Sunday, August 31, 2014

Frozen vs The Wind Rises: You Decide

Frozen and The Wind Rises, the two most highly regarded animated features of last year, and at the Oscars this past March, they dueled for the Best Animated Feature Award. While Frozen might have won the Oscar, is it really the best animated film of last year? Today you, the reader, will decide which film you think should have won the Oscar, and on Monday and Tuesday I will post my full review of both films so that you will know what my opinion of which film should have won. Of course, many readers probably have yet to see The Wind Rises, and if that is the case, just vote for Frozen, or go watch The Wind Rises. Now let the battle begin!
In this corner we have the fourth highest grossing film of all-time, Frozen! From Disney Animation and directors, Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, Frozen is a fantasy musical, and since I am sure almost everyone has seen the film, a plot summary is unnecessary. 
Across the ring we have the final film from legendary director Hayao Miyazaki, and one of Studio Ghibli's most recent features, The Wind Rises! The Wind Rises follows Jiro Horikoshi, the man responsible for designing several of Japan's airplanes used during World War II, most notably the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter. It follows Jiro from his childhood to the role he played in designing the machines of war.

Which do you prefer? Is there another animated film from last year that you think should have won? Or do you abstain? Please comment and check back tomorrow for my review of Frozen followed by my Wind Rises review on Tuesday.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

New Hunger Games: Mockingjay Posters

New posters for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay have been released featuring Gale, as well as several new characters. From what I understand, the posters are of a television propaganda group working for the resistance, but of course they are heavily armed. Since I do not want to know any spoilers, I have avoided further details. Among the new cast members includes Game of Thrones and Elementary actress, Natalie Dormer, who plays Cressida in the film. What do you think of the posters? Please comment below and check out the new trailer for another upcoming film that I posted about today by clicking here.

Some how Google created this gif from my pictures automatically! It is actually kind of cool!

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New Studio Ghibli Movie: Tale of Princess Kaguya Trailer

The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Studio Ghibli's film that is finally making its way to a wide release outside of Japan with an English dub, and the English trailer has now been released. The Tale of Princess Kaguya was originally released in November of last year, and it was Ghibli's second to last film released before the temporary closure. The Tale of Princess Kaguya is based on Japan's oldest known narrative, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, and it is directed by Ghibli legend Isao Takahata, who has directed films such as Grave of the Fireflies, Pom Poko, and My Neighbors the Yamadas. From the trailer, it is clear that the film is taking a visually different style than most other Ghibli films, with a style more akin to My Neighbors the Yamadas. The English dub cast includes Chloë Grace Moretz, Lucy Liu, and James Marsden. The film is set to be released on October 17, 2014. What do you think of the trailer? Are you excited to see the film? Please comment below and let me know.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

The Lego Movie Spoilers and References

Since The Lego Movie was such an awesome movie, I wanted to talk about spoilers. So, if you have not seen The Lego Movie, be sure to go watch the movie right now and then come back to review and comment. Also, if you are still not convinced, click here to read my review for the film. 

The Ultimate Crossover Movie
How many movies are you going to see that features Batman, Gandalf, Han Solo, Dumbledore, TMNT, and Shaquille O'Neal in the same movie? Seriously, outside of fanfic, The Lego Movie is the only place where any of these things can happen. Interestingly, Warners Bros, the company behind the Lego Movie, is the productions studio behind the Hobbit, Harry Potter, and DC, so getting those franchises is not particularly difficult. However, Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a few others are not disturbed by Warner Bros, so I am interested in how they were able to get the rights to use all of those franchises. Even though Lego itself has the rights to the toys, that is entirely different than film rights to the characters, even if they are in toy form. In future films, maybe the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter will play a larger role, maybe with Harry Potter or Bilbo being a main character instead of just Batman. 

