Saturday, May 16, 2015

StarBoy91's Theatrical Escapade - Furious 7

Written: May 5th-14th, 2015 / Published: May 16th, 2015
 
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit, and welcome to my newest installment of Theatrical Escapade as I discuss the latest in the Fast and Furious franchise Furious 7=)
Before I start I have a confession to make: prior to this movie I never saw any of the six preceding Fast and Furious predecessors, at least not from beginning to end anyway.  I did see snippets of the some of the movies, but there were many factors that compelled me to watch this movie on the big screen (three weeks later, on April 26th) despite not being all that prepared for it.  One of them was that the trailer looked fascinating, another was that it was the last movie Paul Walker worked on before his death in 2013, the movie has been getting really great reviews (best received in the series), and finally the biggest reason I watched it was because Furious 7 was being directed by James Wan.  =)
 
Since the early 2000's Wan has directed movies which found themselves a loyal following, primarily horror films.  I didn't see every single one of his features but from what I saw I was largely impressed by his work, most of all by the genuinely effective and scary surprise hit The Conjuring from 2013 which is hands down one of the highlights in the genre.  That same year he made headlines when he announced that after his then upcoming direct sequel to 2011's Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2 (having come out months after the aforementioned Summer hit), that he would be done directing for the horror genre (as he still produces), feeling that his skillful directing prowess lacked versatility in the genre department.
 
This news surprised fans and admirers of his alike, but even more surprising was when he announced that he would take Justin Lin's place as director for upcoming Fast and Furious installments, beginning with Furious 7.  Naturally the best response one could elicit at the time was how a director with this stature would tackle the franchise, given that it's James Wan's very first non-horror film.  I do understand his need to branch out and why he felt the need to distance himself from the horror genre, since I can only imagine the thought of being branded as "that [horror] guy" for the rest of his life--considering his pre-2015 filmography--was not how he wanted to keep doing his job (at least that's what I recall from the interview I read).
 
But when I heard that Wan would be back as director for next year's The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist I was excited to hear this news, for if his horror directing schtick truly did end in 2013 then it would've been terrible since Insidious: Chapter 2 was a colossal disappointment which permanently reduced the genuinely creepy and effective moments from the first film that it left a sour taste in my mouth (so much so that I'm not sure I want to see Leigh Whannell's follow-up this Summer).  =(  I'm sorry, I'm just rambling at this point; so how does Wan make up for disappointing us with his previous feature?  For Furious 7, pretty damn well I say!  =D

Image from Rotten Tomatoes
Rated: PG-13 | Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 | Running Time: 137 Minutes | Director: James Wan
Following the events of Fast and Furious 6, Jason Statham's Deckard Shaw is seeking vengeance on the crew responsible for his younger brother Owen's demise.  Elsewhere, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is trying to help his amnesiac friend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) regain her memories while Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) is trying to get to grips at fatherhood spending time with his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) and son.  But all that comes to a halt when Shaw kills a member of Dom's team in Tokyo and tries to eliminate them; it's then that Dom is encountered by shady covert ops team leader by the alias of "Mr. Nobody" (Kurt Russell) who ends up recruiting Dom's team to not only take down Shaw but locate and find the God's Eye before a mercenary (Djimon Hounsou) does.
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
For being the first Fast and Furious movie I saw in full, I was a bit worried that because I didn't see any of the last movies from beginning to end that I would be lost with Furious 7 presuming that it would have lots of references to the previous entries.  And while there are a few of them to speak of, it didn't take me long to get sucked into this world and care about the characters, for it was a thrilling ride while it lasted (and I speak as a first-time Fast and Furious watcher).  I was blown away by how much crazy over-the-top action there was from time to time, and while there are times that it gets silly (and it does), it was no less engaging.

Another thing that was just insane was just how fast the cars were zipping by, the over-the-top fight scenes were ridiculously well-choreographed (the ones between Paul Walker and Tony Jaa's Kiet plus the ones between Deckard Shaw and Dwayne Johnson's Luke Hobbs coming to mind), and much of the practical stunts were really cool.  I especially enjoyed the gravity-defying action, like when Brian escapes from a bus about to fall off a cliff, climbing on the side, and running fast on top of said declining bus and jumping high in just enough time to grab hold of Letty's car; another one that occurs is later on is so breathtaking and incredibly fun that I'm not going to spoil it.

But among the high-testosterone action is a touch of seriousness and poignancy, mainly due to the presence of Paul Walker, who's made his last movie appearance in Furious 7 before dying in a car crash.  He's a really good actor, and any time he's onscreen it's hard not to feel his loss with this knowledge in mind, making it difficult to believe that he's gone.  =(  I looked up that originally this movie was to have a different fate for Paul Walker's character, but his sendoff in the final product is sweet and the tribute to Paul in the end was really touching.
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
The other cast members are great as well and have a great sense of camaraderie, and Jason Statham's bad guy role is good; I especially enjoyed Kurt Russell's character, who was a bit of a scene stealer in his own way, but up until the end I was a bit worried that he was playing a morally ambiguous role (being the movie watcher I am).  With that said, I hope to see more of Mr. Nobody in future installments.  =)
 
The fast-paced and tight-nit editing is a bit interesting when it comes to the car chases and battle sequences, and the amount of practical effects are cool.  But with James Wan on board they singlehandedly manage to create some ridiculous amount of CGI flying on the screen; plus he also provides his unique camera angles when the moment comes.  If there's anything that prevented the movie from reaching perfection it's the fact that there was so much shaky cam during the intense moments that I was worried I was going to suffer from motion sickness (which I never thought I would feel when watching a movie; Gary Ross' The Hunger Games never had that effect on me three years ago).  =(
 
