Category Archives: Review

Godzilla: An Honest Review

Directed By: Gareth Edwards

Written By: Max Borenstein.

Starring: Aaron Taylor Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, and Bryan Cranston.

Godzilla is back! It has been a decade after the Japanese release of Toho’s Godzilla: Final Wars, and it has been 16 years since the last, god awful, American release, Godzilla by director Roland Emmerich.

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Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the Godzilla franchise, I’m going to run you through the basics. Godzilla, or “Gojira” in Japanese, is a giant dinosaur which rises from the ocean to fight other monsters. Within the Japanese films, Godzilla’s exact origins vary, but he is generally depicted as an enormous, violent, prehistoric sea monster, awakened and empowered by nuclear radiation.

His size (which changes from film to film for the sake of artistic license) is generally around, oh let’s say, 500 feet tall. Believable? Not really. But who cares! It’s giant monsters fighting each other!

Godzilla’s signature weapon is its “atomic breath,” which is a nuclear blast that it generates inside its body and unleashes from its jaws in the form of a blue radioactive heat ray.

After Legendary Pictures formally announced this project in March 2010, after the acquisition of the rights from Toho Studios, this legendary monster was put back in action; directed by Gareth Edward and is a co-production with Warner Bros.

This film had a lot of hype. I was very excited for Godzilla’s return to the big screen, definitely listing it as 1 of my top 10 most anticipated films this year. I wanted to see the king of monsters make an epic return and break into the mainstream for western audiences.

The trailers for the movie were awesome, they promised us action and an interesting story. So did it live up to the hype?

Yes and no.

*Spoilers ahead*

This article contains not just some spoilers, but all the spoilers. So if you haven’t seen the movie and you want to see it for yourself, stop reading here!

Opening Credits

In case you’re interested in something that’s usually so mundane and throw-away….

The film’s opening establishes the origin story of Godzilla, showing videos of the nuclear explosion that caused the radioactive exposure in the ocean and the covered-up redacted statements that wrapped around the credits.

The whole opening sequence is well made, but perhaps lost on new people who might not know or for the people, like me, who might not be paying attention THAT closely to the credits. Luckily, there is a transcription of the whole thing on Badassdigest.com.

Plot

In 1999, scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) are called to a quarry in the Philippines where a colossal skeleton and two egg-shaped pods have been discovered. One of the pods was dormant and the other one, having hatched, has escaped to the sea.

The screen cuts focus to Janjira, Japan (just outside of Tokyo), the local giant nuclear plant starts experiencing seismic activity. Plant supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) sends his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) and a team into the core to look for damage.

As the team makes its inspection deep within the facility, an explosion occurs, threatening to release radiation to the outside. Joe goes down to manually ensure that the door stays open for Sandra and her team. However, the radiation was too quick for Sandra and the team, and Joe had no choice but to close the door, leaving the team unable to escape. The plant collapses into ruin, leaving Joe and Ford, his son, mother and wife-less all within the first few minutes of the film.

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The disaster, attributed to a catastrophic earthquake, results in the evacuation and quarantine of the Janjira area and the main cause for the events to follow.

Alright! The movie starts out with a good backstory. The monster that hatched was kept a mystery, adding suspense; Bryan Cranston had an absolutely brilliant performance; and the pacing of the plot was good. Oh, I am so ready for what comes next!

Fifteen years later, we jump POV focus from Joe Brody to his son Ford Brody(Aaron Taylor-Johnson)…

Oh god dammit… A POV switch?

Anyway, he is an explosive ordnance disposal officer (we all know that he’s going to have to stop a bomb later) in the United States Navy, living in San Francisco with his wife, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and son.

His wife and son have no significance other than to add additional drama to the film. Just expressive plot props.

I can’t even remember their names without looking it up first (it’s Elle and Sam, by the way). It’s a real shame too, because Elizabeth Olsen’s talents are half-starved in this film.

Anyway, after the movie establishes that Ford has live bait for the monsters to later threaten, Ford finds out that Joe is arrested for trespassing in the quarantined area. Ford then travels to Japan to bail him out of jail. Joe, hell-bent on discovering the true cause of the catastrophe, convinces his son to accompany him to Janjira for his mother’s sake.

Once in the quarantined area, they discover no signs of radiation, despite the warning that authorities had claimed. They decide to visit their old home to retrieve floppy disks that would assist in Joe’s quest to expose the cover-up. They also notice the power plant in the distance with its lights on, believing that the plant is being rebuilt. Once they recover this information, they are promptly arrested by local security and are then taken to the facility within the power plant’s ruins, built to contain a massive chrysalis, which is being studied by Serizawa and Graham.

So let me get this straight. The first time Joe was in the quarantined area, he was arrested and put into prison. Second time…meh. It will give him a pass directly to where the next plot point will be.

The aforementioned chrysalis, which contains the monster that destroyed the plant, soon hatches and unleashes a colossal winged creature, named MUTO or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism, which devastates the facility and flies off. Joe is critically wounded in the chaos, and eventually dies from his injuries.

Yeah, I know Bryan Cranston. I'm sad too.
Yeah, I know Bryan Cranston. I’m sad too…

Serizawa, Graham and Ford join a US Navy team to track the monster, using the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CVN-88) as a base of operations. As the earth’s radiation subsided, it moved underground and put itself in a cryptobiotic state. Godzilla, a much larger animal that was awoken during a deep-sea expedition in 1954, in turn, is hunting it. Its existence has been continually covered up following numerous failures to kill it with nuclear weapons. Ford reveals that his father had tracked a form of echolocation from the Janjira area, which leads the team to believe the MUTO was communicating with something else. Something that wasn’t Godzilla.

A U.S. Army Special Forces team in Hawaii finds the wreckage of a Russian nuclear submarine in the forest northwest of Diamond Head, outside of Honolulu, and finds the MUTO feeding on its reactor. The military attacks the MUTO and a battle ensues at Honolulu International Airport. Godzilla arrives from the ocean, causing a catastrophic tsunami that devastates Waikiki. The MUTO later flees by air.

The second MUTO pod, which was brought from the Philippines to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, then hatches. The much larger, wingless female destroys Las Vegas before heading west, and Serizawa concludes that the two creatures will meet to breed. There enters Godzilla’s main purpose as Alpha Predator…

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Let them fight

A train is loaded with two warheads to take to San Francisco, but it is intercepted and destroyed by the female MUTO, which eats one of the warheads. The other warhead is taken by helicopter to San Francisco, where it is put on a boat and armed. The MUTOs, however, steal the warhead and the female MUTO constructs a nest around it in downtown San Francisco, threatening the lives of millions.

Warhead

At this time, citizens in San Francisco are being evacuated on school buses. Elle leaves Sam with a trusted friend while she stays behind to help around in the hospital. The buses then make their way out of the city through the Golden Gate Bridge, where it is blocked off and is surrounded by the military. Godzilla resurfaces near the bridge.

Speaking of which, why did he spare the ship with Ishiro and the Admiral but plow over the other two ships?

The NAVY opens fire in an attempt to prevent him from entering the city, despite the protests of the soldiers on the bridge due to the presence of civilians. The commotion caused by both the military and Godzilla results in the destruction of the bridge.

OF COURSE!
OF COURSE!

And somehow Sam’s bus escapes the carnage….

Alright, so Godzilla is making his way toward the MUTO! Finally we get to see some monster fighting monster action that the franchise is-

A cut to the soldiers… *Sigh*

Well, while the MUTOs are distracted by Godzilla, Ford and a team of soldiers enter the nest via halo jump to try to disarm the warhead.

But hey, the MUTO uses EMP to disable electronics, right? With the MUTO right there, how the hell were the soldiers able to have a digital GPS guide them to where the nuke was hiding?

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All logic aside, they find the warhead and discover it has suffered significant damage, being that there is now a nest of MUTO eggs attached to the nuke and are unable to disarm it. So they plan to take it out to sea and let it detonate.

Ford decides to use a fuel truck to incinerate the nest, which distracts the female MUTO from the fight, leaving just the male to fight Godzilla. Godzilla then impales the male MUTO into a skyscraper, killing it, though the collapsing structure engulfs Godzilla as well. Ford arrives at the docks and manages to get to the warhead boat, with the enraged female MUTO in pursuit.

As the MUTO bears down on Ford, Godzilla attacks the female by firing his atomic breath down her throat, decapitating her. Ford then gets the boat out to sea and is saved by a rescue team just before the warhead detonates. Meanwhile, Godzilla collapses from exhaustion on the shoreline.

In the aftermath, Ford is reunited with his wife and son. Godzilla unexpectedly awakens and returns to the ocean, hailed as the “King of the Monsters” and “The City’s Saviour” by the media.

