Category Archives: Cartoons & Anime

That Sauce-y Incident

I think it says something that in the wake of this whole Szechuan Sauce thing that everyone seems to be focused on the supposedly “cringey” Rick and Morty Fans and their reactions and NOT the horribly botched attempt at promotional relevancy that McDonald’s made.

I mean, this wasn’t some spur of the moment thing. There was planning. There was prep.  They made custom packet artwork for these things.  It’s not like they just hauled out a box from the back room or something.  So the fact that there was THIS much planning that went so very very wrong? Yeah. That’s worth mockery to me.  McDonald’s is who we should be pointing the finger at and snickering.

The fans? Oh sure. Some went overboard.  But you know what, they are fans.  I’ve seen flash mobs of people doing dumber and more random crap at cons.  And in terms of stupid crap fandoms have pulled? Oh come on. This doesn’t even crack the top ten.  But why can’t they be like normal fans and turn over a car when their sportsball team loses? Bah.

Then again…  this wouldn’t have even been a blip on the radar if not for the HORRIBLE planning on McDonald’s part.  This is like Nintendo levels of bad supply planning.  Some people I’ve spoken to seem to pretend that Rick and Morty fans descended in mass to wipe out entirely supplies of McDonald’s sauce and then demanded more and more.  Instead of you know, sending a handful of packets and posters to each store and just hoping it works out.

So yeah. Fans can be silly.  Corporations easily should have known better. Mock the Clown. Not the clowns.

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Master Trolling with Rick and Morty

So did you all see that Season 3 finale? Wowee.  Nothings gonna be the same ever again, huh?  Except the parts where they explicitly stated they are going to be the same again. *cough* Anyway…

Rick and Morty is one of those shows that is hard to get a beat on simply because it has perfected the art of trolling its own audience like some sort of modern day Andy Kaufman.  We are talking classic old school trolling too.  That form where you can never be quite sure where the line of what should be taken seriously or not falls.  Rick and Morty introduces plot points, episode previews, and even entire episode names and summaries as we found out this season just to pull the wool over your eyes and show you something completely different or have it be a one off joke.  Sometimes a joke turns out to be something horrifyingly serious like the utterly bizarre in comparison to the rest of the episode therapist scene at the end of the Pickle Rick episode.  You never know when the creators of the show are just dicking you around and where they intend to be serious, especially since the show can alternate between those two with the flip of a coin.

When I first was introduced to Rick and Morty, I stumbled upon a vast sea of YouTube videos that were delving into every conceivable theory and dissected every frame looking for clues to Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s mastermind plan for the show.  My first instinct was that it was just fans being fans and overthinking things, but with this show – can you be sure?  There certainly have been times when it looks like there’s bigger at work.  Just the stuff with Evil Morty seems to be implying that.  Then again at the same time the whole thing could be building up to the mother of all fart jokes.  You don’t know. I don’t know.  Hell, I sometimes wonder if the creators know.

That’s what I’ve found to be this wonderous dichotomy while watching Rick and Morty that I haven’t found on any other show.  It’s not that it’s “smarter” than other cartoons or TV, it’s just that you find yourself stuck in a Schroedinger’s Cat scenario of what the show is about.  Until you open that box and look, the episode could be serious, plot heavy, fart joke heavy, cynical or completely whimsical.  Mister Poopy-Butthole (Truly a thinking man’s name) told us EXACTLY when Season 3 would premiere.  Should we trust his even more cryptic prediction about season 4? Or is it Justin and Dan just messing with us? How would you know until season 4 premieres?  It’s insane! I can’t think of another TV show or hell, media property in general, where the suspense comes not from the plot or the characters but whether or not you can believe the creative team behind the show.

Rick and Morty is a master class in how to troll people.  You don’t know when to take it seriously, so you don’t know how to react properly.  If you give it any amount of personal investment, you’ll find yourself bewildered and confused as it jerks you around with important characters that are irrelevant and pointless characters that will tell you when to expect new episodes, you can have a build up of significant plot points that seem to racing to a finale only to have that finale be Rick and Morty being jerks to the President of the United States for a half hour, or you can have a show that messes with your expectations that instead of returning to the status quo at the end of each episode – it does it at the end of three seasons.

And sure, you can NOT feed the troll. But sometimes – rarely – such a magnificent troll comes along that its less fun NOT to ride the ride.

Wubba lubba dub dub.

Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

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Leave it to Laika to remind you that quality animation is not solely in the pocket of Big Mouse.  After their amazing interpretation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, their homage to classic horror and Goonies-esque 80’s adventure films with ParaNorman, and a wild urban fairy tale with The Box Trolls, brings us a new treat in the form of a Japanese folk tale in Kubo and the Two Strings.  If you want to avoid any of the spoilers that may follow this and just want a straight up opinion, I’ll just say what I told my friend after the movie: “If more movies were like that, I’d actually go to the movies more often.”  It’s a story that is tight, where everything is established and foreshadowed, the characters are well acted and given well rounded three dimensional personalities, the animation is gorgeous and the cinematography is artistic.  In short, this film should be on your Must See list even if your not a normal fan of animation.  It’s not just a great animated movie, it’s a great movie in general.

Spoilers to follow beyond the break.

Read the rest of this entry

Review: Empire of Corpses

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Oh.  Oh sweet merciful fal’Cie.  What the hell did I watch?  My fiance and I went to the Alamo Drafthouse to see the Funimation Films presentation of ‘Empire of Corpses’.  A title that sounded quite promising.  In fact, the whole idea was quite promising.  A world where Victor Frankenstein’s experiment gave rise to an entire society built on and around essentially zombie slaves powered by steampunk-style “NecroWare” that program the reanimated corpses for a variety of tasks from simple clerical jobs, to military deployment.  Doesn’t that sound awesome?  Doesn’t that seem like there are a ton of cool stories to tell in a world like that?  I bet you’ve already thought of some.  And I also bet that they are WAY more interesting than anything this movie does with the premise. /sigh

The film comes to us from the works of the late Project Itoh (real name Satoshi Itoh) whose death in 2009 inspired the creation of a trilogy of animated films based on his science-fiction novels.  The last of which, published posthumously, was Empire of Corpses in 2012.  The trilogy of films will also feature “Harmony”, based on the novel of the same name that was given a special citation by the Phillip K Dick Award and will be shown state-side in late May, and “Genocide Organ” which currently stands as yet to be completed.  But surely with a stack of awards including a special citation from the Phillip K Dick Awards (a special citation being code for ‘throwing you a bone without actually winning’), surely the story will be an immensely riveting tale? Won’t it?  Well, how should I begin?

