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^)>