Overall

Gareth Edward’s “Godzilla” (2014) is a good movie, but it has some glaring flaws in it that drags the film down.

1. CGI and Design of Monsters

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See the resemblance?

Okay, so sure, the monsters differ in color, head, there are two extra appendages and the MUTO has the power of flight. But where is the originality in this monster?

In the early to mid 1960’s Toho’s special effects team cranked out designs for Mothra (1961) , Godzilla in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Manda from Atragon (1963), Dagora (1964), Baragon (1965) from Frankenstein Conquers the World, Sanda and Gaira (1966) to name a few. And these weren’t even made on computers, rather they were rendered as pencil sketches by none other than Eiji Tsuburaya. His monsters were completely original and had character. You know, as much as a giant monster fighting other giant monsters can have character.

It just disappoints me that we have all this incredible technology that can produce and animate things quickly, and the best we can come up with is a rehash of the Cloverfield Monster. Oh please.

I mean sure, not every monster is going to have originality in design, and maybe not have original powers too. Some of Toho’s designs had outside influences.

But the difference is they created value by staying constistant and making it their own. Toho invented new and unique elements and ideas, and made it feel special throughout the entire film. In Godzilla 2014, the EMP blast could have been a unique idea if had it not have been comprised when the plot needed it to be.

Also, at times the CGI had to be in a dark backdrop in order to make the monsters seem more realistic, but this make the fight scenes a little bit hard to see.

2. Balance of Human Sentiment and Monster Action

The movie creates the just right amount of tension for their characters, but more often than not it focuses too much on details that are really not necessary to the plot of the movie. Human sentiments took up center stage, while news reports hardly ever focused on Godzilla’s massive save, even after he was proven innocent.

The whole segment with the Japanese child getting separated from his parents was unwanted and uninteresting. That time could have been devoted to better action sequences or Godzilla doing something other than swim next to the Navy. Was there not something more interesting he could do, rather than cruise with ships?

And for some very frustrating reason, the camera always cut away to some rather irrelevant human action after giving the audience a sneak peak of Godzilla. It’s understandable to introduce the monster in this way – it is senseless, however, to continue in this pattern throughout the movie.

Also, for fans of the series, we all know what Godzilla looks like. Hell, even some non-fans do. There is a bit less suspense on a monster that has already been seen, even from adaptation to adaptation.

It also sends the audience into fits of frustration. The only question on my mind after an hour and a half of the movie, was: when the hell are we going to see Godzilla? This is supposed to be an action movie, right?

Godzilla’s two moments of glory were when he bit the face off the male MUTO and later ripped the female one apart. I wanted more of a fight between the creatures, as opposed to the prolonged military action we got to witness. It was all pretty standard stuff really.

Final Thoughts

For all my bitching about the flaws of this film, I don’t deny that there are good moments in the movie and some good potential for the franchise itself.

It made an estimated $93 million in the US and $103 million internationally during its debut, towering over Universal Pictures “Neighbors” and taking its places in the No. 1 spot. And from this revenue and success in the first weekend of its release, Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures have announced a sequel.

So, the film accomplished its main goal and that was to introduce this legendary beast to western audience allowing for potential growth. I will definitely be watching the new Godzilla sequel when it comes out.

7 out of 10

The Little Sequel that Could: Cinderella 3

Go Cindy, go!
Go Cindy, go!

Avid Disney fans of the 90’s and early 2000’s will remember, and probably visibly cringe at, the sudden onslaught of direct-to-video sequels that Disney Toon Studios (once Disney Movietoons) unleashed upon the market. Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Fox and the Hound, Pocahontas; hell, even Bambi.

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And, as you’ve probably guessed, these were not made because the studio wanted to give thoughtful, interesting continuations of some of our favorite stories and characters, and certainly not to improve what had already worked for them.

No, these were made because:

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Quality is scarce in most of them. Voice actors change or sound like they’re phoning it in, the music is limited and half-hearted, the audio quality is bad or average, and the animation is less vibrant and lively, with more lines. Like a cartoon show you’d see on t.v.

All of these factors are, of course, in comparison to the original films.

Allow me to quote the notable critic and online personality, Nostalgia Chick, as I believe she put it best:

“…sometimes you have to ask yourself: why do these things exist? Are they the product of a creative spark somewhere? Or are they a studio mandate farmed out to a third-rate production house?”

“As they were made by television people with television assets and budgets, they look like T.V. shows. They are paced like T.V. shows. They have the stakes of a T.V. episode.”

“…a quick cash-in made for stupid children who need to be babysat by Uncle Television for an hour…”

~Top Ten Worst Disney Sequels review

She goes on to outline the usual set up for a Disney sequel. It’s either a prequel, midquel, three-part obvious television show pilot, or sequel, and most of them involve the children of the main characters from the old movie learning the same lesson their parents did last time around, or someone “from movie 1 finding a love interest.” They are glorified fan fictions with budgets, except that these are written by the canon creators.

For those unfamiliar with the terms:

Canon is the material accepted as part of the story in an individual fictional universe.

Fanon, or Fandom, is what the fans come up with (their interpretations, theories, pairings, etc.)

As a child, I saw about half of these “films”. I was too young to understand why the overall quality was so bad, but old enough to be able to notice continuity errors, voice changes, and, in general, a lot less epicness all around. The only sequels I could stand to watch, for the longest time, were Lion King 2 and Pocahontas 2, and while I have some fond memories of them and wouldn’t say they are “that bad,” I wouldn’t call them good, terribly memorable, or having any high aspirations either.

Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time, however…

On a friend’s recommendation, and the above mentioned critic’s follow-up review (Top Five Least Awful Disney Sequels, I sat down and watched this film the other day. I was surprised by its (relatively) decent quality, and it’s aspirations.

Yes. I would go so far as to say this movie aspires to do something useful, which is to give the bland-as-bread Cinderella and the other by-the-numbers good and evil characters some desperately needed development. Even Prince Charming!

Also, Cindy gets stuff to do, and has to work to keep her happily ever after, which is unique and refreshing to many, who regarded her as boring and passive in her original movie.

But how can that be, you ask?

*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*

Cinderella and Prince Whats-His-Name have been married a whole year, and have apparently never had a single argument the whole time, because everything is “perfectly perfect.”

No, I have not watched Cinderella 2, nor will I. From what I’ve heard, 3 doesn’t care much about the continuity of 2 anyway.

The fairy godmother (who’s back for some reason, bumming around the castle I guess) and mouse and bird friends are preparing a big anniversary dinner, while the stepmother still lives in that dilapidated old manor. Lady Tremaine (yes, the stepmother has a name, but the prince doesn’t) now makes her daughters do the chores.

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That is, if Cinderella were a normal person and not a Christian archetype of goodness, kindness, and patience. I think after what she’s been through, she has a right to gloat a little. And after the events of this movie unfold, you’ll see the full extent of her unrealistic forgiveness.

The anniversary party is happening about a mile from Cindy’s old house, and Anastasia catches sight of the couple riding by and decides to follow them.

Two things to note here:

1) Anastasia is now a sweet, clumsy, quirky, misled girl, who is going to be unwittingly used by her mother to keep the plot going.

Cinderella III Anastasia and the slipper

I’m all for giving her a personality and not painting her as “just evil,” as Disney has done with villains in the past, but this does create a humorous contrast to the chick in the first movie that was just as nasty as her sister, Drizella, and viciously abused Cinderella with her for many years. Need we forget that lovely dress-tearing scene?

Stepsisters Tearing Dress_thumb[9]

Maybe she was just sweetly misled there too. Who knows?

Nature vs. nurture again…

2) All of this opening and introduction of the characters is taking place via the most cheesy, ear-bleedingly awful musical number. I won’t say it’s the worst of the bunch (there are only about 3 songs, and the rest is background music), because that honor goes to “At the Ball,” sung later by the comic relief mice. I won’t subject you to that one.

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Mary Poppins can pull off “practically perfect in every way,” but on Cinderella, it’s just obnoxious.

The only mildly interesting part of the song is the contrast in score when Cindy and the step sisters sing, but you’ll probably be distracted by the purposely awful singing of the latter. Anastasia sounds like she has a nice voice just itching to get out sometimes, but because she’s a villain-turned-anti-hero, I’m guessing the director told the voice actress to be less graceful and more comedic. Keep up that nasal, Tress!

Anyway…

Cinderella3_0130

Shenanigans happen. The fairy godmother loses her wand, which conveniently lands in front of Anastasia after everything from the first movie was exposited to her, and it then ends up in the hands of Lady Tremaine. The fairy godmother is put out of commission, and the stepmother turns back time and alters things so that Anastasia is set to marry the prince. For extra insurance, she makes sure he’s totally cool with it.

