A Day at the Flix – Pacific Rim: Uprising and A Wrinkle in Time

Two films on very different ends of the entertainment spectrum. Ones an action heavy, mech anime send up, the other is a whimsical journey to find a girl’s missing father. Yet both contained the line “[Insert Name]’s not here right now” spoken by a being inhabiting another body. Who knew?

Pacific Rim: Uprising:

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The follow up to 2013s Pacific Rim by director Guillermo del Toro. Uprising feels rather lacking in what the original film understood about the giant robot genre.

Set ten years after the events of the first film, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) the son of franchise hero General Stacker Pentecost, has been living in abandoned mansions and getting by well in a post Kaiju world. Until he is arrested after helping a young girl and illegal Jaeger engineer escape the police. To avoid prison, he is thrown back into service as a Jaeger Ranger, training new recruits. Despite the lack of Kaiju threat, recruits are still trained. Jaeger’s are still built, and the world is still on edge.

Overall, Pacific Rim: Uprising is lacking compared to the first film. Greatly missing that del Torro magic. This time directed by first time director, Steven S. DeKnight. While the first is a loving sed up to mech anime, Uprising feels more like someone was told the plot beats to shows such as Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Neon Genesis Evangelion and perhaps The Vision of Escaflowne, with only the vaguest hint of interest from the person explaining it. In particular, the film seems to pay homage to moments in Evangelion, with the notable idea of the Unit 03/13th Angel reveal in the show, only lacking the same emotional weight and drama that made that moment so pivotal.

John Boyega continues to do well in his career, but largely caries the film single-handedly. With a cast largely made up of teenagers, another nod to the tropes of giant robot anime. The kids are good, and carry their respected plot points reasonably well, but do not hold up to the same standards of the first film. Especially with how much they play into the final act of the film.

The films villain reveal and plan is somewhat logical given the threads left off from the first film. Though some thought into his plan’s early actions make little sense when you stop and think about how it fits in as a whole.

The pivotal fight choreography is strong, exactly what you would expect from this kind of film. Though the designs of the new Jaeger model’s feel like copies of existing Gundam models rather than ones that exist in this world. Something the films’ predecessor managed very well. With the noticeable exception of the new Gipsy model, the series flagship. One model however, bares a striking similarity to Unit 02 of Evangelion, with a few notes taken from Baymax’s armour in Big Hero 6. The Unit 02 influence is most noticeable in it’s use of knives and swords.

The films world feels very disconnected, even as a follow up to the first. Small details that were established in the original film, and handled well in several giant robot anime, such as civilian evacuation and protection were handled in a very haphazard manner. A lot of details about how this new, post-Kaiju war world works are largely swept under the rug. A nod is given hear or there, to acknowledge that it was considered, but only bring further questions. A lot of the film felt very unrealistic even from the world the film sets up, leading to an unsatisfying conclusion and inevitable sequel baiting.

Perhaps the films funniest moment was watching a Jaeger crash land next to the 1:1 scale Gundam statue in Tokyo. Which when you take into account it’s appearances in the Ready Player One trailers and posters, this won’t be the last time a Gundam makes it to the big screen this year.

Overall, a few good fights and a plot that feels very copy and pasted together. Predictable specially to existing giant robot fans. Worth catching on TV or at a cheap screening but does not stand up to the original.

A Wrinkle in Time:

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Based on the book by Madeleine L’Engle. A Wrinkle in Time follows the young girl Meg as she, her brother, and friend Calvin, go on an adventure to recover her missing father. A scientist who suddenly disappeared from their house 4 years ago. The journey takes them through other worlds and across space as they try to understand what happened, and the universes impact on them all.

Directed by Ava DuVernay, and with an all star cast of Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine and more. However, the true star of the film is the impressive CGI, followed closely by the three lead child actors, Storm Reid, Levi Miller, and Deric McCabe who all completely embody their characters and carry the film. The big Hollywood names feel as though they are only there to get attention for the film, especially in the cases of Winfrey, Witherspoon and Kaling. They feel more like the stars on screen, rather than actual characters.