What amazed me is that despite being directed by James Wan it did not feel like a film of his.  I mean, if you were to see excerpts of The Conjuring and Furious 7 back to back and not know any better, would you honestly believe they were helmed by the same guy?  Personally I wouldn't.
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
Overall, Furious 7 was an enjoyable experience for someone who hasn't experienced all of its predecessors, though I have a feeling it'll work much better for those that have.  The action sequences were well-choreographed and the stunts ranged from great to hilarious.  The cheesy one-liners added to the charm, the characters were likable, and the tribute paid to Paul Walker was very touching and poignant.  =)  I recommend this movie, for it is great fun (if you can overlook the abundant shaky cam), and I cannot wait for the next installment.
My Personal Score: 4/5
Stay tuned next time as I talk about the first Summer blockbuster of 2015, Avengers: Age of Ultron.
 
I want to thank you for reading my honest Theatrical Escapade thoughts on this movie, so please leave me a comment and let me know whether you agree with me or not.  Until next time, I'm StarBoy91, and may your day shine brightly!  =)
<(^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^)>

StarBoy91's Theatrical Escapade - Unfriended

Written: May 4th-16th, 2015
 
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit, and welcome to my newest (belated) Theatrical Escapade installment regarding the cyberthriller Unfriended.
This movie actually made its debut last year for the Fantasia Film Festival under the name Cybernatural, and only recently it's got a wider theatrical release this April under the newest name Unfriended.  When I first saw the trailer for the movie months back I just could not buy into it; but on April 18th I decided to watch it on a whim (sorta) after having heard a few good things about it and that for a film of its kind it's actually scary horror fare.  I also hear that it's one of the most divisive movies this year, and I can certainly believe that after having watched it.  But from where I stand, it was better and even scarier than I had expected.  O~O
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
Rated: R | Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 | Running Time: 82 Minutes | Director: Levan Gabriadze
During an ongoing nightly Skype chat with Blaire (Shelley Hennig) and her friends a mysterious user signed on as "billie227" has joined in the conversation simultaneously and won't go away.  At first they believe it's a hacker, until it's revealed to them to be Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman) seeking revenge on the sextet for posting an unflattering video of her exactly one year ago, which drove her to commit suicide.  Now her ghost has come back to exact vengeance on them by messing with the software and committing grisly murders, making their night (through Skype) a living cybernatural hell.
 
Unfriended is a pretty interesting take in the horror genre, and considering that it just takes place in one monitor throughout practically the whole movie I'm surprised at how effective it was.  I think part of what makes it effective is that you mainly see the characters react on Skype whenever something big is about to go down, and the actors bring in convincing performances, even when it does get unsettling at times.

I was at the edge of my seat when watching this movie, and part of what attributes to that is the buildup to the inevitable jump scares.  The buildup was succinct in this case, and considering that the movie takes place in real time as opposed to cutting to the next minute or hour or so it wasn't hard to feel nervous because I knew something was going to happen at any time (even while Blaire was browsing online, or when the video feed of a character just freezes), which worked to the movie's advantage.  And despite wanting to see these characters come out alive they're not exactly all that great as people (especially when considering their involvement in Laura's plight), which is an interesting mix.
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
The way in which Laura Barns' ghost intimidates them and tortures them is a bit sadistic and unsettling often times that it borders on ingenious at certain points.  One of the ways she does this is by forcing the living characters to play "I Never", which to be honest I was not aware was an actual game until I saw this movie.  One thing I admired was that at the core of it there's an anti-bulling message, which I thought was a good theme; for there are consequences for (cyber)bulling.  Maybe not to the extremes that the movie presents (obviously), but there are consequences for such negligent actions (which is more the parent or guardian's fault for not being a good role model for the person turned bully than said bully, for parents serve as an influence), but I digress.

As I said though, the movie has gotten some polarizing reactions from critics and people; I notice in some circles that some people genuinely liked it while in another circle people really did not like Unfriended.  Part of that has got to do with the fact that it's all viewed on one monitor and it's nothing but characters reacting to stuff they're seeing, and at eighty minutes I can understand how some people may feel that it's too much to sustain the movie length.  Mercifully short, though.

Unfriended is not a movie for everyone, and I can understand why people may end up not liking it.  But personally, I thought it was a very effectively solid horror film with its own ingenious take in the genre with a strong message (it's good, but not The Conjuring good).  I'm not entirely certain how it's going to work as a franchise, as I hear sequels are being taken into consideration, but I guess we'll see when the time comes.  =)
My Personal Score: 4/5
Stick around, as I return to the Theatrical Escapade series with the latest (April-wise) speed vehicle Furious 7=)
I want to thank you for reading my honest Theatrical Escapade thoughts on this movie, so please leave me a comment and let me know whether you agree with me or not.  Until next time, I'm StarBoy91, and may your day shine brightly!  =)
<(^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^)>

Friday, May 1, 2015

Early Impressions: Yooka-Laylee

Written: May 1st, 2015
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  =)  So, as many gaming enthusiasts may know (and chances are you might already know too), there is a 3D platformer currently in development that's getting a lot of coverage and has a lot of people excited for more reasons than one.  A few months back it was called Project Ukelele, but recently it has been rechristened Yooka-Laylee; which reportedly is going to be like a spiritual follow-up to the cult 1998 Nintendo 64 classic Banjo-Kazooie by Rare.  It's a rather fitting description, really, as it's being worked on by ex-Rare employees forming up the first-time dev team Playtonic Games.
 