Cinderella looks on like a kicked puppy (something she does on and off as she and her hopes ride the emotional roller coaster that is this movie’s plot), then sings a song that totally doesn’t rip off the opening to The Sound of Music and “Belle”‘s reprise from Beauty and the Beast at the end.

This is like if Belle, halfway through her song, did a complete 180.

“Do I want a man or adventure, or both? I’m so confused!”

But good for her, realizing that having dreams means you have to actually work for them. Take steps and all that jazz.

She marches off to the castle, sidekicks in tow, to defy fate and go get her man.

Yay Feminism!
Yay Feminism!

If I may pause here to mention some more things:

1) The comedy is all over the place. Sometimes it’s funny, with Drizella being the snarky bridge between the cold, quiet, poised stepmother and the clumsy, tactless, thoughtless Anastasia, but most of the time the writers are trying way too hard. It feels heavy-handed and way too purposeful.

The scenes where the mice try to be funny are just painful. It’s colorful, shiny kid-pandering at its finest.

2) The continuity is all over the place, as you might have guessed, but to be fair, it probably wouldn’t bother most people.

It bothers me because Disney is trying to tell me this is Cinderella, but they don’t even remember their first film or care about the little details enough to try to convince me. They think that all I, or anyone, need to see is Cindy, and I’ll think, “Oh, it’s Cinderella. Okay!”

In the words of Nostalgia Chick yet again, “Brand. Name. Recognition!”

These things undermine some otherwise poignant, witty moments, like when the King is criticizing his son for how he’s chosen to determine his bride:

King: “Those aren’t reasons! Breeding, refinement! These are reasons to marry someone! Not their choice in transparent footwear!…You think there’s only one woman in the whole kingdom who wears a size 4 and 1/2?”

Prince: “It’s all I have to go on, here.”

Now, this seems pretty funny. They’re poking fun at themselves and winking at the audience. Cool.

May I direct your attention to this little clip?:

Yeah…so…The king is getting all up in the prince’s business over a plan that he basically came up with. He used the prince’s wording to trap him into marrying someone. Anyone. “That’s his problem.”

The original king didn’t care about breeding and refinement. He just wanted grandkids before he croaked. And since “every eligible maiden (was) to attend,” class must not have been that huge of a factor. Or love, for that matter.

Incidentally, the king and grand duke are probably the funniest things about Cinderella.

Here are a few other nitpicks:

  • Lady Tremaine doesn’t react when her cat is turned into a hybrid duck/cat thing by magic, but she does realize the potential of the wand when it turns the fairy godmother to stone. Delayed reaction maybe?

 

  • Anastasia is almost perfectly content trampling on Cinderella’s happiness from the get go, but only realizes later that she was hurting people, and herself, by trying to force the prince to love her. I know she is dense, but she must have her brain completely shut off if we’re supposed to believe she’s really a nice person. Even as she starts questioning herself and her choices later on.

 

  • Lady Tremaine takes them back in time to when the grand duke first arrived at the manor, then shows Cinderella locked in her room and the mice bringing her the key before the duke even comes inside. The mice only got the key in the original movie once the duke was there and his servant was reading off a ridiculously long proclamation. Also, Cindy is apparently so confused as the duke is wheeling away Anastasia, that she talks to the stepmother as though the woman hadn’t just figured out that she was the girl from the ball and purposefully locked her in her room.  And Cinderella saw this.

 

  • Cinderella doesn’t sing like her 50’s voice actress at all. This is really petty and a personal problem, I know, but it’s my review. Cindy had a lovely voice and singing style before, and now she just sounds nice in a very generic sort of way.

 

Cinderella gets caught and banished by the stepmother, but the prince, alerted by the mice and somewhat able to see past the spell by…having touched Cindy’s hand, goes after her.

More on the hand thing later.

Okay, that whole scene was pretty funny.

(Note: Sorry the clip is limited. The king thought he was crazy because the prince off-handedly mentioned talking mice and blue birds telling him he was marrying the wrong girl. Yet more chuckling at the first film’s ludicrous elements)

The prince saves Cindy just in the nick of time (proving to us and his horse that he is utterly suicidal). The stepmother and her daughters flee, the wedding is on with the right girl this time. Looks like things will go back to normal…

but-wait-theres-more

Lady Tremaine appears again, this time magically disguising Anastasia as Cinderella. Anastasia seems more unsure than usual, but goes along with it because she’s cowed, desperate, and has no self-respect whatsoever.

in time!
in time!

That was delightfully creepy and ironic. I approve!

Note here that Cindy has been sent off to her death, and Anastasia has nothing to say on the matter at all. Her motivations and hatred or care for Cinderella are very vague.

In an even more ironic and satisfying twist, Cinderella essentially saves herself from certain death! You’ll have to see this one for yourself to believe it, but it’s true! One of Disney’s most passive princesses had a shining moment of awesome action!

…Okay, the mice do help her a bit. But they are in the same boat as she was (careening towards certain doom), and it is still an awesome scene that is worth the 5 or so minutes it would take you to check it out.

And hey, at least she didn’t need a prince.

So Cindy goes back to stop the wedding, but not before Anastasia decides that she wants real love and stops it herself via the rarely played card, “I don’t.”

Huh. Usually, we get, “I object!”

I approve of this too. Shake up the old clichés a bit, I say!

The ending is a bit quick, anti-climactic, and repetitive (a spell bounces off a reflective surface for the third or fourth time, hitting the caster in the face), but Cinderella and Princey get married, too busy making googly eyes to notice the fairy godmother’s offer to return them to their full year of peace and marital bliss from the beginning of the film. I guess it doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things anyway, but I think it at least deserved a scrap of thought on their part.

GET A ROOM, YOU TWO!
GET A ROOM, YOU TWO!

Anastasia, who has been talking to the now true-lovey-dovey king on and off throughout the movie, decides to find her true love elsewhere, which is hastily pushed into the credits with broken continuity from Cinderella 2. 

Hooray for no loose ends
Hooray for no loose ends

Sometimes, I got the vibe that she would end up with the king in the end. Can’t imagine why.

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After all this nitpicking and grumbling about the flaws of the film, I still have plenty of respect for it. Unlike other Disney sequels, it wasn’t boring or terribly contrived. The stakes were high, I daresay even higher than the first film. The movie was decently enjoyable to watch, even with the (at times) cringe-inducing comedy.

Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time was trying to give us a thoughtful addition to the classic story, some self-referential humor and parody, and Cindy and her man getting some personality, something to like about them besides just “they seem nice, I guess.” The writers made mistakes here and there, some glaring and some small, but they were clearly trying harder here than they had in some of the other sequels. I firmly believe that this deserved a theatrical release a lot more than Peter Pan 2 did.

The biggest problems have to do with the jumbled messages. Love is something you have to find and work for, it’s one of the most powerful forces on earth. I agree, but the whole “when our hands touched, I knew” sentiment feels like just another “true love’s kiss.” They swapped one superficiality for another, and tried to call it deeper.

It undermines the message even more that the prince is never named once in this film, by Cindy or anyone else. And besides sword fighting and horse riding (if you stretch a little), does he have any hobbies?

I’m sure some people do feel “fireworks” during a first kiss, or feel that their partner’s “hand fits perfectly in theirs,” but Cindy and the prince still aren’t really getting to know each other. Even the king and his klutzy queen, who we never see and who also touched hands and knew it was meant to be from the start, feel like a stronger, more real couple than our two mains.

Yay Feminism!
Yay Feminism!

That said, I never really had a problem with Cinderella’s passivity. I like the look and sound and feel of Cinderella a lot more than I like the titular character or her husband-to-be. Also, Eleanor Audley voiced the original stepmother, making her sound despicable even when she wast doing much. I just brought it up because I know that a lot of people, particularly feminists, have a problem with her attitude (or lack thereof), and like to totally ignore the fact that this film came out in the 50’s. The 1950’s, which was totally the golden age of social progressive thinking.

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You will find yourself caring about Cindy in this movie, however interesting or deep you personally find her or her man. You know, in that kicked puppy sort of way. She’s always been a nice person, and her happily-ever-after after a life of chores and verbal abuse is snatched away from her.

It’s a little more earned than in Cinderella, and she’s fighting for what she wants the whole movie.

So Cinderella 3 is a mixed bag.

Is it great?

Not really.

Does it succeed at what it’s trying to do?

Again, not really.

Is it worth checking out?