The film carries with it a good message, talking to the target audience, in this cast children and teens, about depression and excepting their own faults. However, while the film is well meaning, it feels as though the book it’s adapting handled these far better even without having read the book. Multiple scenes that you would imagine having been written to invoke particular emotions and images that are deeply personal to the reader, are now being heavily filtered through someone else’s perspective. Granted the beautiful CGI does provide a fair amount of eye candy. The feeling that the intension was meant to be more personal is very hard to shake.

The films focus on darkness taking over the light, and the unnamed ‘it’ are very clear stand ins for the obvious. And while the talk of, but never named, depression can be very affective, it still feels lacking. Some of the flash back examples shown in the middle, attempting to explain the darkness’s affect on people are decent, though very cliché.

Overall, a standard Hero’s Journey story with an impressive young cast, but heavily hollow to it’s core. Eye catching, but all flash and no substance.

Conclusion:

Between the two, A Wrinkle in Time is certainly the stronger film. But neither are masterpieces. Both bring something to the table, either fight scenes, effective CGI, or promising child acting. But neither are satisfying as films and give of the impression that a better version already exists.

 

Can we just have a Gundam film already…!?

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My Hero Academia: Season Two, Part One

11702453-8944561249026207In the near future, 80% of the population is born with super human abilities. In a world like this, becoming a superhero is more than just a fever dream. Superheroes are everywhere. Working everyday to keep the world safe. They are respected, and idolised, and none is more well-known than All-Might! The symbol of peace. Students all over Japan dream of getting into U.A. Academy, the number one high school for superheroes in training, none more so then Izuku “Deku” Midoriya. Unfortunately for him, despite spending his entire life studying and trying to understand what it truly means to be a hero, Midoriya is one of the 20% born without abilities. Constantly ridiculed by his classmates and those around him for ever thinking he could be a hero, Midoriya still studies hard in hopes of being the first U.A. Academy student without abilities. It’s during a fateful encounter with his idol All-Might, and his own heroism trying to save a classmate, that Midoriya’s life is changed forever.

The first season of My Hero Academia took the anime community by storm on it’s release in 2016. Based on the manga by Kohei Horikoshi and published in the renowned Weekly Shonen Jump. The same magazine that gave us Dragon Ball, Death Note, Naruto and Haikyuu!!. My Hero Academia found it’s audience almost immediately, to the point that an anime adaptation was practically inevitable. It’s 13-episode first season exploded in popularity both in its native Japan and oversees thanks to Funimation’s simulcast. Now, Funimation is back with a physical release of Season two, Part One!

The first half of season two gives us something all Shonen fans know all too well. A tournament arc! And while tournament arcs can be fun, a lot of the time they end up being set ups to larger story points and major shifts. Such as the Chunin exams arc in Naruto leading to the one-tale encounter and Orochimaru. However, My Hero Academia embraces the fun and excitement that a tournament arc can be and uses it to flesh out not only main characters and side characters, but the world itself.

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After the events of season one, our main characters gear up for the U.A. Sports festival. A chance to show off their skills in a televised event. Go up against other class’s such as the previously unseen Class 1-B, the Support classes, Business course and General Studies. As well as try and get the attention of potential recruiters. Going through an obstacle course designed to test their skills, a cavalry battle that sees different combinations of strengths and skills, all leading up to a round robin style battle till only one stands. While there is no big stake on the line, the students will get to take part in these events two more times before they graduate. The 13-episode arc explores the characters in a wonderful way. Character motives and abilities are explored to a phenomenal degree, with the clear stand outs being both Uraraka and Todoroki. A girl who wants to make it big and earn a lot of money for the simple reason of helping out her parents, and a young man torn between his sense of self-worth, his family life, and the pressures put upon him by his father. My Hero Academia does so much justice to it’s characters in this 13-episode arc, that it works almost as a blue print to how to do tournament arcs as stories in themselves, and not just a means to an end.

While the animation in season one was already impressive, season two steps it up beautifully. Adding not only an extra punch to action scenes but in characterisation too. Small and subtle details are added to each of the characters movements that work well to give another dimension to them. Bakugo’s egotistical personality has a whole other level of flair to it with his casual movements. But no character benefits more from this than Iida. The slightly high strung and nervous class representative shows so much more personality in just his hand gestures. It’s a small thing but speaks volumes about the characters.

