subjective. But just because you don’t find a particular joke in a film funny, doesn’t mean that it won’t stay with you. I eagerly await seeing this film again. I’m certain there are more jokes and references to be spotted, but even so, I’m eager to witness Ragnarok a second time.

 

(Above is the opinion of the writer solely. Everyone is entitle to their own opinion, this is just mine.)

Film is available for pre-order here: Thor Ragnarok BD [Blu-Ray] [2017]

Posted in Discussion, Film, Review

Should We Listen to Pre-Release Film Reviews?

When it comes to high budget, highly anticipated films, we are anxious to know if all the hype is worth it. Whether to spend our hard-earned time and money, on the next ‘sure to be game changing’ cinematic experience. When first reactions hit the internet, we hold our breath in anticipation of the ultimate answer. Is it good?

As we approach the tail end of 2017, we reach the point where some highly anticipated films, are right around the corner. From Marvel’s Thor Ragnarok, to the star powered Murder on the Orient Express. DC’s long-awaited Justice League, and Steve Carrell and Emma Stone lead Battle of the Sexes. On top of the that, the cultural juggernaut that is Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and even the nostalgia filled Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You? As media consumers, and franchise fans, find ourselves anxious, and primed with day one tickets in hand. Hoping and praying for a film that lives up to our expectations. Often, especially with the likes of Justice League, a few lucky fans will get pre-screenings, weeks, or even months before hand. Followed by the much beloved, and exciting press screenings, a few weeks before the films hit theatres. When coverage hits the newsstands, and the internet at large. We find ourselves scrolling through pages and pages, hoping to learn that we are in for the experience of our lives, on the big screen.

However, should these pre-release reviews be taken to heart? Should we listen to them?

Take for example, the release of Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice in March of 2016. A few days before the films released, the internet was franticly diving from one review to another, trying to discern the truth from biased opinion. Was the film going to be everything we hoped for? While many of the reviews did lay into the film fiercely, there were outliners that praised the film as “an impressive start to a new superhero movie franchise”, commenting on how it’s “genuinely exciting for the evolution of this new DC Comics cinematic world in the coming years”. See Business Insider UK for full review. This divide in reviews, granted, causes greater discussion online before the film’s release. But also brings into question the reviewer’s actual opinion on the film. While it’s 100% possible that those that gave the film glowing reviews pre-release, do genuinely see the film in a different light than the others. It’s also possible that they are doing it for more selfish reasons. Namely, getting their name, magazine, or website into the film’s good books. Creating a favourable connection with the films production company for future releases, or trying to get their name on the films poster or new trailers.

An example from this site, is that of the 2017 horror film, Wish Upon. During the press screening for the film, most people in the room during the film, groaned or laughed at points when we were supposed to feel fear. With one reviewer even walking out mid-way through the film. Brief discussions after, gave the general consensus that while some enjoyed the poorly executed scenes as a source of comedy, and others found the whole thing to be a boring mess. Most people in the room, consisting of a variety of ages and backgrounds, agreed that the film was below average. Many of the reviews from independent outlets echoed this on the day the reviews were due for release. Our review can be read here. However, looking at the well-known, and often trusted film site and magazine, Empire, gave the film 4/5 stars, summing up the film briefly. With Empire being a more trusted site by many, it brings to mind the question as to whether or not this was the reviewer’s genuine feelings towards the film. Or the magazine wanting to keep a good connection with those involved with the film?

With the very recent release of Blade Runner 2049, many news outlets and reviewers, were quick to label the film as a “blockbuster”, or “a modern masterpiece”. While the film is certainly stunning, very well done, and well worth it’s run time. It became somewhat worrying to see how quickly many sites and reviews, jumped to the phrase “masterpiece”. Those that referred to it as a blockbuster before release, maybe shocked to find that the film is in fact underperforming at the box office. Many people rely on pre-release film reviews to shape whether or not they will see an upcoming film. Especially those with a limited income. So, the question still stands. Should we take pre-release reviews with a grain of salt?