Oh, definitely. Take what I’ve said and your own track record with Disney sequels with a grain of salt, and you might find a small, murky diamond in a sea of rough.

*As usual, no photos, gifs, or video clips belong to me! Disney’s Cinderella, her characters, and sequels belong to…well, Disney. 

Mary and Max: An Underrated Classic

This film stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as the second titular character. There. Semi-relevant!

Other fun fact: It also came out the same year as Coraline, at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Mary and Max is the story of two people living on opposite ends of the world in the 1970’s, whose lives are confusing, bleak, and lonely.

Mary D. Dinkle is a little girl living with her family in Australia. Her mother is the local lush with a penchant for verbal abuse and kleptomania; her father seems passive, assembles tea bags and stuffs dead birds he finds on the freeway as a hobby; and Mary herself is constantly teased for her poo-shaped birthmark and her poor, trailer trash background.

Max J. Horowitz is an obese, atheist 44-year-old with Aspergers Syndrome. He converted from Judaism, but still wears his yamaka to keep his “brain warm,” and lives in an apartment in New York City with a plethora of different pets. He finds most people confusing, from their facial expressions to their motives, and strives to keep his life simple and “symmetrical,” which keeps him calm and content. When his fellow New Yorkers don’t find something objectionable, threatening, or noteworthy about him, they ignore him.

These two meet when Mary decides to pick an American penpal at random from the phonebook, and despite the distance and completely separate lives, they quickly bond over The Noblets, their favorite cartoon show; a love of chocolate; and the knowledge they are both social outcasts in desperate want of a friend.

Their differences in ages, shapes, sizes, genders, etc. don’t matter. They speak only via mail, and know only what the other person shares with them. But their friendship is just as close and nourishing as if they lived just up the street from one another.

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The thing that really stands out about the film is the use of claymation. Disregarding the very bleak and limited color scheme, you’d probably think this is a kids’ movie. It’s not, but feel free to think what you want. It will take joy in playing with your expectations.

The clay often gives the characters very over-exaggerated, ugly looks,

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with the exception of Mary (first pic of the bunch above, on the left), who, at worst, looks plump, nerdy, and shy. This effect leaves the world feeling gritty and pecessmistic; real, in a way, alive but still obviously cartoony. Facial expressions are over-the-top, but tell the audience right away exactly what the character is feeling (even Max sometimes). It’s a very odd combination, but that’s one of the reasons I love the movie so much.

Most of the film is done in mime, with narration and dialogue seeming separate from the characters. This reminds me most of Disney’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which also relied on cartoony expressions and antics to carry the story further. In that case, it was needed to break up some of the more “flowery,” straight-from-the-book narration for kids, and provide a humorous contrast. Here, it compliments the narration and goes beyond its limits to show more depth of character and emotion.

The story is downright unpleasant at times, as many realistic and depressing things happen to Mary, Max, and the important people in their lives. I won’t spoil them here, but if you are interested in this movie at all, be prepared for sensitive and unpleasant topics. And at no point does anyone step out into the land of Oz, changing the scenery into glorious Technicolor. Get used to seeing brown, grey, and red.

The movie has its moments of humor as well, mostly when the two main characters have childish ideas of, or nonchalant attitudes towards, something that is strange or horrible. Along those lines, Mary and Max will recite things that they have heard like small children whose parents or older siblings just swore in front of them for the first time.

These are the kind of laughs that get startled out of you. It’s black comedy, which is an acquired taste for some.

Despite its grim situations and attitudes, like the main characters, the movie often has a certain child-like optimism to it as well. Themes of death, othering, and bullying are accompanied by themes of friendship, hope, and forgiveness, which can be just as strongly-felt. The characters transcend beyond stereotypes like the “aspie” or the generic bullied kid with their unique hobbies, views, and reactions. There are many bullied little girls out there (I was one once), but I think you’ll find that there is only one Mary Daisy Dinkle.

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The music is simple and minimalist, comprised of different pieces, such as: “Perpetuum Mobile” (Penguin Cafe Orchestra), “A Swinging Safari” (Bert Kaempfert), and “Russian Rag” (Elena Kats-Chernin). It’s repetitive, often functioning as leimotif for different moods, locations, and characters. I think it sets the mood, and even accents it, well at times.

One uber-specific aspect of this film that I’d like to praise is the symbolism of Max’s typewriter. He writes all of his letters with it, while Mary’s early notes are all hand-written and misspelled, and we can clearly see that the “m” key is smack-dab in the middle of his typewriter. In essence, Mary quickly becomes the center of Max’s otherwise lonely world.

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When a misunderstanding puts the two at odds, Max, in a fit of rage, rips out the “m” key and sends it to Mary in a parcel. This tells her that he doesn’t want to speak with her anymore, without any written words to literally spell it out. Later, Max tries to type a letter to the mayor, but he slowly realizes that, despite typing as he normally does, all of his “m’s” are missing. Then he runs out of ink completely. He purchases more, but that doesn’t change the fact that words containing “m” are out of his reach. He couldn’t even type his own name, unless he bought a new key, which he doesn’t.

Without the “m” key, he loses his very ability to communicate. With Mary, or anyone else. Friendship helped him cope with the confusion and stress of life, and he realizes how much he needs it only when it’s gone. He concludes this all on his own, while Mary realizes that she also took their bond for granted, and feels exceedingly guilty.

Nothing is worth giving up your great, meaningful connections. At least, nothing trivial, or coming from unaddressed miscommunications.

Even disregarding the two distant, global settings, America and Australia, this film goes out of its way to give you a genuine, universal human experience. Mary and Max acknowledges that life is different for everybody; some people have it easier, and some have it harder. But whoever you are, you need at least one friend, and you need to come to grips with your own flaws and hiccups.

*Pictures and video are the property of Icon Entertainment International

 

 

Mother’s Day Special: Coraline

Happy Mother’s Day 2014, everyone!

Being a parent has got to be one of the most thankless jobs out there. For mothers especially. They carry a whole new life inside of them, bring it into the world through no shortage of blood, sweat, and tears, then set about preparing that child for the life ahead of them.

They don’t get paid in money. They get paid in tantrums, dirty diapers, teenage rebellion, and, later, abandonment.

Well, okay…not abandonment. Every kid has to leave at some point. If your kid is living in your basement at forty, it may be time to talk out some new arrangement.

But even after all the insanity mothers go through, they get a wonderful, yet bittersweet gift: the sight of a job well done (hopefully), and the realization that everything has changed. Their babies aren’t their babies anymore. They won’t need them like they used to.

Oh well. Kids are gone! Cruise time, baby! 🙂

That isn’t to say that being a mother was all pain, but it’s no cakewalk, and we kids can be pretty forgetful sometimes. Not ungrateful, but spoiled. We see a very limited, one-sided view of things for a while. We butt heads; moms vs. daughters, sons vs. fathers. Switch it up from time to time, and there you go. That’s a family.

So for today, I’d like to talk about another movie I love. A movie for kids, with a kid protagonist, who learns to appreciate everything, and everyone, that she has. Especially her mother.

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*Note: No, I haven’t read the book yet, so this isn’t a comparison. Maybe someday.

The titular character, Coraline, is a kid from Michigan, whose parents, Charlie and Mel Jones, “write about plants, and (they) hate dirt.” Often busy with their deadlines, they don’t have a lot of time for her, especially as they deal with moving into an old apartment building in Oregon. There’s a lot to get done, and only so much time to do it.

Unimpressed with the rundown apartment and the eccentric neighbors, Coraline grumbles to her parents repeatedly, who, in turn, tell her to go play elsewhere. A bit neglectful, maybe, but they’re doing the best that they can. Kids watching the film will probably miss that, at first, just like Coraline does.

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Mel is the sterner of the two, a woman with a very dry sense of humor, who keeps the family on track with what needs to be done. Charlie is the goofy, inept, but lovable dad, when his face isn’t glued to the computer screen. For the minute or so of screen time that these two get per scene, they offset one another’s personalities very well.

But Mel is clearly the one playing the disciplinarian most often, as we see particularly in one early scene, where Coraline goes behind her back to try and get permission from Charlie so she can garden in the rain and mud.

“What’d the boss say?”

“DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, CORALINE JONES!”

“Well then, you won’t need the tools.”

Kids these days, am I right?

Coraline is given a strange doll that bears her likeness, then discovers a small, locked door against the wall of the room.

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Coraline movie image

What looks to be a passage between the houses, sealed up with bricks by day, is actually a doorway to a parallel world. A place where everything is more fantastical, colorful, and fun, with everything centered on keeping Coraline happy. She meets her “other” parents and neighbors, all with buttons for eyes, and despite being initially uneasy in their presence, thinking she’s in a dream, Coraline warms up to them quickly and realizes that the place is real. As she starts to seek the world out herself, rather than just be summoned to it, she complains more and more that this “other” life is better than her real one.