Both the English dub and the Japanese audio are incredibly impressive. All the actors give it there all throughout in both languages. However, if an all-star had to be chosen, it’s Ayane Sakura as Uraraka in the Japanese dub. Her phone call to her father mid-way through the tournament is sure to bring a tear to your eye.

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The show’s opening, ‘Peace Sign’ by Kenshi Yonezu is delightfully infectious and gets you excited for the episode to come. Partnered well with an opening animation of our heroes stretching in preparation, before exploding in a flurry of action as the tempo in the music picks up and explodes. The show’s ending theme, ‘Dakara, Hitori ja nai’ by Little Glee Monster, is rather poppy, and is a take it or leave it song that you’ll either love or tolerate, but it’s paired with a rather lovely sequence following the shows lead girls, highlighting just how well My Hero Academia characterises its female cast especially.

The Blu-ray release of My Hero Academia Season two, Part one also contains episode 13.5. A fantastic 23 minute summery of season one, that works very well for those wanting a bit of a reminder of the previous 13 episodes, or those just wanting to relive it one more time before diving into season 2. Also included are textless versions of the opening and ending credits. A set of 13 shorts presented by the American voice actors talking about their favourite charities in the ‘Be a Hero’ initiative, as well as a fantastic interview with Yoshihiko Umakoshi, the shows character designer and chief animation director for season two.

The first half of My Hero Academia’s second season is a wild ride of fun and excitement that leave you hungry for even more. A fantastic character exploration and intense action pact experience. My Hero Academia Season two, Part one is available for pre-order and due for release April 2nd on Blu-ray and DVD.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/My-Hero-Academia-Season-Blu-ray/dp/B07B5X5NNH/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1521389862&sr=8-2&keywords=my+hero+academia

Zavvi: https://www.zavvi.com/blu-ray/my-hero-academia-season-02-part-1-funimation/11702453.html

Descender Vol. 1: Tin Stars

271433._SX1280_QL80_TTD_In the far-off future, man has travelled to space. We’ve colonised and live across planets. Our smartest scientists have even created robots. Both in and out of our likeness, working alongside us. Suddenly, without warning, planet sized mechanical beings appear and wreak havoc across the galaxy. Sending humanity into disarray. 10 years later, a Tim model android activates. Having no idea as to what has happened. Where his ‘family’ is. And why the mining base he is assigned to is suddenly abandoned. In the form of a young child, Tim-21 finds himself swept up in a situation he was never designed for. On the run from scrappers, and found by the government and his ‘creator’. There are so many questions that need answers, and how does Tim’s coding fit into all of it?

Taking its cue, and heavily reminiscent of Asmiov’s Complete Robot, and the Supertoy stories by Brian Aldiss. Jeff Lemire’s Descender is a fascinating and captivating sci-fi tale. The mysteries flowing through this first trade, the initial 6 issues, are engrossing to no end. The book is hard to put down once you are engaged. Every thread of the mystery keeps you going, wanting to know more. The characters are compelling, each providing their own voice to the story. Each memorable in their own way, with their own goal for discovering the truth. Weather it’s the answer to their research. Revenge for their mother’s death. Or just the whereabouts of their family. The core cast maybe small, but they play off both each other, and the people that cross their path.

The books use of flashbacks and jumps between pages, provides not only a greater depth to the story. But allows us to see the characters thought process in a more natural and compelling fashion, than simply in a dialogue exchange.

Dustin Nguyen’s artwork is purely stunning to the eyes. A beautiful, and minimalist watercolour approach to what could have been a bland and generic palette. A display of striking colour and warmth, to the cold reaches of space and metallic forms. He plays off Lemire’s story beautifully, to breath incredible life into the characters. Giving even small roles, a memorable presence.

Descender is a wonderful example of thoughtful science fiction, wrapped in a stunning watercolour shell.