And since Yooka-Laylee's announcement days ago, there has been a huge amount of praise from gamers left and right (particularly those who have a fondness for the Nintendo 64) and it's found itself quite a following.  I mean, it's incredible!  The screenshots that were revealed online wowed, the design of the titular duo were well-received, it has reached its targeted Kickstarter fund in less than an hour's time, and there has been a barrage of fan art of Yooka and Laylee within hours of the game's first official announcement.  This has gotten a lot of people excited, and there's so much positive hype it's amazing.
 
With that said, what are my thoughts about this?  Me, I'm really looking forward to this throwback to the 3D platforming genre, and I'm looking forward to playing it.  =)  And it's not just because I, like many, have a fondness for Banjo-Kazooie, though that greatly helps--never played its sequel and spin-offs, but I'm drifting off now.  Part of my excitement comes from its initial presentation, and from what I saw in the screenshots and videos it looks really good; I like the warm color schemes and the effective usage of shading and lighting.  The environments themselves look pretty too.
 
I also like that there's a duo dynamic gameplay like Banjo-Kazooie, and I like the designs of the main characters.  I like the anthropomorphic chameleon design of Yooka, who looks like a mixture of Croc and any of the four protagonists from Chameleon Twist, and he looks adorably charming.  Same goes for his bat friend Laylee, who's got a lighthearted mischievousness yet playful personality about him (at least that's what it seems like to me).  And that's the key word about these characters and game environment we saw so far: "charm", which has won many over.
 
When I first heard of and read more about this game, my one initial qualm was that it would have occasional audio dialogue here and there with characters talking and commentating on things; like a lot of 3D platformers in the past decade--The Simpsons Game, Pac-Man World 3, The Legend of Spyro series, and the more recent Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric.  Audio dialogue would've been the one thing I would not have accepted if it was applied to Playtonic Games' platformer; thankfully that's not going to be the case here (as was evidenced in a behind the scenes video).  And since Yooka-Laylee serves a spiritual follow-up to Banjo-Kazooie, you know exactly what the dialogue sequences will be like.  =)  I also welcome any platformer that's a throwback to the golden age of video gaming; I enjoyed WayForward's DuckTales Remastered, I loved Yacht Club Games' Shovel Knight, and I'm one of the few gamers that actually liked DreamRift's Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion.  And hopefully, I'll find myself enjoying this love letter to Nintendo 64 gamers.
 
And I think that everyone's been itching to play another genuine 3D platformer for some time.  Yes, there have been occasional 3D outings for Mario and Sonic (among others), but in a gaming generation that largely focuses on strategy games and first-person shooters, I will gladly give this game a try when it comes out on the Nintendo Wii U eShop, and I pray to God that Yooka-Laylee delivers and is going to be fun in the long run, for Playtonic Games has got a lot to live up to given the massive amounts of hype it's been receiving.  I'm more of a 16-bit fan myself, and even I can't wait to play this game.  =)
 
That's all I have to say about it for now, thank you for reading my thoughts on this early impressions post, please leave a comment and let me know whether you agree or disagree with my personal thoughts.  For the next few days (before I begin my April Mini-Reviews and start getting more video game reviews done) I will be sharing my belated thoughts on theatrical movies Unfriended and Furious 7, and eventually Avengers: Age of Ultron (after I watch it).  And let me tell you: those two were a more enriching and satisfying experience than it was to watch The Divergent Series: Insurgent combined.  Stay tuned.
 
<(^o^ )^TO EACH THEIR OWN^( ^o^)>

Saturday, April 18, 2015

StarBoy91's March 2015 Mini-Reviews 2/2

Written: April 13th-18th, 2015
 
PART II
King Kong 1933 (iTunes)
1933 RKO Radio Pictures / Turner Entertainment
[Image from Wikipedia]
There is nothing I can say that hasn't been said before pertaining to this movie.  The fact that it's been around for over eighty years is incredible, and while many of its effects have aged a lot by today's standards, at the time it came out it was considered a groundbreaking achievement (especially the blue screen and animatronics),... though I could've done without the (unintentional) rape face Kong makes during certain moments we cut to his mug.
 
And while the acting might be over-the-top for today's standards (Fay Wray's screams, anyone?), that's oddly enough part of its charm.  The story is engaging, and the classic King Kong is a good watch once in awhile filled with (unintentional) hilarity.  Luckily it was successful enough to spawn a franchise, including sequels and reboots, most notably the 1976 and 2005 ones (the former of which I didn't think was that bad, and the latter which I actually genuinely like).  =)
My Personal Score: 4/5
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Kirby and the Rainbow Curse (Nintendo Wii U)
2015 HAL Laboratory (Developer) / Nintendo (Publisher)
[Image from Wikipedia]
[Placeholder for screenshots I'll obtain]
Still trying to reach 100%, but aside from that thoughts are still the same since February=)  Go Clay Kirby!!
My (Tentative) Personal Score: 9.0/10
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National Treasure (DVD)
2004 Buena Vista Pictures
[Image from Wikipedia]
National Treasure is a movie I remember enjoying and admiring a lot back when it came out in theatres, and ten-plus years later I still feel the same way, more or less.  =)
 
Yes, the premise of there being a secret treasure buried by the Founding Fathers is a bit farfetched and silly, but somehow Jon Turteltaub and Jerry Bruckheimer's collaborated effort managed to make it work.  A lot of that is attributed to Nicolas Cage, who is perfect for the role of Ben Gates, mixing in the perfect blend of knowledgeable with quirkiness and perseverance so well.