“But it’s all a trap.”

The world was constructed by a being known as the beldam, or the “other mother,” a witch with the power to transform herself and her world as she likes, ensnaring children so that she can feed and steal their souls. This she does by sewing buttons into the children’s eyes.

Are you having fun yet, kids?
Are you having fun yet, kids?

She’s kind and accommodating at first, telling Coraline that she could stay in this world forever, but only if she accepts the buttons. Coraline denies this and manages to escape, with the help of the spirits of previous trapped children,

More delightful nightmare fuel!
More delightful nightmare fuel!

but discovers that her real parents are gone, stolen away by the other mother. To save them, she returns to the world and challenges the other mother to a game that will save everyone. The ghost children, Mel and Charlie, and Coraline herself.

It’s a kids’ film, so I’m sure you can guess that it ends well, but it’s a very chilling tale nonetheless. I could do a whole other review of it when Halloween rolls around. It’s one of my personal favorites ever.  🙂

But back to mothers.

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Coraline is repeatedly frustrated with her real mother, who in turn feels frustrated with her. Neither person is perfectly happy, and the other is barely helping them with that.

The other person, that is. Not the other mother.

The other mother uses the situation to her advantage, spying through doll eyes to find out what Coraline dislikes and what she can do to improve it. She gets Coraline to forget what she has, and in the end, Coraline realizes how lucky she is to just be alive and safe with her family.

Anything taken for granted will make you regretful when it’s gone.

Coraline is unhappy, viewing everything selfishly like the kid that she is. She’s forced to move away from friends, to a whole new place where everything is broken down and weird, and her parents are snappish and ignorant of her. She doesn’t see that things will get better, that she will adjust to new friends, a new school, and a new life.

At one point, she wants her real mother to buy her a pair of gloves that she takes a liking to, but her mother says no. Coraline was thinking that the gloves would help her stand out in an otherwise boring school uniform, showing off just a little bit of her personality. She wants the gloves, thinking they’ll help ease her transition into a new school, and was sure her mother would buy them for her. It’s gloves after all, not video games or a flat screen t.v.

Now, Mel probably decided to stick to her guns when Coraline was rude and didn’t take no for an answer, but we kids have all had those moments. You know, where parents say no for what seems like no real reason at all. It makes no sense and is so frustrating!

This doesn’t make her a bad person, just shortsighted and young. She doesn’t know all the things that her parents are going through, nor is much of it shown to us, the audience; all of the stress they’re facing, and how much harder she makes things by not cooperating. It doesn’t help that the other mother is spoiling her so she can eventually eat Coraline’s eye-soul.

One of the hardest lessons for a parent to learn is that sometimes, disciplining your children is more important than making them happy. Even if you love them and want to be their friend, you’re a parent first and foremost.

But none of the real members of the Jones family are completely at fault. They’re just victims of the circumstances.

Among the other things that I love about this movie, I love the real feeling of the relationships, the initial (kind of) tragedy of Coraline’s one-sided point of view, and the growth of Coraline as a character, as she rises to the seemingly impossible challenges before her.

Coping with her loss, before she realizes where her parents are.
Coraline coping with her loss, before she finds out where her parents are.

She realizes why she loves and needs her parents (by facing a short time when they aren’t neglectful, but completely gone), feels genuine regret that she wanted to abandon them for a superficial unreality, and even ventures back into her nightmares in order to save them.

And in the end, her efforts are rewarded, but unacknowledged. Her parents don’t remember anything.

*cough cough* Spoliers….not really *cough cough*

Coraline is an inventive, stop-motion puppet horror flick, a cautionary modern fairytale that doubles as a great coming of age adventure. Even if some kids watching the movie don’t see the real-life parallels with their parents, I certainly did. Maybe they are just to busy peeing their pants.

*Note, again: If you are a parent reading this and are trying to decide whether or not to let your kids watch this movie, make sure they are mature enough to handle it. Not old enough, because age can very depending on the kid, but definitely mature enough. It can be plenty nightmarish for crybabies, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t ever be viewed.

If, somehow, I had traipsed off to some fantasy world where everything was sunshine, rainbows, and…buttons, I wouldn’t have grown up at all. And, you know, died.

Kids and adults alike can enjoy this movie, and take away their own unique messages if they pay close attention. There’s a very real danger in shutting yourself out of the real world, staying a child inside for the rest of your life. Fantasies are fine, but not when they rule you.

As a wise wizard from another magical movie once said, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

So, yeah. Life isn’t always great, and situations aren’t always ideal. People you love will sometimes let you down. We’re all human beings; making mistakes is what we do. I’ll probably make a million with my kids one day.

But Coraline reminded me that bad times don’t last forever, that it’s good to be skeptical (“if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”), and that a life of balance is a happy, healthy one. Be a kid when you’re a kid, and an adult in the proper time.

And maaaaaaaybe my mom may have helped me see that a little bit, too. Maybe even that goofy dad of mine. 🙂 Who knows?

All pictures come from the movie, which is owned by Laika, Pandemonium, and distributed by Focus Features and Universal Pictures.

Summer Wars Review

This time, let’s take a break from rants and trashing stuff.

This, in my opinion, isn’t a good movie. It’s a great one.

Don’t click away just yet! I know what you’re probably thinking, but stay! Prove me wrong and show me your attention span isn’t that tiny!

Oh, look! A butterfly!

No two Japanese anime shows or movies are alike, but a lot of them have similar elements. Most of them take place in Japan or mystical worlds based on Japan. They have a lot of cultural references and humor, the latter mostly composed of homonyms, puns, pain, and humiliation. They tend to focus on character growth and relationships (not always romantic), and often teach those characters, and by extension the audience, the importance of nature and humanity.

A lot of Americans in particular write Japanese animation off for being childish, perverted, silly, or just too foreign. Which is a shame.

That’s why you were going to leave this page, wasn’t it? Be honest.

Kevin Butler sees all, knows all....
Kevin Butler sees all, knows all….

Some anime are shallow or lack substance, certainly, but it’s hardly a genre-wide problem. As with other genres and styles, it’s all about knowing what you like, knowing where to look for it, and trying new things from time to time.

And if reading subtitles and listening to Japanese isn’t your thing, search or wait for the English language version, or dub. They’re out there, and thanks to anime’s ever-growing popularity outside of Japan, many are of as good, if not better, quality than the Japanese dubs.

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*sighs* I’d better turn in my geek card. I’m pretty sure I just committed heresy.

Anyways, Summer Wars takes place in Japan, but a good portion of the movie takes place on the world-wide web, and has stakes that are important to the rest of the world. The jokes are mostly based on the context of the situation, rather than obscure (to Americans) Japanese history and culture. The film has elements of culture that are not terribly distracting or confusing, give the movie a distinct flavor, and may in fact get a few more uninitiated viewers to do a little research post viewing.

As for the story itself, without giving out too many spoilers, think the family from My Big Fat Greek Wedding in Japan, discovering and fighting off a HAL-esque computer virus. A big family slice-of-life mixed in with a cautionary tale about heavy reliance on machines and automation. And it’s one of those rare instances where the film doesn’t push the opposite extreme as the solution.

The Characters:

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Our main character is Kenji Koiso, a quiet, nerdy almost-mathlete who works as a moderator on OZ, a virtual reality/social networking/gaming site where anything and everything that you want to do is possible. People have accounts that are in charge of everything, from controlling water pipes and traffic lights to allowing people to play games and do their shopping.

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He gets roped in to a scheme by Natsuki Shinohara, the most popular girl in school, to come home with her and be her pretend boyfriend (for pay), so that she can assure her sick, aging great-grandmother that she’s fine, happy, and taking care of herself and her future. You know, in case the old lady, now pushing 90, passes away.

Then Kenji meets Natsuki’s family, all gathering in preparation of the great-grandmother’s birthday.

As you might imagine, hijinks ensue.

Kenji is, as I’ve mentioned, nerdy, shy, and well-meaning. He’s a great contrast to Natsuki, who is really upbeat and not afraid to come out and say what she wants. The two are charming and engaging enough, skirting the lines of their stereotypes a bit without coming across as boring and one-note. They are fine protagonists (although I wish Natsuki got a little more screen time, talking about what she’s going through. We do get thoughtful glances though).

The family really makes this movie for me.

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Similar to The Hobbit films with their dwarves, or, as previously mentioned, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the Jinnouchi (Natsuki’s) family has a lot of characters and only so much time spent getting to know them. But the difference (from Hobbit specifically) is that their actions, however few and simplistic, let you know who these people are immediately.