The Characters

The film begins with medical student John Watson (Yes, THAT John Watson) resurrecting his dead best friend as a living corpse that he names Friday (Not that Friday, but close) who he trains to be his servant, bodyguard, and to write down everything he sees and hears in a journal.  He is recruited by ‘M‘ the head of British secret intelligence who has a secretary named Moneypenny and teamed with a famed British soldier named Burnaby to go to Afghanistan (under the fake cover of being a field surgeon) to find a rogue Russian scientist Alexei Karamazov who is supposedly in possession of Victor Frankenstein’s notes on how to create a living corpse that has a soul like he did with “The One”.  Along the way Watson meets up with other characters like former president Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Edison, and Hadaly Lilith (who later renames herself Irene Adler).

If you haven’t gathered from the copious amounts of links in that last paragraph, there isn’t a single character that is based on, inspired by, or flat out IS, some sort of fictional or real historic person. The only person who possibly escapes this fate is Friday whose name draws inspiration from Robinson Crusoe but that where the similarities end.  This is mostly because we are told next to nothing about who Friday was in life beyond being John Watson’s best friend and potential lover (never confirmed, but there’s more than enough evidence to have that interpretation of their relationship) and that Friday was exceptional interested in Corpse Reanimation that he built an illegal lab to conduct NecroWare experiments in and then bequethed it Watson under the explicit details to ‘desecrate his grave’ and to bring him back to life.

Beyond that the characterization is all over the map.  Burnaby is fiercely devoted to bringing back the notes of Victor Frankenstein because that’s the mission for queen and country and all that, until the veteran soldier sees another spy that he had grown close to (via minute long montage) die and be ressurected that he immediately makes it his life goal to see the notes completely destroyed.  Almost every character in a cast of a dozen is given at least one big plot twist/betrayal/reveal through the course of the movie, to the point where you almost need a chart to keep it all straight.

The Story (Spoilers Ahead!)

The first half of the movie is an entirely different beast than the second half.  The first half is the pursuit of Victor Frankenstein’s notes.  It tackles a lot of questions that you’ve probably already seen done and done better in things like Fullmetal Alchemist.  Is knowledge for the sake of knowledge an end that justifies any mean?  Where is the moral line when it comes to science and knowledge (Especially in a world where reanimating the dead to become waiters, butlers, soldiers, etc to do the bidding of the living is standard practice). The pursuit has Watson, Friday, Burnaby, and the Russian Spy Nikolai Krasotkin pursuing Karamazov in the high hills of… somewhere?  They start in Afghanistan and end up in what looks like Tibet.  On foot.  Anyway, Karamazov has perfected a new form of living corpse that has problem solving skills, faster reaction time, and near living intellect (Watson tortures one into almost speaking at one point – because Watson’s leading theory is that language is only possible with a soul.  Also that a soul weights 23 grams that vanishes from your body when you die.)  They find Karamazov in a scene that is eerily familiar to Apocalypse Now when they first find the encampment of Colonel Kurtz, and have a nice meal with him where they discuss philosophy and whatnot.  Then they find out the secret of Karamazov’s new zombies: He isn’t resurrecting the dead. He’s killing the living.  By putting a living person in a trance with music and opium then ripping into their spinal cord and programming them with NecroWare, you create a far more capable undead.  Karamazov says Frakenstein’s notes are in Japan, Burnaby is horrified, Watson wonders why Karamazov is such a wussy that he didn’t keep experimenting on the subjects to find the truth of the soul (He’s apparently done this murder procedure to an entire village at this point). Then to… uh… prove a point I guess? Karamazov turns himself into a zombie.  Awkward.  You honestly could have made this the whole movie in a big send up to Apocalypse Now/Heart of Darkness.  The isolated village of the dead, stretch out the mystery of the secret of how to make the new zombies, big reveal at the end with a realization that some costs are too high. The end.  Good flick.  But no, it keeps going.  Clearly we’re building up to something big.  Oh well, off to Japan.

The Japan ‘chapter’ is fairly short.  They meet another historical figure, they find out what lab the notes are being kept in, and they break in.  Inside they find engineered zombies that can carry diseases like cholera as biological weapons.  This matches something earlier in the movie where there are exploding zombies that are engineered to break down their own body fat into glycerin so they explode.  Again, another neat idea. Zombie arms race.  Would explain the need for the notes.  But no, that’s not where this is going either.  Watson finds the notes, but instead of destroying them he has Friday analyze them (Because Zombies are also computers that can break electronic locks and crap) Because at the end of the Japan chapter, we get zombies going on a rampage, the lab in flames, Watson almost dead and the notes being stolen by none other than “The One” aka Frankenstein’s Monster.

This is where the plot completely goes off the rails, so let me bottom line some of the weirdness that transpires for the next 45 minutes.  The One is making zombies go insane using massive analytical computers built out of human brains in various cities while ‘looking for something’ before he is captured by ‘M’ so that M who is now a bad guy for some reason can create his perfect utopia of everyone being a zombie so there will be no war.  Watson does more experiments on Friday, Friday goes insane and tries to kill Watson but doesn’t, Friday might have a soul but nothing comes of it.  Burnaby gets drunk, and hits Watson for not destroying the notes.  Hadaly is a robot that is identical to a human but with no emotions (ie no soul) and wants a soul.  No, we’re never really going to go into that. Or how a robot got made.  Or why we’re relying on zombies when robot technology is available.  Zombies apparently can turn other people into zombies by biting them, but only sometimes when the plot necessitates it for M’s utopia idea.  Before that? No turning people to zombies via biting.