What I also like is how the characters discuss and try to decode clues that lead to the treasure, which are the best part; and the chemistry between Cage and Diane Kruger is good and appealing, which makes the fact that they broke up (offscreen) in the first half of National Treasure: Book of Secrets a tragedy.  I like the journey the characters take to get to the treasure, and despite being rated PG it surprisingly doesn't feel like a Disney film.  It's also one of the few films where Sean Bean has appeared and didn't die (aside from Troy and one of the recent movies he's been in).

What's great about this movie is that, while a lot of things are fictional in what is otherwise pertaining to history, the way it's setup is enough to make people dream of history and finding lost treasure and treading unknown territory.  =)  It is a fun and engaging movie, and I do think it's a bit underrated; though I do understand some of the negative feedback it's gotten.

I haven't seen Book of Secrets in its entirety since its theatrical run in 2007 and I can only remember bits and pieces of it, but from what I gather it's pretty much the Home Alone 2 of the series... let's hope that when (if) the third movie comes out it doesn't share the same trappings.
My Personal Score: 4/5
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Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday (SNES)
1995 Phoenix Interactive Entertainment (Developer)
Sunsoft/Warner Bros. Consumer Products (Publishers) / Acclaim (Distributor)
Maybe incomplete and far too easy especially on the hardest difficulty setting, the one and only Looney Tunes licensed game with Porky Pig in the lead role is an enjoyable game to play regardless, if only along the lines of guilty pleasure.  =)

The surreal dreamlike atmosphere makes Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday unique among the Looney Tunes games, and what lends it replay value despite what I've stated at the top is the random weather generator; this is a game that I'll be happy to play again and again as any time the game is turned on each stage has got cosmetic changes--in some stages it will either rain or be enshrouded in fog with different foreground objects, and some of the interior areas will slightly look different each time.  It's also a fantastic-looking game with beautiful animations portrayed by each character, though the bulk of the Alps stage has got a putrid brown color scheme.

Yes, it could've benefited itself with bosses that actually challenged you (or actual challenge period) and background music that generally wasn't crap, but at least it plays good.  Makes me wish Porky starred in more platformers. as opposed to just one.  =(
My Personal Score: 6.5/10
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Punky Skunk (PlayStation One)
1996 Ukiyotei (Developer), 1998 Jaleco (Publisher)
Yes, that is its actual (American) name; and understandably, I can see how the prospect of taking control of a skunk in a video game does not sound like a flattering idea.  But, upon playing it after finding out about *sigh* Punky Skunk on a whim, it's actually not that bad.  =)
 
Yeah, the skunk's normal attack is exactly what you think it is (which doesn't exactly help its case), but the best part is how in each stage you can alternate between normal and special mode that help you progress further, such as the rollerblades and the paraglider (with differently-colored jumpsuits no less), in a similar fashion to Maui Mallard making for intuitively good gameplay.  What's refreshing about this PlayStation One title is that it is vintage 2D, with visuals so beautiful and animations so fluid to look at that they could almost belong to a Nintendo 16-bit title.
 
But, as was the case with past Ukiyotei-developed titles Hook and Skyblazer it is easy for its own good (with "hand-holding" advice preceding most boss battles), but there is replay value if you wanted a chance to get extra health power-ups by locating hidden bonus games, plus you can backtrack any time you wish.  After having beaten the game the first time I was surprised to find out how poorly it was received upon release; and I read that the biggest cause for that was the way Jaleco advertised the American version as being extreme when it really wasn't.
 
But aside from people being let down by built-up hype towards what it wasn't, I don't honestly see why many hate this game as it's neither terrible or unplayable, even.  =(  Could it have benefited itself with lots of challenge and slightly less dialogue?  Yeah, but in the end I liked it and that's all that matters.  As a side note, I couldn't help but wonder if Cooly/Punky Skunk was a girl or not because of how breast-like the top of the jumpsuit was, and the in-game sprite of said character looked a little similar to the in-game sprite of Mr. Nutz from his game--must be the white striped tail.
My Personal Score: 7.0/10
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Secret of Evermore (SNES)
1995 SquareSoft
Thoughts have slightly improved upon playing it some more since February, but I'm far from beating it at the moment.  I did, however, complete the Queen Bluegarden segment and stumbled upon a clever Cecil cameo from Final Fantasy IV in the process.  =)  Jeremy Soule's music is still outstanding, and it's so easy to lose myself looking at these surreal environments.
My Personal Score: N/A
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Super Shadow of the Beast (SNES - ROM)
1992 Psygnosis (Would've Been Publisher)
Nothing further from what I talked about for my February Mini-Reviews.
My Personal Score: N/A
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Tetris & Dr. Mario (SNES)
1994 Nintendo
[Image from MobyGames]
Thoughts are still the same I as those I expressed back in February... and yet I still need to play more of it to form a proper opinion on it.
My Personal Score: N/A
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Thor (Blu-Ray)
2011 Paramount
[Image from Rotten Tomatoes]
When I saw that the next character to get a live action treatment would be Thor, I thought it was a great idea since I liked the animated versions of the Thunderer (even ones from the '90s Fantastic Four and The Incredible Hulk shows, even if it was one episode), and when I saw Kenneth Branagh's live action take on big screen in 2011 I was blown away.  =)  Years later, while I still like it, it's not quite as good as I once thought.
 