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Mansuke is a hardy, stubborn, nostalgic fisherman who is really passionate about his job and doesn’t take nonsense.

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Kazuma is the bullied kid who shuts himself out of the real world and lives almost entirely through his computer, training in martial arts to deal with his anger and bully problems.

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The great-grandmother,  Sakae, values family and communion more than anything, and she’s not afraid to fight (sometimes literally) for what is right and what needs to be done.

There are many others, like the aunts, daughters, and wives, who are all “take-charge” women.

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Watching this family eat dinner, you will easily be reminded of people in your own family. The ones who butt into your business, for your sake or theirs, and gossip or try to “help” you; the crazy, bratty kids and cousins; the problem children, or black sheep; the apple of the family’s eye; etc. There’s something to like about everyone, even when they make mistakes.

The story is great as it is, but I would have enjoyed a movie just about these people, interacting and going about life. They are that compelling.

*Fun fact: the Jinnouchi family is based on a real family from Ueda, where most of the movie takes place.

Some of them might be stereotypes, but that’s not done for the sake of mean-spirited humor. It shows that the family is large and full of different people, but they are all willing to come together when any one member is threatened.

And, in its optimistic altruism, the film portrays the entire world this way.

The Animation:

This film came from well-known animation studio Madhouse, which gave the anime community such gems as Trigun and Death Note, and director Mamoru Hasoda (formerly with Madhouse, but who left two years after this film came out to found his own studio, Chizu), who gave said community The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Wolf Children. 

For people who grew out of anime, but watched the stuff as a kid, you may also recognize Hasoda from parts of Digimon: The Movie, as cobbled together by Fox Kids.

The movie is a blend of traditional and 3D CGI animation, with the latter looking like a pretty decent video game. Which it’s meant to, by the way; Hasoda said he based it off of Nintendo games, and the world of OZ itself has numerous virtual gaming areas. It’s bright and colorful, and the shapes and designs are nicely varied. Kenji’s avatar in OZ looks vastly different from that of his friend, which looks like a 2D, pixel sprite face.

The scenes out-of-OZ are gorgeously drawn, with softer colors and more visible, defining lines. The best way I can describe it is inviting. The movements of characters are, surprisingly at times, hyperbolic and goofy, but in a charming, engaging sort of way.

The two styles blend relatively well, with the popping CG and the more understated hand-drawn animation each showcasing action, drama, and suspense in their own ways. It’s quite a feast for the eyes.

The Music:

Not much to say here, other than it just fits.

Some songs are more memorable than others, such as the music in the opening when Kenji is meeting the family members step by step, and the ending theme, which is relaxed, happy, and very minimalist in terms of instrumentals. The rest is fitting, but blends together at times and is, at least to my mind, just okay. It works for what it is, but I wouldn’t necessarily buy the soundtrack.

The Acting:

Or, in this case, the voice acting!

I haven’t seen the Japanese version yet-

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*sighs*

I haven’t seen the Japanese language version, but I plan to soon. If you want the film in its “purest” form, with nothing altered or dumbed down at all, see the Japanese version. I’m sure the seiyu (Japanese voice actors) do a wonderful job; I haven’t heard otherwise, by myself or from others, yet.

The English dub was handled by Funimation, which has a veritable phonebook of great English voice talent. I won’t bother listing them all here, even the most notable of actors (because those of you who know, know, and those who don’t probably won’t care), but I will say that they do a wonderful job creating “characters” for their characters and deserve a listen too. Or a watch, I suppose. 🙂

Dubs vs. Subs (subtitled in English, but voiced in the original language) is a debate for another day. Lay off me, fanboys and girls!

What else is there to say, without spoiling the thing? It’s a good movie that is totally worth your time. Even if you don’t think so, it is. Sit through thirty minutes at least, then come back and comment to me if you aren’t even remotely interested. There might be something wrong with you, and I can surely help you contact someone to get it checked out right away.

Still…

No video or pictures belong to, or were made, by me. As usual. Support the official release of Summer Wars and at least give anime a try once. You might decide you like it 🙂

 

 

 

 

Katy Perry’s “Birthday”

I finally got around to doing a song review! Is it my birthday already?

I’d say it’s time to party, but Katy Perry has officially ruined parties from here on out.

That’s not to say it’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard…But it’s pretty bad. The way I see it, people are either thinking it’s so bad, it’s good; so bad, it’s horrible; or just feeling kind of indifferent to it.

For reference, this is the song and its accompanying “music video,” if you can even call it that. Given her usual level of silly, semi-sincere tastelessness, I was pretty underwhelmed by the visuals (I was expecting more of a  “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) kind of skit), and her stand up routine at the beginning was downright painful.

To quote How I Met Your Mother, “Oh, honey…”

For those who have never heard of Katy Perry…well, you probably shouldn’t be reading this. But here are some things to know:

1. Her real name is Katheryn Hudson.

2. She used to sing for the Lord and her pastor parents before strapping whip cream cannons to her bra and dressing like a C+ Lady Gaga.

I can only assume her new status in pop music is constantly giving her family the finger unless they’re reeeeaaaallly relaxed.

3. She’s a pop diva with almost no identity.

Who but Perry can pull off a wild party machine of debauchery, then become the helpless break-up victim who “was so totally committed and faithful to you before you broke her heart, you evil villain!”, all with such detachment and spunk?

4. She’s all about the image, not the music.

I say this because Perry seems like she’s trying to be sexy and “out there;” has tons of writers that “cowrite” her songs with her; and she has an extraordinary, dedicated production team, that can autotune even her (at times) strangled cat voice into something pleasing to the ear.

A lot of fans will argue that last one, but if you’ve ever seen (or rather, heard) her live, you know what I mean. “Nerves and onstage performing and blah blah blah.” She can sing in the sense that she opens her mouth and makes sound come out. That doesn’t mean she’s great at it, or was trained. Her breathing is frequently off.

She is a studio gem that they continue to polish with every new song. People love to praise her, but refuse to give the audio guys their due because they don’t know how concerts or audio in general work. Besides autotune, look up “pitch-shifting” and “compression.” Those tend to be used a bit.

Sorry. Just a little tangent there.

Now, I do enjoy some of her songs. There are a few guilty pleasures, even a couple I could say were actually “good.” Look at “Firework” and “The One That Got Away” (go acoustic for this one because it actually sounds sad and sincere) and you definitely see some potential there. And many of her other songs are just fun when you switch your brain off (which is necessary for some of us).

But that said, I don’t think she has much integrity as an artist. And if you too draw that conclusion here or at any point in the future, shhhhhhh! Be careful who you say that to!

Some of her fans make it to be their mission to defend her to the death, even if you’re trying to honestly discuss her. Perry is a big girl, guys, I think she can handle a little criticism. Or if she can’t, she might want to consider a career change.

But on to “Birthday”!

Whether or not you choose to subject yourself to the video or pull this up on iTunes, here are the lyrics:

“I heard you’re feeling nothing’s going right
Why don’t you let me stop by?
The clock is ticking, running out of time
So we should party all night

So cover your eyes,
I have a surprise
I hope you got a healthy appetite
If you wanna dance,
If you want it all
You know that I’m the girl that you should call

Boy, when you’re with me
I’ll give you a taste
Make it like your birthday everyday
I know you like it sweet
So you can have your cake
Give you something good to celebrate

So make a wish
I’ll make it like your birthday everyday
I’ll be your gift
Give you something good to celebrate

Pop your confetti
Pop your Pérignon
So hot and heavy
‘Til dawn
I got you spinning
Like a disco ball
All night they’re playing
Your song

We’re living the life
We’re doing it right
You’re never gonna be unsatisfied
If you wanna dance
If you want it all
You know that I’m the girl that you should call

Boy, when you’re with me
I’ll give you a taste
Make it like your birthday everyday
I know you like it sweet
So you can have your cake
Give you something good to celebrate

So make a wish
I’ll make it like your birthday everyday
I’ll be your gift
Give you something good to celebrate

Happy birthday

So let me get you in your birthday suit
It’s time to bring out the big balloons
So let me get you in your birthday suit
It’s time to bring out the big, big, big, big, big, big balloons

Boy, when you’re with me
I’ll give you a taste
Make it like your birthday everyday
I know you like it sweet
So you can have your cake
Give you something good to celebrate

Boy, when you’re with me
I’ll give you a taste
Make it like your birthday everyday
I know you like it sweet
So you can have your cake
Give you something good to celebrate

So make a wish
I’ll make it like your birthday everyday
I’ll be your gift
Give you something good to celebrate

Happy birthday”

That speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Musically, this song sounds like the not-so-loved-child of “California Girls” and “The One That Got Away.” This is confusing right off the bat because, despite the fact that both those songs have upbeat instrumentals, the former song is egotism personified while the latter is about regrets and love lost.