So after all that mess of confusing plot lines that go mostly nowhere, how do we end this?  What is the grand idea that so many other ideas were set aside or discarded for?  Well, the heroes rush from San Francisco to London in a few hours using the super-hyper powerful USS Nautilus (YES. THAT NAUTILUS.) that has been retrofitted by Hadaly’s father… Thomas Edison (Just go with it, movies almost over).  There they stop M’s evil plan of turning everyone into a zombie, while Burnaby tries to shut off the power to the whole evil lab by… battling the Universal Movies’ Frankenstein Monster who is guarded the power station for some reason.

Once M has been defeated, now it’s time for the REAL villain to show up and enact his REAL villainous plot: The One breaks out his chains, and uses Victor Frankenstein’s notes and brain (that M had for some reason) to…  ugh… /sigh…  suck the souls out of everyone on the planet so he can uses them as a massive… um… thing to resurrect his bride’s soul that was somehow trapped in Victor’s brain into Hadaly’s body, then transfer himself into Friday’s body.

No. I’m not joking.  One hour and forty minutes of story was actually all about just getting Frankenstein’s monster laid.  That’s the groundbreaking idea that this movie had for this premise.

Of course, the power of ‘not wanting to lose Friday’ causes Watson to defeat The One, who may or may not have died in the tower falling down (We see him get up from the ground as the tower falls apart around him), there’s an almost kiss with Hadaly and Watson before Burnaby who repeats his superpower of somehow never dying or getting hurt no matter what happens to him shows up to interrupt.  The movie ends proper with a repeat of the initial experiment that ressurected Friday at the start, only with opium and music as Watson does the ‘turn the living into a zombie’ thing Karamazov showed him so he can hopefully understand Friday better.  The End.

Only not really, because there’s another scene after the credits that fans of this trainwreck call ‘The Real Ending’ which is honestly just Watson and Sherlock Holmes running around, Watson has no memory of anything that happened, Friday stalks him like a scorned lover but apparently now has a soul, Hadaly has changed her name to Irene Adler, and Burnaby is still an ass.  The “REAL” end.

The Animation

Despite everything, the film is really pretty.  Supposedly the studio that worked a lot on things like Attack on Titan worked on this film (if the advertising is to be believed) and the polish really shows.  The detail to all the little steampunk gadgets really helps sell the setting and the look of the world.  The zombies seem to vary in detail depending on how many are in the scene but they do a good job animating the dead to look like they are just puppets and that helps a bunch when it comes to visually seeing why things like the newer zombies or Friday are different or special just in the way they move or stand.

Character designs are a little less inspirational.  You have your standard bishie protagonists, Hadaly has torpedo boobs to such an nth degree I was half expecting a joke about that being where her power cells are stowed or something, the villains look completely stock, and the only one who looks out of place in Burnaby who honestly from his face to his build to his animation just feels like he belongs more so in a Studio Ghibli flick than this.

The Voice Acting

We did get to see the Funimation dub of the film at our screening which was a welcome surprise since the Alamo Drafthouse’s website did not list any of the English cast.  It might just be me but there didn’t seem to be any sort of stand out performances for this movie.  My fiance however enjoyed J. Michael Tatum’s performance as Burnaby, but also stated that she couldn’t help continuously thinking of a certain Butler the entire time despite the completely different and fairly thick accent Tatum put on the film.  On a whole, the acting was good.  Nothing great to me, but also no where I could point and say “WTF is that?”  Except maybe with the Russian accents.  Those seemed to be a bit… Hetalia meets James Bond villain.  But hey, that’s only for the first third of the movie.

Final Impressions

I said it as soon as the house lights went up in the theater. This film is a hot mess.  Plot twists come out of nowhere and are legion in number.  The film can’t decide what it wants to be about.  Is it a monster movie?  Is there some kind of message it wants to convey?  What message?  What is the primary conflict?  The One, despite being mentioned a few times, doesn’t enter the film until the halfway point.  His character is never explored nor are we ever treated to any motivation or character for him beyond exposition dumps from other characters that have no way of actually knowing the info they’re spitting out which is only glossed over by crap like “My theory is” or “They say that”.  Yet by the end, apparently The One trying to resurrect his dead bride (who is shown once at the start of the film, and never mentioned as The One’s bride until 15 minutes from the end) is the central goal of the villain that our heroes are trying the thwart?  Heck, before that we had little to no motivation for our heroes to oppose ‘The One’ until after M becomes the villain for 20 minutes before being unceremoniously killed off so The One can take center stage.  M would have made sense as a villain because we see him throughout the film making vague mentions of scheming and plotting and how it’s his job to ‘predict the future’ and what not.

Then there’s the whole Watson and Friday thing that is given no resolution, is never really explored beyond using Friday to find out if there’s a soul, and in the moment where that seems like a possibility it’s treated as a huge shocking moment and then immediately forgotten about for the rest of the film. Heck, it can even be interpreted that Watson flat out kills Friday’s regained soul immediately afterward to create a better puppet/tool for fighting M/The One.

In the end, the film and the story feels very much like it wants took inspiration from several early science fiction writers without taking or even understanding why those ideas worked.  Like a filmmaker who sees a cool shot and decides to use it over and over regardless of whether it works or not because it was cool but they didn’t understand WHY it was cool.  So the film ends up completely falling apart after the half way point as it tries to throw more and more into the film without any understanding of how to use the elements it adds.  It could have been something great.  There were a lot of amazing ideas to be explored in this film.  What it needed to do was just pick one and stick with it.

Odditorial: On the Perceived Permanence of Lore

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If there’s one thing we nerds enjoy, it’s canon.  Is this canonical? Is that?  Is my OTP canonical?  How does X fit into the canon?  One need not look any further than the reaction to the announcement that the Star Wars Expanded Universe being retired into the Legends label to see how much a concise and clearly stated canon can matter to people.  So there gets to be this mindset among fans of just about anything that whatever is stated to be canon is something akin to a holy text that must be viewed as complete and immutable from whatever state a fan finds it in.  And that last bit is important because what eventually sets the bar as ‘betraying’, ‘contradicting’ or ‘ignoring’ canon depends a great deal on exactly what state the canon was in when and how you first were exposed to it.