Chris Hemsworth as the God of Thunder was perfect casting, and as far as coming of age stories go he did a good job of conveying that feel; Anthony Hopkins as King Odin, as odd as it seemed before, really works; and Tom Hiddleston is decent as the trickster Loki (though he does improve with each movie he's in), and for the first time this character was made sympathetic despite his wrongdoing.  And the journey Thor takes to learn humility and become worthy of wielding Mj√∂lnir is fun, and the movie looks really fantastic (especially in Asgard with the gold-layered walls and the rainbow bridge).
 
But where it falters is not Natalie Portman's casting as Jane Foster, for she's pretty solid in the role; it's not the fact that Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye was given very little screen time (though that is too bad); it's not the fact that it's not two hours long.  Rather, what gets to me is how many damn Dutch angles there are in Thor!  I mean, my God, even scenes where we're not supposed to feel intimidated have them!  The battle in Yodenheim was dark and hard to see, the Destroyer has got earshatteringly loud noises whenever they fire (when played in surround sound), and the last third... wait, there was a last third?
 
Luckily the good outweighs the bad; Agent Coulson actually had a point in being here than he did in Iron Man 2, the movie is really good to look at, Patrick Doyle's soundtrack is brilliant as always, and it was largely fun and involving.  The good thing is that the Marvel Cinematic Universe would get better from here.  =)
My Personal Score: 3.5/5
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Weekenders Volume 1, The, Disc 1 (DVD)
2000 Disney
Screengrabs from my Region 1 DVD of The Weekenders Volume 1, Disc 1
The first quarter of one of the best Disney animated series alongside DuckTales and Wander Over Yonder (better, even), the first disc of the first volume of The Weekenders comprises of the very best episodes of the show in my book.  =)
 
The first episode "Crush Test Dummies" does such an impeccable job at establishing its world of Bahia Bay, California and its eponymous foursome that by the time it ends you know all about these characters, and it's only eleven minutes long.  Some other great episodes in this disc are "Sense and Sensitivity", "Home@Work", "Band", "The New Girl", "Party Planning", "Radio Drama", and "The Tradition".  There are some episodes that later on that match in quality, but the show's still fun regardless.
 
I love this show, as it's one of my favorites of all time, and there are so many reasons linked to why that is.  For starters, I like the main characters Tino, Lor, Carver, and Tish, for despite their different personalities and characteristics they are written with so much depth that they are relatable and feel like people I would know in real life (personally, I think of myself to be a lot like Tino personality- and quirk-wise).  The world of Bahia Bay is also fantastic, and my favorite thing about it is how each weekend the pizza place has a different theme each time (one week it'll be space-themed and the next it'll be courthouse-themed), which is so genuinely funny and interesting that it makes me wonder where the pizza guy finds the budget to cover all that.  XD
 
Something that's rare among the animated media is the fact that the characters actually change clothing with each passing day, which I find awfully refreshing (the only other instance I can think of where that happened is Kim Possible); and while it may have been made at a time when animation wasn't quite as polished as it is today, it is largely very good and articulately fluid in motion.  But my favorite thing about the series is the writing and the humor, which makes it genuinely funny when the moment calls for it (a lot of the banter between the four is funny, and Lor provides the best lines despite not being the brightest in he group).  =)
 
The Weekenders is such a smartly-written show that explores differing issues with a clever energy and perfect pacing, bookending each episode with strong morals: like how it's all right to compete so long as you don't let it go over your head, how days doesn't necessarily have to go as you plan, and how most things are manageable with groups as opposed to being done by yourself.
 
I have considered covering these episodes individually, but I hope the way I covered the first quarter of this show was sufficient enough.
My Personal Score: 5/5
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Weekenders Volume 1, The, Disc 2 (DVD)
2000-2001 Disney
Screengrabs from my Region 1 DVD of The Weekenders Volume 1, Disc 2
So I had to browse Wikipedia for the episode titles because I didn't know all of them offhand (and they're only listed in the in-disc menus) and apparently some of the episodes that should've been included in this disc were instead replaced with ones that should've been in the Volume 2 2-disc DVD set (which would explain some continuity gaps in said Volume).  At least the first disc of The Weekenders Volume 1 had all the episodes in their correct order.  Regardless, it's still a fantastic show.  =)
 
Some of the better episodes here are:
 
"Diary" - Carver, Lor, and Tino are under the impression that Tish is moving away after Carver reads her diary by accident so they try to make this weekend one to remember.
 
"Dixon" - the first full-length episode of the series which marks the debut of Tino's Mom's soon to be boyfriend Dixon, which all four Weekenders like; especially Tino, who wants her to be with him.
 
"To Tish" - one of the first episodes where characters are now fully shaded as opposed to mostly flat where Tish's friends use her name as a way to tease her, which everyone else starts using much to Tish's dismay.
 
"Tickets" - for being the Snack Shack's 1,000,001st customer (seriously) Tino is given two passes to go to the Chum Bukket concert, unfortunately he's put in a predicament where he must choose which one of his friends and which two to leave behind.
 
"My Punky Valentine" - Tino gets a crush on punk girl Tasha, so he tries to get her to notice him; but his friends Lor, Carver, and Tish try veer him off that route by trying to get him to have a crush on someone else, even an unexpected animated cameo from Jennifer Love Hewitt.
 
"Crushin' Roulette" - since her friends all have dates Tish tries to force herself to have a crush on someone so she wouldn't be left out anymore, wanting to date the right person.
 