We’re off to a great start!

If there is one thing Perry and her handlers are fond of, it’s playing things up and making them stupid. Aggressively, knowingly, sometimes laughably stupid. This song is strung together with lame innuendos and goofy little throw away lines. I’m pretty sure no one except our grandparents has used the term “birthday suit” in the last 30 years at least.

That’s the mark of bad writing right there: using things that no one says in real life, usually when the writer can’t think of a good rhyme. In this case, they used the term because: Birthdays! Get it?!

I love me some bad puns, but ugh! Even I have a limit!

How many people honestly proposition people with birthday innuendos? Who would say any of this stuff, even in jest? I can’t see it working.

…..

You know what? Never mind. I don’t want to know.

In the video, Perry is appearing at multiple birthday parties to varying people, but parts of the video and the tone of the song by itself feel very much like she’s singing to a little boy. And that disturbs me. A lot.

Maybe they intended it to be creepy. Congratulations! You’ve succeeded, team o’ Perry!

Sometimes, pop music makes me feel like I literally need a shower. This made me feel gross, but in a different way than usual…Yay?

It doesn’t help that the music and lyrics are so bouncy and juvenile. It sounds like someone accidentally (or intentionally) hired a stripper for a kid’s birthday party.

Or that nurse from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

This song made me laugh at first. Now it makes me cringe. It’s obviously trying to be funny, in that “beat you over the head with the obvious” sort of way, while somehow trying to maintain a bit of playful coyness. But “Birthday” also wants to be a decent party song at the same time. I do not think it accomplishes either.

At least “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” had a killer sax bridge.

It’s only funny because of how painfully unfunny and bad it is. Even as a joke song, it ranges from “meh” to pretty awful. Most people who have ridden in the car with me when this song came on looked aghast, thoroughly tormented by the time it ended, and those who laughed after one playing were irked by it the second time.

Also, it’s creepy.

Katy Perry is whatever and whoever she needs to be to get out her records. She might as well be a cardboard standee with a voice box attached to the back for all the intelligence, personality, wit, and actual musical talent she brings to the table. Ironically, she’d be perfect to hire to entertain kids with her bright shiny colors and upbeat nonsense.

“Dark Horse” was a far better song, even if it sounded like “E.T.” and proved that Perry has no concept of metaphors.

Pop music seems very much like one big wish-fulfillment fantasy. The people listening aren’t partying as much as the singers, but they like to pretend they do. And there’s nothing really wrong with that, unless maybe it’s the only thing you listen to.

What kind of fantasy does this particular song sell? It’s not a personal song on Perry’s part, so it must be trying to sell…something…

I started this review thinking I had something to really say about this song. Sadly, by the end, I find nothing. Nothing really fun, meaningful, or different. Just another picture of the assembly-line, mass-produced, sugar high pulp that is unfortunately all too common in pop music. The least it could do is be fun or funnier.

Thankfully, “Birthday” is not an ear worm.

As usual, lyrics and other media present in this blog are not owned by me. 

P.S. If you like pop and are looking for someone who seems “genuine,” is fun to listen to, and can actually sing, check this chick out! She’s my favorite on the radio, just by sheer personality. 

Hobbit-Sized Films, Dragon-Sized Problems

“I would ask them to make an effort of imagination sufficient to understand the irritation (and on occasion the resentment) of an author, who finds, increasingly as he proceeds, his work treated as it would seem carelessly in general, in places recklessly, and with no evident signs of any appreciation of what it is all about.”

~Tolkien

In 2001, I discovered Lord of the Rings for the very first time.

I was ten years old. I had never even heard of the books before, but my dad offered to take me to see some new movie called The Fellowship of the Ring, and, always on board for fantasy, I took him up on the offer.

mind_blown_by_yhrite-d329zgm

I was blown away.

The story was gripping, the characters engaging, and the effects were, and still are, outstanding. Just seconds after the credits began playing, I was gushing about the movie to my dad. My young mind was exploding. This was, to quote some internet commenters, “teh best movie evar! OMG!”

I could do a whole separate review on those movies, comparing them to the books or even that other LOTR movie most people probably don’t remember, but that may come at another time.

But after my dad brought me home, excited and already impatient for the next installment, the conversation with my folks went something like this:

Parents: You liked that movie?

Emma-Stone-Yes-Nod-In-Crazy-Stupid-Love-Gif

Parents: Good. Want to see The Two Towers next?

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Parents: Well then, you’d better start reading. You can’t watch the movies until you’ve finished the books. ALL of the books.

genie-jaw

Parents: Don’t worry. The second movie won’t be out until next year.

833

But you know what? I read those books and they were great.

Sure, some parts were tedious (I distinctly remember a description of a hill in the Shire that went on for too long), but I’m glad I went through them. Now I can compare scenes/conflicts/characters from the books to the movies and see the different choices made in different media by different “authors,” although, having read LOTR so long ago, my memory is plenty foggy these days. I’m still the trivia person my folks, friends, and other family members go to when they have questions from the movies. 🙂

Anyway, I read the Lord of the Rings first, then, after a bit, The Hobbit, out of curiosity. Finally, a few years later, The Silmarillion. 

Yeah, well…shut up!

But yes. I read the books backwards, not counting the first three.

So given my history with the Lord of the Rings series, I went into the Hobbit movies with great anticipation and optimism. Why wouldn’t I? It was the same director who made the adaptations 10 years prior, Peter Jackson;  a few beloved cast members (some who were not in the book…) were returning to the screen; and Howard Shore was back, working the film scores. I was thoroughly psyched.

Once or twice, I did entertain the notion of Peter Jackson “George-Lucasing,” which, for the unenthused, is when a director: hypes or bloats things to a ridiculous agree, milks his or her initial works (any connections in the new films to said works), badly directs the actors (or picks ones who can’t act in the first place), and dumbs things down. As an added bonus, the director will throw in really cheap, base comedy or comic relief.

ahem
ahem

To break that further down, “George-Lucasing” is a director trying to make his or her new creations as popular and great as the old ones without any of the same substance and quality. It’s one big facade, whether the director lost his or her touch or is just lazy or, worse, has become detached from reality.

I shrugged it off at first, my faith completely with Mr. Jackson to give The Hobbit dignity and respect while making it his own. He did it once, after all.

For the two films presently available, An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of SmaugI went to see them at the midnight showings. If you’re a hardcore fan or a fan of spectacle, I recommend it for the next film; some people will show up in costume.

Some better quality costumes than you usually see.
Some better quality costumes than you usually see.

I liked the first film for a while, and even tried to defend it. “Come on, people!” I said. “It’s not LOTR!” I said. I thought people were too blinded by their love of the original movies to recognize this new one as its own thing, a separate story with separate characters and a separate tone.

Needless to say, I quickly saw the error of my ways.

So, we come to it at last. What’s wrong with the Hobbit trilogy? What can we say about it before it’s even been completed?

A lot.

Here are my biggest beefs with these bulging, big-screen baddies (note: not in any ranking order):

1. Probably the least of the films’ problems: Why do these films even have to be a trilogy? It’s a children’s book, not even 400 pages.

Seriously. I learned that it was going to be a trilogy right after seeing the first movie and thought, “Really?” I could maybe understand two movies, but three?

Apparently, all major films must be 3 hours long these days. And any good saga or film series must split the last book (or in this case, one book) into multiple, bloated parts.

"It's like printing money!"
“It’s like printing money!”

LOTR is probably to blame for the former issue, but it’s Harry Potter’s fault for beginning the trend of the latter. Even if they had a good excuse, the makers of the HP films split the last book into two movies. Now, for better or worse, everyone is doing it.

2. There are way too many scenes referencing the first trilogy (which is supposed to take place YEARS IN THE FUTURE).

And when I say years in the future, I mean it. Bilbo was around fifty when he went on his there and back again journey. In LOTR, he’s 111.

I didn’t think Jackson could be more gratuitous than Lucas, but I was wrong here. Yes, I said it. Jackson did something way worse than Lucas.

Many of the scenes not in the book (which I can and often have forgiven), but they’re also overblown and hyped up way too much. Any scene that features the Ring, Sting (Bilbo’s sword, which gets passed on to Frodo, the main character, in the next series), or Gollum (the creepy, bug-eyed, CGI Dissociative Identity Disorder sufferer) in particular.