After all, while the Green Lantern Corps was introduced in 1959, the concept of the Emotional Spectrum and the other Lantern Corps like the Red Lanterns, or the Sinestro Corps, didn’t come into being until 2006, despite it beings established that these things were in existence all along but the Green Lanterns may not have been aware of them.  If you were a fan before Geoff Johns’ new interpretation of the Green Lantern universe, you might find this idea a bit on the heretical side.  After all, how could the Guardians not know/expose this info?  How come it took decades of issues before it was revealed that Parralax was a big space bug that was sealed away and they knew about it but kinda didn’t want to bring it up?  On the same hand, if you came after that or say first got interested in Green Lantern due to the Green Lantern Animated Series – then the Emotional Spectrum and the other Lanterns are just part of the universe to you. Easy peasy.

Already we can see that time and method can dictate the view of what is considered to be canon and what isn’t.  Will new Star Wars fans a decade from now when the JJ Abrams Trilogy comes to a close even think that the Legends novels were anything more than interesting What-If stories?  That the Yuuzhan Vong are nothing more than glorified fanfiction characters?  Perhaps.  But aside from fan-interpretation and viewpoints of canon, what about when canon is changed by the ones who created it?

If you want a good example of fans getting upset at a ‘violation’ of canon by the ones who write the story themselves, look no further than our good friends at Blizzard Entertainment.   Almost every expansion is met with cries of ‘That’s not what this character would do’, ‘Blizzard doesn’t care about their own canon’ or ‘This violates their own lore’, etc.  I’ve played World of Warcraft since 2006 off and on, and I’ve seen these complaints so many times I’ve lost count.  But it always comes back to this idea that what WAS should be preserved in a little box, and left to the point where it is never changed or influenced.  Heck, I remember people complaining about the difference in characterization between Warcraft III and Vanilla WoW, almost like there was some sort of inexplicable 5 year jump mentioned in first few seconds of the opening cut scene.  These characters change, the situation changes, and the world moves forward.  The Forsaken were pretty much born out of Sylvanas’ quest for revenge against the Lich King.  You can’t very well expect them to stay the same after their sworn mortal enemy is dead.

There’s also the issue of the fact that since WE are aware of all the details of the story and lore, we often will forget that the characters don’t.  A character may not know the truth of all the details, or even heard the news if its something that happened on the completely other side of the planet and thus will act according to what they know and not what WE know.  The concept of ‘metagaming’ can extend to fiction too, ya know.  So while things sometimes look like a violation of canon, it can honestly sometimes just be a matter of ‘the characters wouldn’t know that’.  Back to World of Warcraft for example, it’s stated in some places that the Eredar corrupted the Titan Sargeras into turning evil, it’s later revealed upon meeting the Draenei – an exiled faction of the Eredar – that it was actually the reverse. Sargeras had corrupted the Eredar.  Is this a retcon? Yes, but does it break canon? No.  No one who originally told the tales of Sargeras & the Eredar would have been in the position to know the facts of the tale.  They are legends and fables, passed down for generations.  Now when they meet the Draenei?  Well, heck, Velen was THERE.  He knows.  Now he’s explaining it.  Now you have the myth, and the fact.  That’s developing canon, not violating it.

Wanting a canon to stay rigid, to have nothing new enter or depart the scene and for characters to stay the same as when we first fell in love with them just is flat out bad for storytelling.  Is BioWare futzing with their own lore with TOR?  Yes.  Yes they are.  The story is moving forward, a new enemy is appearing from beyond the borders of the galaxy and using a vastly different technique of force wielding to pursue a mission of galactic conquest.  Honestly, from a personal standpoint, it’s not nearly as conflicting as say KOTOR to KOTOR2 when in the space of 5 years the entire Jedi Order was completely wiped out leaving only a few stragglers like the Exile around.  No wonder they decided to set SWTOR 295 years later. Yeesh.

Now I’m not saying there aren’t ways you can mess up canon.  Even Blizzard has admitted to messing up with mixing up established facts and they have employees devoted to entire task of keeping this stuff straight.  But there’s a difference between ‘This never before explained thing has appeared and is attacking’ or ‘This ancient prophecy we just uncovered is coming true!’ and things like ‘Superman was never from Krypton, he’s from Snorglack-VII and always has been. Ignore what we said earlier.’  (And heck there are even acceptable ways to do that with continuity reboots, and elaborate explanations, that might reek of B.S. aren’t technically violating canon.)  There are times when you just screw up and forget that you’ve already established some detail, and there are times you introduce retcons that will devastatingly run in contrast to how a character is viewed (Did you Batman ALWAYS hated rock music because his Dad told him it was bad the night they died?) but there is also just the idea that you are expanding the story and the universe.

As fans we sometimes have the tendency to get a bit zealous with our devotion to what we know.  We like the permanence of the whole thing.  It feels good.  But that’s not necessarily what’s best for the story.  For a story to grow, canon must be altered and expanded.  Maybe there were 9 planets, but due to later revelations there are now 8 (or like 25).  Canon must always be somewhat flexible in order for things to move forward.  And I think we as fans need to be flexible with it.

Thanks for reading.

Big Hero 6 Review: Satisfaction Guarenteed

INTRO_Disney_BigHero6_guideI got a chance to go see Disney’s newest flick ‘Big Hero 6’ this past weekend.  I really didn’t know what to expect going in to the theater.  I was roughly familiar with the source material: a 90’s-tastic Japanese super hero team created by the ever loathsome Scott Lobdell and starring every Japanese movie stereotype known to man – ninjas, samurai, giant monsters, robots, etc.  I was also aware that the team working on this film were also the ones behind Wreck-It Ralph, a film that now ranks among one of my all time favorites.  So what does this strange collaboration of Disney magic and horrible 90’s comic schlock produce?  Actually something pretty fun.

While the film was based on an American comic book, it doesn’t really draw its overall influence from there.  In fact, I’d say the film has stronger ties with Eastern media like Astro Boy (in many ways this film reminded me of the underrated 2009 Astro Boy film that Imagi Animation made).  The film centers around a young genius named Hiro who loses his mentor/best friend/pseudo-criminal-accomplice big brother in an accident leaving him horribly depressed.  Hiro also comes into possession of Baymax, his brothers final invention.  Baymax is a big inflatable robot designed to help take care of people who are injured or in need of medical or psychological help.  With Baymax at his side, Hiro discovers the accident that took his brother may not have been an accident after all but the works of a super villain. So Hiro, Baymax and Hiro’s friends must suit up as super heroes to stop the villain.