Every other episode is great, but since 2001 the episodes have had a complete revamp on Funville's exterior design, and the (impressive) for its time 3D shooting game has been rescinded from the series almost entirely.  =(  But that's made up for by what is perhaps the best meta humor ever: "But I do know one thing: we are not a bunch of made up TV characters... OR ARE WE?"  >=D  "Well, later days!"  =)  Hahaha, I love that!  XD
My Personal Score: 4.5/5
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Ys IV: Mask of the Sun (SFC)
1993 Tonkin House (Developer and Publisher) / Nihon Falcom (Licensor)
Of all Adol Christin's adventures on the Nintendo 16-bit console, this one is just the best in my opinion.  =)  The simple shoving controls from the first two Ys games are intuitive as ever and a welcome addition since the third game went in a different direction, and it's a very involving adventure.  It's also nice to see some of the environments and characters from Ys Book I & II once more.
 
I like the sense of atmosphere (like the cave with the icy reflections on the ground and the abandoned ruins) and the mostly rock-based soundtrack is really great, and the bosses are huge and animate greatly, but the only downside is that level-grinding takes awhile to accomplish near the end of the game (try less an hours' time); but at least there's enough challenge to make it satisfying and at least you don't reach the level cap not even halfway through the game (unlike the SNES version of Ys III: Wanderers from Ys).  Ys IV: Mask of the Sun is a bunch of fun to play, and it's a shame this iteration of the fourth chapter was never given its (official) Western due.  =(
 
I still never played either non-canon Ys IV: The Sun of Ys by Hudson Soft or now officially canon fourth Ys chapter by Nihon Falcom themselves Ys: Memories of Celceta, so I can't make any comparison.
My Personal Score: 9.0/10
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<(^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^)>
I'm StarBoy91, and may your day shine brightly!  =)
--
Thank you for reading my March 2015 Mini-Reviews, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  Hope you have a great day, take care!  =D

Sunday, April 12, 2015

StarBoy91's March 2015 Mini-Reviews 1/2

Written: April 11th-12th, 2015
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit... and as of this year sharer of media I've played and watched during each month.  =)  For my March '15 Mini-Reviews I covered twenty-four subjects, which I will split into two parts; and the reason I didn't start making this log at the beginning of the month was because I wanted to make way for my birthday review on April 5th.
 
Before I start, here's some things that occurred last month: we lost Windell "Kirby Morris" Middlebrooks of The Suite Life on Deck fame and other media at a young age of 36 (which will make watching anything he was in never the same again; may he rest in peace) and the state of Indiana has gotten itself a hugely controversial bill that even its residents object to; I would say more in that regard, but there's been so much coverage on it that I don't even have to say what it is.

As always, this is based on my personal opinion, and if you do not agree with it, that's fine; to each their own.  But please be civil about it.
 
Anywho, let's get crackin'!  =)
 
PART I
Bonkers (SNES)
1994 Capcom
[Placeholder for screenshots I'll obtain]
Thoughts haven't changed since I first played it back in January, but I still think it's a good platformer while it lasts, even if it is easy and has elements that feel highly derivative from other games in the genre.
My Personal Score: 7.5/10
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Breakfast Club, The (Theatres)
1985 Universal
[Image from Movie Newz website]
Considering that The Breakfast Club is a quintessential classic and one of the best movies from the late John Hughes, as well as one of my favorites, I could not pass the opportunity to see it on the big screen during its limited 30th anniversary two-day engagement.  =)
 
What I like the most about the movie is how it starts off with the five members of their own clique not wanting to have anything to do with each other during one day in detention and the more time passes the more they not only start getting respect for each other but they also gradually open up about their problems (its symbolism via their shedding their own clothing is clever) and why they are serving detention, ultimately revealing that their circumstances are more similar than they initially want to admit.  It's an intelligently written and deep film, and the young quintet are so relatable that they feel like people you could meet in real life (some more than others).
 
As serious as it could get with its story, it's watchable and engaging especially due the fact that there are genuinely funny moments sprinkled here and there (like Bender's suave reaction after having fallen through a ventilation system, and Allison's quirky mannerisms).  I love this movie, and its honesty regarding the subject matter makes it really great.  I would say more, but you probably know all about it.
My Personal Score: 5/5
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Cinderella 2015 (Theatres)
2015 Disney
[Image from Rotten Tomatoes]
The fact that I loved every minute of Kenneth Branagh's traditional live-action take on both Charles Perrault's Cendrillon fairy tale and the 1950 animated Cinderella really speaks levels as to what a milestone it is in an age where most directors would opt for revisionism that incorporate major twists.  None of that is here, which is refreshing for a change in said age, and all for the best in my book.
 
I loved this movie, as I stated in my review of it=)  It was charming, it was magical, it was sweet, it looked and sounded beautiful, it was well-cast, many of the characters were given depth and were well-realized, it was enjoyably fun, and it was feel-good entertainment for me.  =)  I can't remember the last time I came out of a Disney live action movie where I was satisfied from beginning to end.  Well done, Kenneth, well done!
 
I hope Bill Condon's live action Beauty and the Beast will be this good when it comes out two years from now.
My Personal Score: 5/5
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Divergent (iTunes)
2014 Summit Entertainment
[Image from Rotten Tomatoes]
When this movie came out a lot of people ended up not liking it, though personally I didn't mind Neil Burger's adaptation of the first in Veronica Roth's Divergent trilogy (all three which I had read before it came out in theatres).  =)  I can certainly understand its backlash though, even when compared to the (superior) Hunger Games series.
 
As the titular Divergent Tris Prior, Shailene Woodley was perfect for the role, for she managed to capture her traits and character well, and part of the movie's success for me is because of her performance.  Her chemistry with co-star Theo James' Four was also likable, and the whole middle act portion was the best part involving the training and striving to survive as Dauntless lest you'll be kicked out and become Factionless.  The zipline scene was breathtakingly beautiful, the capture the flag scene was fun, and one of the scenes near the end is a tearjerker.
 