The Millennium Falcon!
My favorite and most unexpected part of the entire movie is when the Millennium Falcon just appears out of nowhere! Even though Star Wars is Lego's most successful and popular franchise, Disney owns Star Wars and Disney also knows Marvel, and Warner Bros and DC are their rivals, granted, DC has been kind of a pushover lately. Maybe the deal to use Star Wars was made before Disney bought Star Wars. Either way, getting to hear Billy Dee Williams and Anthony Daniels reprise their roles as Lando and C3PO was so awesome! Keith Ferguson voiced Han Solo, and he has voiced Han in Robot Chicken and MadTV's parodies in the past, so he did a fine job in the brief role. The classic Star Wars music was even used! I might even go as far to say that this is the best Star Wars reference/crossover in any film. Another awesome part of the cameo is that it actually plays an important part of the story!

The Man Upstairs
Despite the movie referencing "The Man Upstairs" with a human hand, I thought it was only humorous way to reference how the Legos were created by people. To my utter shock, however, "The Man Upstairs" is actually Will Ferrell's character in live-action! Thankfully the twist was never hinted at or spoiled since the film's release. In my review, you may remember me referring to a theme that I disagreed with and that is how the movie was almost against model builders. It was not trying to be offensive and I ultimately did not care that much, but it was still kind of odd considering that most of the adult Lego fanbase that create the awesome things for Legoland and such do use glue and such. Speaking of glue, the use of nail polish, glue, and the "Exact 0 Knife" was hilariously clever!

The Justice League

Two years before DC's trinity finally hits theaters, The Lego Movie beats them to the punch with Wonder Woman's first theatrical appearance. Oddly enough, she is voiced by Cobie Smulders, who is known for her role in the Marvel franchise as Agent Hill, so she is yet another actor to play both a Marvel and DC character. Another Marvel/DC crossover is Channing Tatum as Superman, who will now be playing Gambit in the X-Men films. Another fun fact is that Green Lantern is voiced by Jonah Hill, and the directors of the Lego Movie are same ones that directed 21 Jump Street, so we basically have a 21 Jump Street reunion with Lord, Miller, Tatum, and Hill.

Gandalf and Dumbledore

Despite not being voiced by their live-action actors, two master wizards, Gandalf and Dumbledore, make a brief appearance as Vitruvius mistakes Gandalf for Dumbledore and then mispronounces Dumbledore's name. For the first time, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter have an official crossover! Also, one of the realms is called "Middle Zealand," which is an obvious on Middle Earth from the Lord of the Rings, which is filmed in New Zealand.

"He's the hero you deserve"
Towards the end of the movie, Batman tells Wyldstyle "He's the hero you deserve," of course referring to Emmet. If anyone is familiar with Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, this is kind of a reference to Gordon's line "Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now." Also, Bad/Good Cop is voiced by Liam Neeson, who played the main antagonist in Batman Begins, so when Batman fights Bad Cop it is almost like a meta reunion.

If anyone is interested, I might write a post about what I want to see in the sequel? Please comment below and let me know.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Avatar: The Last Airbender Book 1 Review

Avatar: The Last Airbender, the absurdly popular animated fantasy epic that is not to be confused with James Cameron's Avatar or the wretched M. Night Shyamalan feature film.
Book 1, aka season 1, of The Last Airbender follows Aang, a boy who was found frozen in ice by the siblings, Katara and Sokka, of the Water tribe. Aang is the Avatar, a "Chosen One" of sorts that must master the four elements of bending, Wind, Water, Earth, and Fire to bring balance to the world. For a better explanation of the series' setting, watch the short 30 second intro to the series. 

Being that the Avatar franchise, including The Legend of Korra, probably has the largest fanbase among animated series in America, I decided to give the series a watch, and it did not disappoint, for the most part anyway. My standards for animation is rather high considering my strong interest in Japanese animation, which almost always rivals anything the west produces, so I went into Avatar with heavy skepticism. Compared to the great dramatic heights anime can achieve, Avatar holds ups rather well. There are still parts that remind that Avatar was originally intended for a younger audience, but the series has plenty to offer for older viewers, who are willing to get past the slow start. 