If that sounds a bit run of the mill, it kinda is.  One of the films…  I hesitate to say “flaw” because it really isn’t but one of its traits is that it is a very formulaic film.   If you’ve seen super hero movies, you’ll recognize all the major story beats here.  From the fact that the group isn’t coordinated at all in their first fight with the villain and end up taking each other out, to the newly energized and ready to work as a team battle that gives them more direct challenges to overcome from the villain which they use a lesson from earlier in the film to help overcome.  If that sounds familiar to you, then the rest of the story will probably as well.  It gets to the point where superhero comic book fanboy character Fred even starts pointing out tropes. However, as they say, god is in the details.

What makes the film wonderful is all the little details that break the mold.  From the vividly diverse cast of characters, voiced by an equal diverse cast, to the fortitude to risk releasing a Disney super hero movie without a love story stuck in there in anyway.  Think about that.  Disney AND Superheroes.  Two groups who are known for the token romantic interests with guy gets the girl endings.  Not here.  Not even a hint of it.  Which is quite the breath of fresh air actually.  In the original comics, Hiro and Honey Lemon WERE an item and I was wondering how they would pull that off, especially since the main character is around 14 years old and the rest of the cast is 18+ and in college.  There’s been some complaints against Honey Lemon, that she has the quickly becoming cliche “Disney Face”.  You know, that Rapunzel, Anna, and Elsa all use the same rough face.  Luckily, they did change it up a bit with Honey.  She is somewhat implied to be a Latina character (voiced by a Latina actress who brings that out with various vocal inflections) and she is also a friggin twig.  Like not “princess skinny” where they are thin but still have hips and a bust and toned legs, etc.  No.  Honey in profile would like more like a straight line.  Not like anorexic sickly skinny either.  Just a twig.  Reminds me of my real life sister who is also a twig.  So at least there’s SOME deviation there.

At its heart, the film is about a young man coming to grips with loss and dealing with the grief that resulted from losing someone close.   From isolation and depression, to lashing out in anger and accidentally hurting your friends in the process.  It handles it magnificently as well.  With the care and understanding that such a story deserves.  You never feel Hiro’s actions are because he’s being annoying or going over the top.  The film is very clear about his actions coming from a place of deep hurting, and it conveys that to audience perfectly.  At the heart of this is Baymax, who serves as the emotional foil for Hiro.  Baymax is designed to be calm, gentle, and understanding.  He’s a robot whose sole purpose is to help those in pain, be it physical or emotional and as such is there to help Hiro through this journey.

While this film isn’t the amazing, jaw dropping experience that was Box Trolls or Book of Life, it does bring a lot of heart, fun and originality to a fairly predictable formula.  So yea, you may have seen this story before.  But at least you can sit through it knowing that at least its a well done iteration of that time worn tale of capes & cowls. If I actually used stars, it would be a solid 4 out of 5 from me with a definite recommendation to see it at least once.  It’s more debatable whether it will be just as enjoyable on subsequent viewings (definitely will be just as quotable), so it may not be a “BUY IT DAY ONE BLU RAY NAO!” kind of flick, but definitely a go see it once. Preferably in the theaters for that big screen experience.

Catching Up With Korra

LoK

They always find a way to pull me back don’t they?

My twitter followers may remember a while back when I ranted and raved about the ending to the first season of Korra, where they stripped the villain of any back story or motivation they had thoroughly established for the sake of a less than satisfying plot twist and how the civil movement pushing for equality for non-benders in a world run by benders is immediately dropped upon finding out that the villain was a bender.  Which is kind of like if a white person spoke up in defense of civil rights, all African Americans realize that hey things aren’t so bad and immediately dropped it.  Yes, Amon’s motivations were sinister but no one in the movement knew that.  They just said “Oh, he’s a bender.  So I guess it’s back to happily living in fear of fire-bending mob bosses. Oh well.”

Suffice it say, the ending left me a bit irked.  But I had hope.  Maybe season two would continue the equalist storyline in some way as the Avatar works to restore balance between benders and non-benders – a very interesting issue in the world they inhabit.  What’s that season two premiere? Six months later you say? Everyone’s talking about Mako and Korra dating?  No one is talking about equality?  Well &%$* me.  So I walked away from Legend of Korra and decided it just wasn’t worth trying to get excited again only to be let down.  But then they tease bringing Toph back.  Toph.  My favorite character in Avatar: The Last Airbender.  Drat.  Now I have to catch up.

So I sat down and binged my way through Books Two and Three, praying that maybe they improved from the ending of Book One.  I mean, everything up to the ending was pretty good.  Downright awesome at times.  So did the rest live up to my hopes?  Well…  kind of?  Let me explain.  The absolute worst thing about seasons 2 & 3 of Legend of Korra is quite honestly Korra herself.  The villains are more interesting than our hero, the side plots are more interesting than the main plots, and Korra seems to be there to carry us between the better storylines while she is just trying to not die most of the time.

In Book Two, we’re treated to the history of the very first avatar. It’s a great story that quite honestly could have been its own season. The season is also book-ended with the start and end of a civil war between the Northern and Southern water tribe which we barely get to see any of. Also the reconciliation of the three children of Aang and facing the truth that maybe Aang wasn’t the greatest dad. In Book Three, you have the reformation of the Air Nation, the world of humans and spirits learning to co-exist for the first time in forever, and the reunion of the Bei Fong sisters  – all of which are far more interesting than a group of anarchist benders trying to kill Korra because Avatars are a force of balance and not chaos.  Heck the spirit/human relations thing is only mentioned for like two episodes and then Korra leaves and we get no additional resolution until the prologue of Season Four which mentions that 3 years later and everything is fine and dandy between humans and spirits.  It goes from everyone hates spirits and wants them gone to peaceful coexistence in 3 years AND WE GET NO EXPLANATION AS TO WHAT CHANGED.