That said there are things which I didn't like; I'm sure Ansel Elgort must be a nice guy in real life, but his Caleb Prior is insufferable and I don't like any scene with him (reason being: he's a douchebag that doesn't know he's a douchebag, which was a thing in the novels, which is apt-presented here and in the sequel, which is a negative for me), and Miles Teller's Peter was despicable (but thankfully no more despicable than Jai Courtney's Eric).  For the most part the movie follows the structure of the written work, but when it comes to the third act with the climax it's reworked to make it more interesting for the visual medium.
 
It's also a bit gritty at times, but aside from those negatives I liked Divergent and I think it's commendable how Burger managed to condense four-hundred fifty pages' worth of material to (almost) two and a half hours.  Too bad the only way to go from here is down.  =(
My Personal Score: 3.5/5
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Divergent Series, The: Insurgent (Theatres)
2015 Summit Entertainment
[Image from Rotten Tomatoes]
I shared my thoughts on this movie last month, so I don't feel I need to say too much here.  As someone who personally enjoyed Divergent, even I felt that Robert Schwentke's movie adaptation of Insurgent left a lot to desire.  Drastically different structure, many changes that stem away from the written source material, overt lack of character development, twenty minutes shorter than it needed to be, and even more grittier and desaturated than before.
 
On the plus side, Shailene Woodley is still fantastic as Tris Prior, even if some of her actions do not make her seem flattering, though she does look great with shorter hair.  At least it's not down to the same level as R.I.P.D. was.
My Personal Score: 3/5
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Drakkhen (SNES)
1989 Infogrames (Developer), 1991 Kemco-Seika (Publishers)
I published my review of this SNES port of Drakkhen for the date of my birthday, which is why I started March's Mini-Reviews so late (that, and I wanted to leave enough time for readers to get a chance to read it before moving on to the next subject).  Now I do concede that there are a lot of problems, and that as a game it fails due to lacking enough depth to justify it as thus; what I will say is that it is a well-crafted tech demo.  =)
 
While the visuals have aged in certain respects, I think it's impressive how much Mode 7 Kemco-Seika managed to incorporate to give the Isle of the Drakkhen a 3D look and feel, and the way that day gradually transitions to night and vice versa is incredible.  I also give props to the slap bass and electric piano music, for which without it the respective areas would lack effectiveness.
 
What also helps is how moody and mysterious each setting is, not to mention the vast array of weirdness that is sprinkled throughout, making Drakkhen a unique entry in the A-RPG genre.  If you want to read the rest of my thoughts on it you can click the review link to read about it; what I didn't mention in it was that I personally prefer this title to its Nintendo 16-bit exclusive "sequel" Dragon View if only for those qualities alone.
My Personal Score: 6.0/10
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Gargoyle's Quest: Ghosts'n Goblins (Game Boy)
1990 Capcom
[Image from MobyGames]
[Placeholder for screenshots I'll obtain]
Since I was curious to try my hand at Firebrand's trilogy of adventures, I thought it appropriate to start from the beginning.  And, for Capcom's first game that they made on the Game Boy, it's pretty good.  =)
 
Gargoyle's Quest: Ghosts'n Goblins controls decently, has got neat atmospheric visuals, and it's a clever hybrid of both the action/platforming and RPG genres, where it alternates between the two if you're out of danger or not.  I liked the idea of a ghoul realm, and it's got ingenious-looking bosses.
 
If there's anything wrong with the game it's partly the structure of the controls, the fact that an enemy or boss must be onscreen in order for Firebrand's attacks to make contact with them, its partly bad translation, and how after you defeat the penultimate boss there is no going back and if you decide to start again at a later time you must start going to and beat the penultimate castle again if you want to reach the final destination.  That bit is frustrating, I haven't beaten it yet, but I am close to doing so.  =)
My Personal Score: N/A
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Great Circus Mystery starring Mickey & Minnie, The (Genesis)
1994 Capcom
As someone who personally loves and enjoys the middle of chapter of Capcom's Mickey's Magical Adventure trilogy on the Nintendo 16-bit console, I knew before buying the Sega 16-bit edition that there would be minor differences going in.  That said, though, I was pleased to find that none of the likable charm and the polished quality of the controls have been lost in transition (in fact, it's pretty on par), as either version is still fun to play.  =)  It's a minor stepdown from the previous version, but it's not bad in my book.
 
Many of its differences are minor to say the least, though there are two that stand out: they are the decrepit and crumbling room in the Haunted Mansion (existing only in this version) before facing the Emperor Pete painting midboss, and the snow cloud boss in Frozen Plains still attacks the same only its cloud particles feel a bit detached this time around.

While the controls are pretty much the same, I keep doing a double take when it comes to switching and changing costumes (as the setup made sense in the SFC/SNES original); and ironically much of the music actually works better here (in tinny sound samples) than it did in the (better sounding) aforementioned Nintendo 16-bit version (even though the soundtrack was largely unspectacular compared to the first and third Mickey's Magical Adventure of the series).  And while the colors may have lost their freshness, it still looks great here.  =)
My Personal Score: 8.0/10
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Hunger Games, The: Mockingjay Part 1 (Blu-Ray)
2014 LionsGate
[Image from Rotten Tomatoes]
No, Francis Lawrence's (no relation to Jennifer Lawrence) first half of Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay is not as great as Gary Ross' The Hunger Games or even Lawrence's The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and it does end on an incomplete cliffhanger.  That said, I do actually like this movie and back when it was in theatres I saw the very first showing of it (which plays hours prior to midnight).  But I can see why anyone else wouldn't.
 