The Good: Impressive action scenes, Serialized storytelling, Often hilarious, Surprisingly serious when the need arises, Epic finale, Likable characters, Solid character development, Great soundtrack, Heavy Asian influences, Notable guest actors, Intriguing mythos, Mature story elements later in the season,

The Bad: A few weak episodes, Childish moments are distracting, Slow start, 

Plot: 7.7/10- One of Avatar's strengths is how effectively the world is realized. The Fire Nation, the main opposing force of the series, is similar to many other evil empires in fiction and history: they want to conquer the known. A lot the visual and story elements are taken from Asian culture, particularly Chinese and some Japanese.
There are some complex themes being thrown around in the series, and it works for the most part. Also, the series is mostly serialized with a clear end point in mind, which helps to prevent the series from wandering too much. On the negative side, there are still moments throughout the series that remind me that Avatar was originally intended for a younger audience. While the series turn towards a slightly more serious side in the second half of the series, the first half can be a little difficult to get through, especially the first few episodes. 
However, the finale had an almost Lord of the Rings level of epicness with real consequences, which is not found in American animation outside of a few series like The Clone Wars and Paul Dini's work in DC animation. Interesting, Star Wars: The Clone Wars creator, Dave Filoni, directed several episodes of Avatar, most of which were noticeably higher quality thanks to his skillful direction. In addition, the finale of the series shows true promise of the quality and seriousness that the series can display.

Characterization: 8.0/10- The Last Airbender mostly follows the trio of protagonists, Aang, Katara, and Sokka, as well as the series main antagonists Zuko, Iroh, and Admiral Zhao. While not perfect (or nearly as strong as later seasons), Avatar's characters is one of its strongest aspects.
Aang is the Avatar and the last of the Airbenders, hence the name of the series. He is an impatience kid, who is already proficient at Airbending. Throughout the series, he develops as a character, and must face his mistakes that lead the Fire Nation to becoming the overwhelmingly powerful force that it is at the present, although his naivety can become a little annoying in the early part of the series.
Katara is the only Waterbender of her tribe in the South Pole. Her Waterbending skills are not particularly strong at first, but they grow as the series continues. At one point, her powers progress from being relatively skillful to mastery in a matter of a few episodes without a clear amount of time being given, which is odd.
Sokka, one of my favorite characters, is the older brother of Katara and while he does not have the ability to Waterbend, he wants to be a valiant warrior like his father. Of the three main characters, Sokka demonstrates the most character development. Since he does not have any powers, it seems as though the series has more time to devote to his character, rather bending.
Zuko, the outcast son of the Firelord, must capture the Avatar to redeem his honor and return from his exile. At first, Zuko seems like a typical cartoon villain that combats the hero every episode, but the series shows some interesting backstory and surprisingly complex character depth later in the season.
Iroh, uncle of Zuko and brother of the Firelord, is a comedic relief character of sorts that helps Zuko on his quest. He is not evil, nor is he good, but morally ambiguous. He is often hilarious, and one of the best parts of the series.
Admiral Zhao is another main antagonist that often clashes with both Zuko and the Avatar. He is not particularly fleshed out, but he is an imposing villain that serves his purpose.
Of course, I could not forget the two animal sidekicks Appa and Momo. For the record, Appa is probably the coolest furry sidekick since Chewbacca!

Action: 8.2/10- Almost every episode of the series ends in an action scene, and while some feel obligatory, most of the time the use of element bending is impressive to watch. Each style of bending is inspired by different forms of Chinese martial arts, which are fun to watch in action.
Acting: 7.5/10- For the most part, the main cast is fine in their roles, but become better as the series progresses. On one hand, the side characters, particularly in the first half, feature some weak performances, although the second half maintains a higher quality of voice acting. A few notable voices actors like Jennifer Hale, who is famous for her roles as the female version of Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect franchise, as well as Bastila in the Knights of the Old Republic video game series. 