The villains are equally baffling in some regards.  In season two, the villain seems to be motivated by a clear power grab under the influence of a dark spirit, but then in Book Three its revealed he was also a member of the anarchists who broke away for his own goals.  But even before that when they were younger, he made a power grab for the Northern Water Tribe…  so was he an anarchist or not?  “I’m against governments and order except when I’m not.”  The book three villain at least is fanatically driven by his beliefs, but out of his team of four he is the only one to get any kind of personality or development.  Making claims like “Just one of these four can overthrow a nation, all four can destroy the world” seem a bit of an exaggeration when there appears to be one threat and three flunkies.  Queen Beryl’s minions got more development and their entire purpose was to unleash the monster of the week.

But as I said, there are some great stories in these two seasons.  It’s just unfortunate they’re side plots and not the main course.  Instead we get Korra who spends her time shouting about how she’s the avatar, having extremely forced romance troubles (honestly, some of the fights she has with Mako can only be the product of bad writing.  No one argues like this in real life) and acting without care of the consequences of her actions.  She serves as a bridge to the better stories without offering much herself.  Even worse is that when all is said and done in the main plot, Korra’s lot in life is to just suffer.  Book Two ends with her connection to the past avatars destroyed leaving her without guidance of her past lives, and book three is just a straight ‘kill the avatar permanently’ mission that leaves Korra in a wheel chair. Which is a shame and something I’m hoping season four actually fixes with a lot of previews showing Korra striking out on her own and abandoning the avatar identity and hopefully will be a chance for Korra to actually grow instead of just being repeatedly broken.

So would I recommend it as someone who felt burned by the first season?  Sure.  Just go into it knowing that there are diamonds in the rough that make the rough worth it.  Here’s hoping the final season has a bit less rough to it.

Final Thought after seeing the first episode of season four:  What is with the Earth Kingdom having TERRIBLE leadership?

Box Trolls: Not the Internet Kind

boxtrolls

As regular readers know, I’m a grown ass man who loves him some animation.  There’s no shame in that.  I also like the Star Wars prequels and the Matrix sequels.  There is some shame in that.  That’s off topic though. I wanted to talk a bit about a wonderful little film I saw that I’m worried might pass by unnoticed by most (there were only like 8 of us in the theater and the movie has only been out for 4 days) called ‘The Box Trolls’.

The movie is about a boy named ‘Eggs’ who has grown up in the care of the Box Trolls.  The reason for this we are told is because they stole him when he was a baby.  Eggs has a good life living with his pseudo parental figure Fish and his friend Shoe as the Box Trolls spend each night going up to the streets and taking pretty much anything metal or mechanical that isn’t bolted down to take home and make wacky inventions with.  Meanwhile, in the town above, the legend of the Box Trolls stealing children has taken on epic levels landing a group of exterminators to try to eliminate them in order to earn a place in privileged upper crust society.  Eggs meets the daughter of the Lord of the town, and learns what the upper world thinks of the Box Trolls and sets off on a mission to save all the box trolls that have been taken by the exterminators and prove that they are not monsters.

The Box Trolls is the latest film from Laika, the people behind the extremely enjoyable films ParaNorman and Coraline.  The film is a bit more a fairy tale than its predecessors though in such that it lacks the biting cynicism of modern day society.  That being said it does share the critique of family dynamics that were both in ParaNorman and Coraline – the problem of parents ignoring their children to some extent.  However this one takes the notion to the ridiculous when the Lord of the town pretty much flat out doesn’t even acknowledge what his daughter is saying most of the item.  Not dismissing it, not hand waving it away, but full on “Did you say something? Guess not.” level of ignore.

Like other Laika productions, Box Trolls is also not afraid to “go there”.  And despite having significantly less frightening images than ParaNorman or Coraline, it does not shy away from darker subjects such as death and the monstrous fables about Box Trolls routinely make mention of things like ‘rivers of blood’ and ‘mountains of bones’ (it turns out to be more of a river of insects and mountains of scrap junk).  The little girl Winnie is pretty much obsessed with the grotesque aspects of the legends and routinely fantasizes about being ripped apart and devoured by monsters.  She is weird.  But truth be told if you’re worried about kids getting scared at this film, the worse it gets visually is a silhouette of a man being beaten with a wrench and one hideously extreme allergic reaction.  So definitely less frightening than ParaNorman or Coraline, but still a bit dark.  It’s not my place to say if your kid can handle that, so I’ll just leave it to you with knowledge to decide.

The casting and script is absolutely phenomenal with pretty much everyone turning in a fun performance.  The story has honest moments that tug at your heart strings, have some great moments of suspense, and will have you laughing your head off – ESPECIALLY if you like puns.  Yes, lots of puns.  Mostly cheese puns.  The upper crust of this town have an obsession with fancy cheeses and the puns just fly out whenever the topic comes out.  Once to the point of having an in-universe rim shot.

I do recommend this film, especially if you liked films like Coraline or ParaNorman but wanted something a tad bit less frightening for the family.  Even if you’re not worried about frights, it’s still a solid enjoyable family film that has something for everyone and doesn’t treat its audience – even the little ones – like morons.  Heck, the first 10 minutes barely has English spoken on screen.  Just troll gibberish.  Still you don’t get lost with it and it’s told well visually.  The film runs about 90 minutes, and uses it all well.  It never feels  slow or rushed.  So go ahead and go check it out!  This film needs some love because it honestly looks like it’s going to be booted out of theaters soon for not having the big audience it deserves.

Okay, before I end this post I do need to address the elephant in the room. People who don’t want to hear about potential real issues, you have been warned.  From this point on, it’s real talk about real issues.  And also spoilers.

There’s been a lot of talk in various online circles about the Box Trolls since it hit early previews that the film should be avoided and even boycotted due to it being transphobic or transmisogynistic and that it makes fun of trans women.  The problem really with that statement is that as a completely cis-het white male, I’m not in any sort of position of telling people how they should FEEL about something in the movie.  But what I can do is offer my observations on the events of the film because from what I saw it didn’t seem exactly that transphobic.