Posted in Film, Review

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Starring: Taron Egerton (Eggsy), Mark Strong (Merlin), Colin Firth (Harry Hart), Julianne Moore (Poppy) and Elton John

Release Date: 20th September 2017

In 2014, we were treated to the magnificent fun that was, Kingsman: The Secret Service. Based on the comic by Mark Millar, and Dave Gibbons. Director Matthew Vaughn, brought us an over the top action comedy, of the likes that we haven’t seen since Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz. Full to the brim with over the top violence, extremely likable characters, and a self-aware style that one the hearts of viewers. With the announcement of a sequel, fans were eager to revisit the world of the Kingsman, and see what adventures were next for Galahad, Lancelot, and Merlin. With the release of Kingsman: The Golden Circle, fans have just one question. Does it live up to the original?

In short, no. But not for lack of trying.

Picking up some time after the first film. Eggsy continues as Agent Galahad of the Kingsman. Living with his girlfriend, and trying to impress her parents, he comes back to find the Kingsman destroyed, the shop devastated, and everything he knows in ruins. Attacked by assailants, and alongside Merlin, they find themselves traveling to Kentucky, USA. Seeking out The Statesman, their American cousins. When a plot is revealed by reclusive megalomaniac to kill drug users worldwide, the Statesman and Kingsman team up to save people they care for, and their own interests.

The success of The Secret Service, was unprecedent. A perfect mix of action, comedy, characters and violence. It’s hard to pin down what it was that made us sit up and pay attention. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why The Golden Circle takes a very safe route with its plot. Banking heavily on the most memorable scenes of the original, and that our love for Eggsy, Roxy and Merlin would see the audience through. Add on the inclusion of a fan favourite, thought dead, that was sadly spoiled by marketing. A fact that even the director, Matthew Vaughn, takes great issue with. The Golden Circle comes off as a good knock off of the original. Not as good, but a decent effort at replicating, not continuing. Something that is hard to dismiss when watching the two, one after the other.

It’s hard to top the plot and villain of the original film, though not impossible. But upon meeting, or rather ‘meat-ing’, Julianne Moore’s Poppy, we hope for someone as interesting as Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine. Instead, we find an almost generic psychopath, with a touch of Martha Stewart thrown in. While Julianne Moore is a fantastic actress in her own right, and she plays her role well, the character doesn’t live up to what we expect from a Kingsman sequel.

In The Golden Circle, death means little. It comes quick and early to those we care for, only to be disregarded by the half way point, with the introduction of the Statesman, and the return of Harry Hart. While both are valid plot points, having both together in the same film cheapens the experience.

With the introduction of The Statesman, we get a whole new crop of characters set to help Eggsy. Heavily publicised was the addition to Channing Tatum to the cast as Agent Tequila. While Tatum’s appeal may split with audience, given his usual demographic. You will be pleased to know that his overall appearance is brief, while still getting in a dose of fan service for those anxious to see him.

While the film carries on with a similar tone of humour, it does little to top the first. Attempting to top the shock and humour of the original’s final pre-credits scene, with an honestly uncomfortable, almost sex scene. The violence and action scenes continue to amaze; however, they feel strung together. Like your wishing the plot would just hurry up and get to the next great fight scene. Certainly memorable, but far from the draw of the original.

While certainly not a bad film, it’s hard for it to stand with the original. Enjoyable, fun and action packed, with plenty of fan service. But falls short of its older brother.

 

(Above is the opinion of the writer solely. Everyone is entitle to their own opinion, this is just mine.)

Posted in Anime, Film, Review

Death Note (2017)

Director: Adam Wingard

Starring: Nat Wolff (Light Turner), Lakeith Stanfield (L), Margaret Qualley (Mia Sutton), Willem Dafoe (Ryuk)

Release Date: August 25th, 2017

American adaptations of manga and anime, have been far more miss than hit. This year saw the atrocious Ghost in the Shell. 2009 gave us the frustrating Dragonball Evolution, and it feels like every year, we are threatened with an Americanised Akira. It’s frustrating to understand why an adaptation just hasn’t worked yet. Sure, it’s easy to blame it on a cultural difference, but at their core, the anime being adapted have still managed to make a cultural jump in the first place.