It's not as action-driven as its predecessors, but it is a well-done movie nonetheless.  I liked the rebel base setting and how it largely focused on these events from Katniss' point of view, and the atmosphere is a bit unsettling (particularly when Katniss discovers firsthand what happened to her fallen District, and one of the final scenes is intens).  Jennifer Lawrence is once again excellent as the Girl on Fire, for her performance is really great and in-depth.  The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman played a really good Plutarch Heavensbee, and Julianne Moore's Alma Coin surpassed my expectations considering I'm usually not a fan of Moore's, but I liked her here.
 
I will concede how it can feel slow-paced at times, and how it admittedly feels like not much happens.  I honestly didn't mind Mockingjay when I read it years ago, and personally I look forward to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 this November (even though I know exactly how the series is gonna wrap up).  I also give props to the "Hanging Tree" song, as I felt it was the best thing about the movie.  =)
My Personal Score: 4/5
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Incredible Hulk, The (Blu-Ray)
2008 Universal
[Image from Wikipedia]
The second MCU movie in the series is the only one that was distributed by Universal, because Ang Lee's 2003 take on the green giant was also distributed by the same company.  The first time I saw it many years ago I couldn't get into it wholly, but having seen it recently not only did I get the most of it, but I actually enjoyed it for what it is.  =)
 
Don't get me wrong, it's not without its problems: notably its attempts at sequel-baiting despite being a stand-alone film (the scene of Tim Blake Nelson's Dr. Sterns becoming the Leader?  Gone nowhere because producers and Hollywood execs wanted Abomination as played by Tim Roth), and at times it could be heavy handed and dramatic.
 
I liked some of its music (this touching theme is what sticks out the most for me), and the relationship between Edward Norton's Bruce Banner and Liv Tyler's Elisabeth Ross was likable and you hope they overcome the impossible and stay together always despite Bruce turning into the Incredible Hulk whenever he's angry.  The effects for when he's the Hulk are great, and the final confrontation was alright (despite being shot at dark).
 
The best part of the movie, of course, is the Robert Downey Jr. cameo in the end, and considering that Jon Favreau's Iron Man and Louis Leterrier's The Incredible Hulk came out during the same Summer that's a pretty neat feat and they established the post-credits Avengers lead-in segments well.  Sadly, before we got to the good stuff, we had to sit through Favreau's follow-up to the former two years later.
My Personal Score: 3.5/5
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Iron Man (Blu-Ray)
2008 Paramount
[Image from Rotten Tomatoes]
To prepare for the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, I decided to prep myself by watching the MCU universe movies from the start, beginning with Jon Favreau's Iron Man.  My God, this movie is near perfection=D  Not just that, but the movie has a different feel than other Marvel entries that followed, and comparatively speaking it's the most serious of them all (with a touch of low-key humor here and there).
 
I knew of the origin of Tony Stark becoming Iron Man prior to watching it, but the way it was presented in live action format felt so well-realized, dark, and gritty.  Robert Downey Jr. was the perfect choice for the role, for he plays it so well he literally becomes his own.  His love interest and secretary Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is great as well, and I love the way they play off of each other.  Jeff Bridges did a succinct job at giving Obadiah Stane depth.
 
Even though Iron Man served as the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, what amazes me is how it almost works as an excellent standalone film--one that most MCU entries would try to attain matching quality, but very few would succeed.  It's insightful, it's fresh, it's inspiring, it's heart-stopping, it's poignant, it's funny, it's incredible, it's engaging, and it's unpredictable.  One of the best (if not the best) Marvel movies out there.  =)
My Personal Score: 5/5
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Iron Man 2 (DVD)
2010 Paramount
Screengrabs from my Region 1 DVD of Iron Man 2
Out of all the MCU movies that I watched in order to prepare myself for the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron this May, the first Iron Man sequel was one I was looking forward to revisiting the least.  That's not to say it's a bad movie, but it was clear that meeting the high quality standards set by its predecessor was far beyond its reach.
 
Robert Downey Jr. is still great as the duo Tony Stark and Iron Man, and his interactions with Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts were fun as always.  While initially I couldn't wrap my head around Don Cheadle taking over the role of James Rhodes replacing Terence Howard, I warmed up to it by the time Iron Man 3 came out (especially since he's great).  What took me by surprise was how they turned senile competitor Justin Hammer into an over-the-top goof portrayed by young Sam Rockwell; he's okay in short bursts.
 
Making her first appearance as the Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson is cool, and she does show off her action chops; unfortunately it's required to be seen roughly an hour and a half into the movie.  Part of Iron Man 2's problem is that it just is a slog to sit through, and anytime the movie doesn't focus on Tony or Iron Man building things and kicking ass it lingers on longwinded court scenes or insufferable scenes of Hammer failing to understand Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko or Tony being a drunk douche at his own birthday party (in his Iron Man suit) or Agent Coulson's appearance here that went (for the most part) nowhere.  And the final confrontation (this time alongside War Machine)?  It's a repeat of the final confrontation of the first movie!
 
Oh yeah, and it was great to see more of Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury here, even if he was here for a total of, what, ten-fifteen minutes.  I remember liking Iron Man 2 a lot back when it first came out in theatres five years ago, but time has not done it well and the more I see it the less I grow fond of it.  The most positive thing I can say about it is that it would lead to Kenneth Branagh's Thor.
My Personal Score: 2.5/5
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<(^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^)>