US: http://amzn.to/2kLfKr0

UK: http://amzn.to/2AZ58eZ

Teen Titans Vol 1: Damian Knows Best [Review]

Writer: Benjamin Percy
Artists: Khoi Pham, Jonboy Meyers & Diogenes Neves
Issues: Teen Titans Rebirth #1, Teen Titans #1 – 5 (2016 – 2017)

If the New 52 cemented anything about Damian Wayne, it’s that he doesn’t play well with others. Even when briefly partnering with the Teen Titan’s in the past, it’s clear that Damian wants things his own way, and rarely compromises. Enter DC Rebirth, and Damian’s 13th birthday. Has he grown, or still the same old egotistical pain in the ass?

Bitter at his father absence, Damian celebrates his 13th birthday largely alone. Until a letter arrives from his grandfather, Ra’s Al Ghul. He is summoned to take his place in the League of Shadows. Carry out his destiny, or die at the hands of those he one trained beside. Damian learns of not only the hit out on his life, but those of other young heroes. He brings them together to become the new Teen Titans! Only Damian’s methods, are not what you would call friendly.

“Damian: I’ve lived in the shadows of great men. No longer. I burn too brightly for that. Unlucky thirteen. The moment when life tips toward adulthood. For most, it’s a time of questioning uncertainty, awkward role-playing. But I’ve never doubted who I am… I know the legacy I’m meant to claim.”

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Despite being a Teen Titans book, this first arc acts more as a story of personal growth for Damian Wayne. Making his choice of what he wants his life to be, learning to ask for help, and that it’s ok to rely on others. The book does show growth on the part of Damian, perhaps more so than the Supersons title. However, it’s the other Titans that bring the real entertainment to the story. A mix of personalities and attitudes, playing of the young Robin. Beast Boy is loud and obnoxious, but knows full well when to dial it back, often clashing with the more serious Damian. Raven holds the most sympathy for Damian’s situation, given her own family ties, acting heavily as an older sister figure. Starfire and the new Kid Flash round off the team to create a well-balanced set of characters overall.

The driving danger of the story does feel inconsequential. We know the outcome before even the middle issue. But it works well as a catalyst to bring the young heroes together. When read together with the Teen Titans Rebirth issue, it does work well as an origin. However, it feels as though the character dynamics could have benefited from just one more issue of build-up. While easily justified, the team’s acceptance of Damian as leader, feel slightly rushed. Particularly with Beast Boy, due to his early claims of Damian not measuring up to Tim Drake. Still, the ground work is set for what could be an amazing and fun team moving forward.

“Beast Boy: So Damian… Do you prefer the title of ‘Fearless Leader’ or ‘Ruthless Overlord’?

Damian: How about ‘Work-In-Progress’? That goes for us all. I don’t know what the future holds, but one thing’s for certain… We’re in this together.”

Overall, the story is a fun pass time read, with bright and vibrant art. A visually striking battle, with decent character development, that is sure to build to a great team book in the future.

 

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

The trade is available here: Teen Titans (2016-) Vol. 1: Damian Knows Best

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?

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe (2012)

History can often be written in a fairly boring, and straight forward manner. This happened, followed by this, leading up to what you already know. Often, it can feel like a text book, forcing you to focus like your studying for a test. Even when the subject is something of interest to us, you can find ourselves feeling bogged down by information that feels flavourless. Almost redundant.

With Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, this is never an issue.

When diving into Marvel Comics, we find a delightfully well written book, that comes off as inviting and invigorating as a genuine Marvel comic. Presenting what could be mundane facts and events, as earth shattering moments in history. Culminating in what we know as modern-day Marvel. While it’s tempting to simply focus on the larger figures, such as Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko. Howe uses interviews, statistics, reports, articles, and a wonderful writing style, to breathe life into the mythical Marvel Bullpen, while shedding light on the cut-throat industry as a whole.

Covering a pre-World War II industry, right up to modern day Marvel, as part of Disney. It’s hard to find an aspect of Marvel’s history that Sean Howe does not cover.

While set out mostly in chronological order, the use of time skips or jumps in places, work to emphasise the importance of figures or events. Through it, you can gain a greater appreciation for Marvel, as well as feel a slightly different perspective on some of the figures or events. Stories from different time frames, or events within the comics, become stronger, when you begin to understand the reasons behind choices.