Art Style: 7.5/10- Avatar's animation is said to have been inspired by Shinichiro Watanabe's work on Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, as well as Gainax's FLCL (Fooly Cooly) and the works of Studio 4°C, Production I.G, and Studio Ghibli. Despite being an American animation studio, the eastern influences can be seen in the eyes and the smaller techniques such as occasionally exaggerated animations for comedic effect and a slight red coloring when a character blushes.
Overall, the series' animation is still heavily western in style, for better or worse. In some ways, Avatar reminded me of a Japanese shounen series with its comedic tone and amount action, and while it is not as mature as a lot of anime, it holds up rather well in comparison. Unfortunately, the actual quality of the animation suffers compared to current animation since there has yet to be a HD/Blu-Ray remastering of it, so the edges of the animation are still a little rough at times. 

Soundtrack: 8.3/10- Jeremy Zuckerman's Asian inspired score perfectly suits Avatar's setting. There are some seriously strong tracks throughout.

Humor: 8.4/10- Even though some of the humor is annoyingly childish at times, the series at be truly hilarious. Several scenes and remarks from Iroh and Sokka had me in stitches from laughing so much. 

Entertainment Value: 8.0/10- After forcing myself to slog through the first episodes, which are not necessarily bad, but not my style, I enjoyed my time with the series. It was not until the later part of the series where I became attached to the characters did I truly enjoy it.

Overall: 7.7/10- Despite some early issues, Avatar: The Last Airbender is an entirely enjoyable experience for audiences of all ages, although the series' best is most definitely its finale few episodes. Also, for an anime fan such as myself, Avatar maintains a high enough level of quality for me to give it a watch, plus the series has a massive fanbase, including many of my friends.

(Retrospective) Closing comments: Even though I wrote this review before continuing with the series, I want to say that Book 1 of Avatar is easily the weakest of the series with the later seasons and The Legend of Korra ranging from great to truly amazing. If you are interested in the franchise, definitely give Avatar a watch, even if the first season is a little slow.

Recommended for: Animation fans, Fantasy fans, Action fans, Epic fans,

To read more of my animation reviews, you can click here.
Review by Shena Tokala

Also, if you have reviewed this series, leave a comment with a link to your review and I will post it here (providing it does not contain any explicit content).

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Lego Movie Review

The Lego Movie, a movie where "Everything is Awesome!" The Lego Movie follows Emmet Brickowski, an unremarkable guy that finds a legendary thing called "The Special," which is the only thing that can save the Lego realms from the plans of the evil Lord Business. 
If I had to choose one toy as my favorite, Legos would win by a long shot. When I was a kid, I had a ton of Legos, and I even made Stop Motion Lego movies for several years, which you can see by clicking here. So, if you played with Legos as a kid (or still do now, or have kids), you are almost guaranteed to enjoy this movie.

Directed by: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy, 
Release Date: February 7, 2014
Running Time: 100 minutes
MMPA rating: PG

The Good: 100% entertaining throughout, Clever jokes, Batman is hilarious, Thematically strong, Fun action sequences, All-star voice cast, Unexpected references, Amazing animation, Likable characters, Extreme attention to detail, Shocking plot twist, Unbelievably smart elements, Great soundtrack, Often hysterical, "Everything is Awesome" is awesome, Memorable quotes,

The Bad:

Plot: 9.5/10- The Lego Movie's plot somewhat satires typical movie clichés, while also throwing in some very unique elements. It actually reminds me a lot of The Matrix, in the best ways possible, but it ultimately subverts some of the clichés. Also, The Lego Movie is the first family film to ever truly surprise me. Seriously, there are a few parts of the movie that had me completely floored.
Themes in family movies are about as simple as they come, and even the critically lauded ones like Toy Story never resonate with me. However, The Lego Movie actually hits the mark with surprisingly mature anti-Communism/Fascism themes with everyone being told and brainwashed to always "Follow the instructions," by watching the same TV show, do the same thing, and listen to the same song. Some might interpret it as anti-big-business, but I do not really see it in that way, since free market capitalism and creativity is what the movie is about. However, there is one aspect towards the end of the film that I do disagree with thematically, but it is not enough to affect my enjoyment. Also, the movie does lean towards being a tad sappy for about two minutes, but quickly goes back to being fun.