Oh, and I love Galadriel’s little twirl when Gandalf comes to see her in Rivendell. As the action happens and the music swells a bit, it shouts to the audience, “REMEMBER THIS CHARACTER? THIS IS TOTALLY LOTR, YOU GUYS! SHE’S BACK AND REALLY IMPORTANT HERE!”

The scene probably looks especially stupid to those who haven’t seen the first LOTR…if those people even exist.

We get it, Jackson. LOTR happened. This is connected to it. Make these movies strong enough to stand on their own and be their own things.

Again, printing-money

 

And how are Gandalf and the others going to conveniently forget or ignore Sauron for 50 freaking years while he builds up his stronghold and army?

3. The Pacing & Other Unnecessary Changes Made from the Book.

In the book, the dwarves, Bilbo, and Gandalf just kind of go on a road trip. They come across interesting things, have encounters, and move on. It’s a simple but fun adventure with decent pacing. You know, as just 300-ish pages. Not so much in these movies.

The pacing is so slow, bogged down with snippets of appendices and things from both LOTR and The Silmarillion, which just ends up making the movies feel bloated and pointless for significant portions of them. This is in line with problem 2 above, as the filler and random factoids and mythos feels like it was put in to convince you it’s LOTR again, “JUST LIKE BEFORE OMG YOU GUYS!”

As much as I love my extended editions of LOTR, I understand that the extra stuff can be boring to general audiences. I was even bored by some of the pointless things thrown in. And I love Tolkien!

But Jackson stuffs a bunch of things in because he needs to meet the run time, and more importantly, remind you of his earlier films. It needs to look like LOTR (with the Elves and Men and all manner of evil minions interacting with the Dwarves on their journey). Jackson even goes so far as to shove Sauron fully into this story, trying to tie the trilogies together. Between the dark lord and the dragon, both are pretty big threats that should be dealt with immediately.

If you’re curious about all the little changes made between the book and the films, check this out!

The tone whiplash varies both during and across the movies, too. An Unexpected Journey feels very upbeat, goofy, and (for lack of a better word) cartoony, whereas in Desolation of Smaug, everything is very grim and dark. And that’s before they get anywhere near the mountain.

4. The Humor.

I know it’s based on a children’s book, but dear lord, Jackson, pick a tone and stick to it!

I don’t think he can decide whether he wants the movies to be all dark and full of drama, or goofy and juvenile, or a light-hearted adventure story. It’s trying to be everything in one big, nostalgic, money-printing romp. A lot of the humor looks like something you’d see in The Smurfs movie abominations, with barely a scrap of dignity saved by the ye old speak. But not even that can work miracles; dwarves burp and fart and pop out of toilets in these stories!

aaaaarrrgh-why-just-why-

I wouldn’t mind so much (or maybe I would. The jokes are terrible enough) if the movies would stop trying to be what they aren’t. Or would at least, you know, commit to trying.

5. The Eagles.

"Fear not! My shamefully obvious CG shall carry you to safety!"
“Fear not! My shamefully obvious CG shall carry you to safety!”

You can’t go into a Hobbit or LOTR forum anywhere and not see this little gem pop up. Which irritates me, because there is a huge freaking ghost army just sitting in a mountain until Aragorn gets up off his royal @$$.

“Why don’t the eagles just take them all the way to the Lonely Mountain?” “Wouldn’t that make the journey quicker and less perilous?”

Yes, yes it would.

Us nerds will argue this all day long, quoting the book as if it translates perfectly into the movies and therefore justifies or doesn’t justify how Jackson handled it.

Some say, “Well, if the eagles did that, then we wouldn’t have movies.”

Correction: We’d have shorter movies.

I agree that it is a distracting plot hole and could be easily solved by a throw-away line somewhere between movie 1 and 2, if Jackson wasn’t comfortable changing the story that way.

“Why can’t the eagles take us right there?” says Dwarf #5. “Because (insert magic forcefield or them being scared of dragons reason here),” Gandalf replies. “Oh. Okay then.” There. PROBLEM SOLVED. GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME.

6. The Dragon.

la_ca_1217_the_hobbit

Really? The whole story is about them going to slay this thing and winning back their mountainful of treasure, and we only get to see Smaug for the last 1/6th of the second movie?

I feel so cheated!

They were building up this guy from movie 1! Sure, his design and voice were cool, but because of the wonky pacing and “totally necessary” insertion of extra-racist Legolas and his written-for-these-movies, equally necessary and controversial love interest, among other things, Smaug practically got pushed to the wayside and his desolation will have to wait until the next movie! What the what?!

And speaking of the love interest…

7. Tauriel.

Name: Token Chick Catchphrase: I'm just happy to be here!
Name: Token Chick
Catchphrase: I’m just happy to be here!

I’m not quite sure how to feel about her.

On the one hand, “Yay, butt-kicking female!” On the other, “Yay, another cliché love triangle!” This movie not only fails the Bechdel Test, it doesn’t even come close, considering there aren’t many other main females to be found, butt-kicking or otherwise. And Tauriel mostly talks with the elf dudes. About dude things.

Seriously, though. Brief rant here. LOTR had some cool, distinguishable chicks among its plethora of dudes. No problem there. This movie has one major girl, and of course she’s focused on all the men in her life. And is promptly made into a love triangle. giphy

“But she and one of the few cute dwarves are bridging the gap between their races!”

The prejudice is still there in LOTR, so I doubt it will do much for Dwarf-Elf relations. Inter-racial marriages will still be frowned upon, definitely. And then there’s the very real possibility that Tauriel and/or Kili will die…

I’m sorry. It does kind of bother me.

8. The Dwarves.

Labeled for your convenience
Labeled for your convenience

We’ve got Thorin, Gloin, Dorin, Balin, Fili, Kili….uh…Dopey, Sneezy, Doc…Grumpy.

At least those last few dwarves we could recognize by their names matching one defining character trait.

Of all the races in these films, Dwarves get the most crap. They are the buttmonkeys of Middle Earth, if you will.

It was there in LOTR too. What was Gimli but an awesome, butt-kicking wood stump chock-full of comic relief?

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He had almost all of Legolas’s lack of personality, but was short, kind of fat, and hairy. Comedy gold!

The new dwarves…really, Jackson? Once again, pick a tone and stick with it, please!

Why do half of them look like short near-humans and the other half look like they should be washing up to go eat with Snow White? At least Gimli didn’t have a long beard necklace braid thing. Or a dorky deer-stalker cap. Nor did he style his hair like a star. Or look like this guy:

Ori

 

LOTR was not perfect (the book or the movies), and neither are these (book or movies). But the LOTR movies were trying, and it changed the movie industry in so many ways, awing audiences with its sheer scale and effort. And the book, to quote the Nostalgia Critic, became “the holy Bible of geekdom.”

Enough said.

The Hobbit movies, by contrast, feel small despite their attempts at grandeur and are pretty underwhelming when you get right down to it. And that’s not just because they stand in LOTR’s shadow, although from the beginning they were piggybacking off LOTR’s hype and credibility. And that is personally my biggest issue with them.

They are underwhelming (dare I say it, even bad) because Peter Jackson is nostalgic and greedy, so much so that he doesn’t want to end his legacy with just the first trilogy. He clearly wants to make a splash with these movies and have them be just like the good old days, but with new content and a fresh story. Not a bad goal, but the delivery was pretty botched.

The effects feel like old hat these days because every movie has them, and they don’t always look that great anyway. The characters aren’t fleshed out enough and often blur in with the background (which was a problem in the book as well); with LOTR characters making cameos and glorified easter eggs that barely added to the greater story. Like the skin changer in movie two, Beorn. Yeah, it’s cool that he can become a bear and hearing more of his  and his people’s story might have been interesting, but his abilities were kind of pointless in the grand scheme of things. He was in the movie for five minutes, then poof! Gone.

Any normal person could have helped the dwarves in his place, and to the general audience, nothing of substance would have been lost. As a fan, I thought it was cool but could have been easily relegated to the extended cut. They cut all the significance from the book out and made it seem like an arbitrary footnote anyway.

Adapting any media to other media is a difficult process. I can understand that, and appreciate the hard work that goes into it. But as much as I wanted to like these movies and give them a chance, a part of me can’t help but wish he’d left well enough alone.

I’ll go see movie 3 when it’s out, but unless it really wows me and makes this whole trilogy worth it, I’ll be forced to conclude these particular adaptations did not need to happen. Fans and general audiences will probably still enjoy it. I just have to turn my brain off a bit…or go watch the films I liked off the bat.

Thanks for reading. None of the pictures belong to me, but to Disney, Valve, Peter Jackson, etc.