While the book may seem intimidating, given its massive size, with almost 500 pages. It’s manner and style make it easy to read, not only with how it’s written, but with the way it sucks you in. Engrossing you within the history of such an important company within the industry.

For those with little time to read, the book is accompanied by a wonderful 18-hour Audio Book that truly immerses you while on the go.

For those curious of Marvel’s fascinating history, or simply want something engaging to read. Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is a wonderful read. Truly worthy of your time, and attention.

Available here: Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (P.S.)

The Dark Tower (2017)

Adaptations walk a hard line. On one side, they have the long-time fans of the source material, anxious to see what characters and plot points are cased aside and changed. While simultaneously creating something appealing to the public. Appeasing both the ravenous fans, and blockbuster devoted public, in an attempt to make back their money, and win the summer box office.

Adapting Stephen King’s work to the big screen, is nothing new. Starting with Brian De Palma’s Carrie in 1976, up to The Dark Tower, Gerald’s Game and the remake of It in 2017. Many have been exposed to the work of King, without ever picking up a single brick sized novel. King’s storytelling, and worlds have become well known and treasured to many, through multiple mediums. While many of his stories, such as The Shining, Christine, and The Green Mile are all celebrated works, none are more praised than the world and legacy of The Dark Tower series.The-dark-tower-movie-

Born of seven original books in the series, followed by an eighth in 2012, and a series of prequel comics, written by Robin Furth and Peter David, with stunning art by Jae Lee. The Dark Tower is a celebrated series, mixing the genres of dark fantasy, science fantasy, horror and westerns. King has described the series as his magnum opus.  With legions of devoted fans to the series, the thought of a big screen adaptation is both exciting, and nerve racking.

When adapting such an expansive and well-loved work, it may well be best to take a more lenient approach to adaptation. Carrying the tone and spirit. Conveying what captured the original fans attention. An example of this can be seen with the two adaptations of The Shining. The Stanley Kubrick adaptation is highly praised, and adored the world over. However, it breaks away heavily from the source material, only carrying the soul and characters through to the end. Years later, an adaptation was created as a two-part series, that stayed as faithful to the source material as it could. This version is universally panned for its extended and unnecessarily excessive dialogue, and poor attempts at horror. The Dark Tower is in no way a completely faithful adaptation. Instead, it takes its cues from the Kubrick version of The Shining, and takes the characters and spirit in a somewhat different direction.The_Dark_Tower.0

The film takes place in two worlds. In modern day New York, and the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is home to the Gunslinger. In our world, the film follows the young Jake Chambers, as night after night, he experiences dreams of another world. A world where children are strapped into a machine, their screams combine, energy bursting out of a machine. A dark tower suffering damage. Faceless men. A Man in Black, and a Gunslinger roaming the desert. The more the dreams happen, the stronger the earthquakes that hit New York. As his mother and stepfather attempt to send him away to get help, he finds himself pursued by the faceless men of his dreams. Finding an old house he sees in his dreams, he is transported to the world he has been dreaming of, and the Gunslinger. Roland Deschain of Gilead.

Ultimately, The Dark Tower is a thoroughly enjoyable film in its own right. From it’s opening moments, it sucks you in, and keeps your attention throughout. Something that’s rarely seen lately. Acted well throughout, with the obvious stand outs of Idris Elba as Roland, and Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black. Though the young Tom Taylor does a fine job of emoting in the role of Jake, a demanding role, that he carries well. Idris Elba plays Roland as a warn and scarred man. One who has clearly been burdened by his past, carrying the weight of being the last of the Gunslingers. McConaughey’s Man in Black comes off at times as a 12a version of Jessica Jones’s Killgrave. Especially when giving commands to random strangers in the street. However, the character is still engaging, and makes for a compelling and truly threatening villain. Together, with a memorable, and strong supporting cast. They greatly anchor the film.

Enjoyable throughout, and highly engaging, with numerous Easter intertextual references. The Dark Tower takes the dense and expansive world King created, and provides a thrilling and satisfying film.

 

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