While arguably in development since 2007, in April of 2016, it was announced that Netflix would be releasing a live action adaptation of Death Note. Written by Tsugumi Ohba, and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, Death Note was a psychological thriller, with a touch of dark fantasy, originally published by Weekly Shonen Jump, between December 2003, and May of 2006. Death Note tells the story of Light Yagami, an over achieving high school student, from a loving family. The son of a police detective. During class one day, he spots a mysterious book fall from the sky. The Death Note. Upon retrieving the book, Light discovers a list of rules written inside, stating that “The Human whose name is written in this note shall die”. Finding it a sick joke at first, especially when reading through the rest of the rules. Light finds himself compelled to try it at least once. Flipping to the news, Light finds a school being taken hostage. Upon writing the criminal’s name, Light learns that the book is indeed real. Discovering the books origin, as a tool of the Death God, Ryuk. Light vows to use the book to bring justice to the world, with the Ryuk by his side, anxious to see what a human would do with that power. When his killings start to become recognised, the series becomes a cat and mouse game between Light, now known as the serial killer ‘Kira’, and the world’s greatest detective, L.

From its original manga run, the series has been adapted to a beloved anime series, four Japanese live action films, and a tie-in miniseries. So, when Netflix announced that the American film was finished, and being released in 2017, it seemed reasonable to ask why. However, come August 25th, 2017. It was released upon us, to mostly negative reviews.

Going into this new film, it’s worth saying that, I have no experience with the anime. My introduction to the series was the original manga, before diving into the first three live action films from Japan. Death Note (2006), Death Note 2: The Last Name (2006), and L: Change the World (2008). Then reading the two novels, Death Note L: Change the World, and Death Note Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases. When it came to an American version of the series, I wasn’t expecting something completely faithful. In fact, I would be disappointed to get the same exact story again. What mattered to me was that it was able to live in the world the source material created. It didn’t need to stay faithful to every beat of the original story, but it had to be faithful to the tone and heart.

So, after finally watching the Netflix Death Note film, what did I find. Exactly what I expected. A bad version of the original story. Granted, I found several changes I genuinely liked, but at the end, it was still an imitation of a story we’ve already seen at its heart.

The original character of Light, is very Japanese at his core. He is a product of a Japanese culture. The need to work hard and succeed engrained in him from a young age, and it explains so much of his character. Outside of that, Light also lives in a justice heavy society. In Japan, there justice system is pretty strict. If you find yourself in a Japanese court of law, if you are accused of a crime, you have a roughly 95% chance, of being found guilty. When you take a character like Light, and place him as an American teen, you will not have the same character. However, this could have been compensated for. Instead, we got a character that better resembled Misa. In an interesting twist, the films version of Misa, renamed Mia, is a better Light, than the one we got. This does give us a twist on the original story, that would have been fascinating to see developed. However, the film suffered by not taking its own direction.

A note of praise I can give to the film, is its horror elements, and the portrayal of Ryuk. In the latter half of the film, we get this sequence set in an abandoned mansion. The director’s background in horror films, pays off completely, with the ambient and creepy tone that works extremely well. With Ryuk, he is kept perfectly in the shadows, giving off the truly creepy and other worldly tone he needs. While he was shown in full view in the Japanese live action films to a decent effect, he works wonderfully here. Especially when voiced by the equally creepy William Defo.

Overall, the film is just ok. Works as a background film, but not something to be revisited, or held to the same standard as the manga. Worth a watch, if you are curious, but don’t expect to be pleased. Die-hard fans especially, will find plenty to hate with this film.

(Above is the opinion of the writer solely. Everyone is entitle to their own opinion, this is just mine.)