I know, I know! “Vry you just said you were a Cis-Het White American Male! Why should we even listen to you!”  And that is fair.  You might not listen to me.  And by no means am I saying you must but allow me to present why I am saying that before my opinion is dismissed.  You see, without going into too many spoilers (there are some. You have been warned.) It’s revealed about halfway through the film (or a third of the way if you’re half smart and figure it out yourself) that the local star of stage Madam Frou Frou is in fact the villain, Mister Snatcher, dressed in women’s clothing.  He does this to perform a show that paints the box trolls as hideous monsters that need to be exterminated by – well – Snatcher, and he also uses the persona of Frou Frou to hobnob with the social elite that he longs to be a part of (They are called White Hats, where Snatcher and his crew are lowly bottom-of-the-city working class Red Hats).  Those are the only times we ever see Snatcher dress or act as a woman and in fact drops the Frou Frou voice and any pretense of not being a man as soon as the rich people are out of sight.  At no point in the film does he ever wish to identify as a woman, or become a woman, beyond putting on the show and milking the fame it comes with.  The fact that he dresses as a woman is used to comedic effect TWICE.  Once is when Eggs tries to expose him and as Frou Frou pretends that ‘she’ wears a wig and not that the identity is fake to maintain face among the rich, and when the rich people finally figure it out the Lord of the town makes a passing, completely ambiguous “I regret so many things now.”

So is this transphobic?  Well, it’s a difficult thing to put in a box actually (see what I did there?)  From my research (yes, I actually try to read up when I’m dealing with REAL issues) there are several ways the term transgendered can be used and in some ways it refers specifically to people who were born one gender but identify as another gender.  However, some broader definitions of the term include any activity where one gender takes on traits, dresses like, or presents oneself as another gender, in which this definitely fits.  See, Snatcher’s persona of Madam Frou Frou would technically be Drag – presenting yourself as another gender for the purpose of entertainment or performance.  He does not identify as a woman, wish he was born a woman, or desires to be a woman outside of his time performing or hobnobbing as a consequence of performing.  One is to promote his business, and the other is to temporarily live the life of his dreams.

However beyond the wig joke,  the Lord’s embarrassment at finding out his dream gal is actually the man he’s been so disgusted of he refuses to usually let him in the door of the house when they speak, and how atrociously bad his Madam Frou Frou outfit is (It’s a dress, wig, and make up. Nothing else.) The entire concept is never really treated as a joke.  At no point is he vilified for putting on a drag show after its revealed.  Heck, Snatcher is the one who lets it drop that he IS Madam Frou Frou to rub it into the Lord’s face that he was so easily duped.

Though again from what I’ve read there are real issues between drag performers and transgendered people.  Namely that there are trans folks out there who feel that drag is an insult that mocks the very real and difficult issues they have to deal with.  That drag gives a negative public image to people who then turn around and think all trans people are just “cross dressing weirdos” or something and this has created a very real rift between the two groups.  So for that reason,  I can’t just write off the complaints of transphobia as complaining for the sake of complaining.  If you are trans person who takes real offense to drag, then yes, you probably will find parts of this film offensive because those elements exist in it.  I can’t tell you not to be offended by that.  It’s not my place.

Frozen Treats

Disney-Frozen-Logo

So I finally got around to seeing Frozen.  Yes, you can pick your jaws up off the floor, I know it took me a while.  But I’m not a young spry chap with infinite free time that can see every animated film that comes out like I was back in college.  But those who know me know that I am a lover of all things animated, so I felt that writing a short review and sharing my thoughts on the film.  Why? Because it’s my blog.  And I have a whole category over there on the side clearly labeled “Cartoons & Anime”.  That’s why. Is that not enough?

The Premise

For those who aren’t familiar with the general plot of the story, it revolves around two sisters: Elsa and Anna. When Elsa was born she was gifted and/or cursed with magic over ice.  However, after an accident with Anna, her parents try to help her learn to control her powers. By locking her in their palace, and letting no one – not even Anna – interact with her until she has mastered her magic.  But the parents die, as they do in Disney films, and now Elsa is left as the Queen of their small but prosperous kingdom. However, during the coronation Elsa looses controls of her powers and is driven out by fear to the north mountains where she builds an ice palace in her own private idaho ice kingdom completely unaware that her actions have left the kingdom buried and frozen in a deep snow in the middle of summer. Now Anna has to try to convince her sister to thaw the kingdom.

It sounds REALLY simplistic, but actually it constantly messes with your expectations and rarely do things like this stay so simple.  Treason, treachery, trolls, and snowmen also make appearances and often not where you expect them.  I don’t want to go into much or else I’ll spoil some of the awesome of the film but the film does a great job of screwing with your typical “Ah of course it’s Disney” stereotypes and tropes.  All the way down to the ending and how the plot is resolved challenges the way you would think a film like this would play out.  Honestly, it feels more like a Dreamworks story but the classic Disney quality to it and next to zero pop culture references (Seriously, Dreamworks. Tone that **** down.)

The Visuals

Gorgeous.  That’s all I can say.  Starting back when Disney Animation put on Tangled, I think they really hit on something with the overall emphasis on using facial animation to depict emotion.  It added an energy to the characters’ expressions that you didn’t see in a lot of other CGI films.  Combining that with the enjoyably cartoony body movements and you honestly have some of the most delightful characters to watch on screen in a long time (in my opinion at least.)  That same energy is brought to bare in Frozen, emphasized on the emotional turmoil that Elsa goes through over the film and the manic pixie girl like tendencies of Anna.  It’s an animated film that’s fun to watch and re-watch just to look at all the little details that each character has in a scene.  Something I’ve missed since the later seasons of Jimmy Neutron on Nickelodeon when the animators started really having fun putting gags in the background or with characters that are not the center of focus for the audience.

Of course, I’d be called on it if I didn’t bring up the overly emphasized clipping errors that have been making the rounds on the internet.  Yes, Elsa’s hair clips through her arm at one point.  It’s not even a half second long and unless it’s been beaten into you by sites like Tumblr or wherever it’s being passed around you wouldn’t likely notice it. Honestly, I barely noticed it all even knowing it was there with all the other glorious visual being poured directly into my eye balls.  Like the ICE.