Characterization: 9.1/10- Surprisingly, there is character development in The Lego Movie with its cast of fun and likable characters. Even the ones that are not given much screen time are fun and memorable. Emmet is the main protagonist, and in many ways he is a satire of the typical "Chosen One" archetype. Wyldstyle is a fun tsundere type character, who has her own character arc. Batman is, well, Batman! He is everything great about Batman, but with a lot of self parody humor, which is great!

Action: 8.7/10- Due to the Lego visual style, the directors could do a lot more with the action scenes compared to a typical PG animated film. There are several entertaining shootouts and chase scenes that utilize the unique quality of the Legos for maximum effect. In the movie, there is even a clever heist scene!

Acting: 9.4/10- Chris Pratt knocks it out of the ballpark as Emmet selling the humor flawlessly.  
Will Arnett is one of the many highlights of the film as Batman giving a positively hilarious performance! Liam Neeson as Bad Cop/Good Cop is very funny throughout. Will Ferrell as Lord Business kills it in his role, and Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius provides the epicness that one expects from Morgan Freeman. Interestingly, Marvel vet, Cobie Smulders, voices Wonder Woman along with Channing Tatum as Superman and Jonah Hill as Green Lantern, all of whom are hilarious in their bit parts. 

Art Style: 10/10- The Lego Movie's attention to detail in the animation is beyond absurd! Literally every tiny detail is animated using Lego bricks of some kind, even the explosions and fire. Imitating the stop motion style, opposed to the completely CGI look of the Lego video games, is brilliant! Everything looks and feels so perfect; I cannot believe the creators pulled it off. In terms of detail, you can see the small seams where the Legos are molded with the Lego hands, and virtually everything is accurate to how Legos are build. Also, the credits looked like actual stop motion, which is awesome!

Soundtrack: 8.7/10- The main score from Mark Mothersbaugh actually has a lot of range from the fun and happy tunes of certain parts of the film, to the more epic ones of the later action sequences; everything works. As for the song, "Everything is Awesome," it is catchy and absurd. After listening to it work and reading about it, the song is actually a parody on fascism and brainwashing, which is incredibly clever.

Humor: 9.6/10- The Lego Movie's humor is the smartest and most clever I have ever seen in a family film. As someone that finds most humor in family films, particularly Pixar, to just not be funny, Phil Lord and
Christopher Miller's humor is spot on. 
The humor is not always hilarious, but it hits more often than not and the jokes come hard and fast. The movie parodies movie clichés, Legos, and other franchises all for hilarious effect. In fact, I have no idea how much a kid would enjoy the movie since a lot of the humor will probably go over their heads. Also, there is one part of the movie that was so utterly unexpected and hilarious that I was in shock for a few moments afterwards!
Humor Percentage
Hilarious: 40%
Very funny: 52%
Mildly Funny: 5%
Not Funny: 3%

Entertainment Value: 10/10- My face was literally hurting after watching the movie because I was laughing/smiling throughout the entire film! The Lego Movie is 100 minutes of pure enjoyment. I could go rewatch the movie right now, no problems.

Overall: 9.6/10- The Lego Movie is fun, clever, smart, and absurdly entertaining. It is not only the best animated film in years; it is one of the best comedies and fun movies I have seen in quite some time, because "Everything is Awesome!"

Closing comments: If you love Legos, you will love The Lego Movie, no question about it. If, however, you never played with Legos as a kid, I have honestly no idea how much you would enjoy the film, so keep that in mind.

Recommended for: Everyone one, Lego fans, Animation fans, Comedy fans,

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