Oh geeze, if there was ever a reason to buy a Blu-Ray player, watching this movie in high definition just for the ICE is going to be worth it.  Even in theaters the fractals of ice just look gorgeous.

The Acting

Honestly, this is probably where I have the least to say.  I’ve never been a huge critic of actors.  Everyone did really well here.  That’s about all I can say.  If there were any shows stealers it would be Olaf the Snowman voiced by Josh Gad who turned in an amazingly happy over the top and blissfully innocent snowman.  Honestly, we were astonished about how darn loveable that performance was.  Kirstin Bell (Anna) and Johnathan Groff (Kristof) turn in performances with a great chemistry between the two with well timed oral jabs at each other.  Idina Menzel as Elsa was…  well that’s complicated the more I think of it.  She does the high drama moments incredibly well (Not surprising for a Broadway star) but in the less tense moments felt a tad… meh.  It may be partly because outside of the fervent emotional turmoil, Elsa doesn’t have a ton going on as a character, especially in comparison to Anna who deals with her repressed worldview, her is she/isn’t she evil relationship with her sister, and her spontaneous and insane love life.  Elsa is just a bit more of a one trick character.  But that one trick is rendered masterfully.

Other Things

You know the theory has been passed around that Elsa’s story in Frozen is very much akin to dealing with a mental illness, and more specifically depression.  As someone with a mental illness, I can say that yea. There IS a lot of that. It did strike a serious cord in parts with things I’ve experienced in my own life.  And it handles them well.  Repeated phrases like Don’t show, don’t let them know and the insistence of just trying to control it. After all how many times have someone heard “Have you tried just being happy and stop being depressed?”  The message continues with the idea that no matter how bad, or how awful, or how much damage you might unintentionally cause – there will always those who care about you. Be it family or friends.  It was a nice message that really made me feel warm fuzzies walking out of that theater and I won’t lie – I teared up more than once.  (Okay, fine I tear up at the drop of a hat. I was flat out bawling tears at the end of Metal Gear Solid 3.)

So would I recommend the film? Absolutely.  No matter how old or young you are there is something wonderful and powerful to be found in this film.  I have been beaming about it since we saw it and I don’t imagine my utter dumbfounded shock at how amazing it was will subside anytime soon.  So yes, go see Frozen. Do it.

Reading Too Much Into Phineas & Ferb

Back when I was but a pain-in-the-butt youth, I took a film studies class that loved to overanalyze old movies.  We once spent over 12 hours going shot by shot through the entirety of Citizen Kane.  While I can never watch Citizen Kane ever again, I did pick up the skills to sit there and wax philosophic and pick apart every little thing to come up with new, elaborate and generally stupid theories.  This came in quite handy when I took a Shakespeare class a few years later.  Because of this rigid training in over analyzing and dissecting (or what we like to call in the trade, ‘Bull#$%&ing’.  Hey, at least I’m honest.)  I have the fun but bad habit of doing it to things that I have no intention of analyzing.  Case in point, shows like Phineas & Ferb.

If you’re not familiar with Phineas & Ferb – first of all, shame on you – it’s a relatively easy show to understand. A pair of brothers who with the power of positive thinking and improbable plot are able to create incredible inventions as their teenage sister tries to bust them to their mom who never believes her.  Meanwhile there’s always a B-Plot about the titular characters’ pet platypus who is a secret agent and foils an evil scientist named Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz (Doof-in-schmirtz…  No I can’t think of a simpler way to pronounce ‘schmirtz’.) It’s a simple premise with tons of genre savvy jokes, and is one of those great shows that will make their own cliches just to parody them.  If you haven’t checked out Phineas & Ferb before, I highly recommend it.

However, after watching a marathon session of the show off of Netflix, I started to notice some strange connections between the A-plot and B-plot.  Candice, the older sister, has been driven to the point of sheer insanity out of frustration because no one ever believes that her brothers have created these elaborate and amazing things.  In fact a good amount of her “summer” (The show theoretically takes place over a single summer, however how that has occurred in conjunction with both Halloween and Christmas specials is beyond me) has been ruined due to her persistence in busting her popular and successful brothers.  Dr. Doofenshmirtz on the other hand spends a good deal of time and his ex-wife’s alimony money creating elaborate devices to take revenge on his brother Roger who is the wealthy, well liked, and successful mayor of the city.

It’s almost like Candice is the Proto-Doofenshmirtz and Phineas & Ferb are the Proto-Mayor Rogers.  The boys are universally successful, well liked by their peers and parents, and are everything always seems to work out for them.  The same who could be said for Mayor Roger Doofenshmirtz, who earned his mother’s love with his mastery of kickball and is adored by the people of Danville regardless of his brother’s attempt to ruin him.  Candice & Dr. D both face troubled youths, strained relations with siblings and parents, and an overwhelming sense of frustration due to constant failure.  It’s actually pretty easy to see Candice growing up into another Dr. Doofenshmirtz if it wasn’t for those couple of time traveling episodes.

So, since realism goes out the window in the first episode when a couple of grade schoolers build a roller-coaster across the city, we have those time travel episodes that more or less confirm that Candice does not become the dark apprentice of Dr. Doofenshmirtz.  But why?  They have so much in common.  Well, I can only imagine it’s because Candice has two thing that Heinz never had: a significant other and a best friend.  Well, I suppose Dr. D did have a best friend – but it was a balloon.  I can speak from personal experience that slumber parties are not fun when your only guest is a balloon.  Took me a week to discharge all that static…

Candice has a boyfriend who for unknown reasons seems downright attracted to her insanity and a best friend who helps out with whatever scheme she comes up with.  Heinz Doofenshmirtz has an ex-wife who he seems to passive aggressively despise and a daughter that he struggles to gain the respect of.  Tragically, the closest person to Dr. D seems to be his nemesis, a secret agent platypus who can’t talk.  On top of that, despite the fact that Candice’s parents think she’s down right insane, they do in fact love her. Where as Heinz’s parents either lathered his brother Roger  or their dog ‘Only Son’ with all their affection while Heinz was forced to stand out in the garden impersonating a lawn gnome for much of his formative years.

So in the end love conquers evil that isn’t really that evil. Huzzah!

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