Monday, November 30, 2015

Doctor Who: "Face the Raven" Review

"Face the Raven," a surprising episode of Doctor Who

*Spoilers Ahead*
"Face the Raven" opens like any other Doctor Who adventure with Clara and the Doctor returning to the TARDIS after an exciting romp across the galaxy with witty dialogue to make a joke of whatever situation they were just in. Then Rigsy, from the episode "Flatline" from last season, which remains, by far, the best episode of Capaldi's turn as the Doctor, calls Clara and asks about a tattoo that counts down.

To find out what happened to Rigsy, Clara and the Doctor help retrace his steps, which leads to a fun sequence of the trio walking through the streets of London to find a "trap street." The sequence is rather well filmed with fun energy to it, and Gold's score is particularly different than his norm, which is refreshing. 

After finding the trap street, the Doctor yet again encounters Ashildr, who is the mayor of an alien refugee camp full of creatures from the series' past. However, a holographic program is used to make it look more like a slum from the early 20th century, which creates an interesting atmosphere, except for the fact that the set really looks like a set, but that's a minor complaint and a possibly intentional one.

The plot really picks up when the Doctor and Clara discover that Rigsy was setup so that the Doctor would come to the street. Ashildr set the trap all along and now Clara swapped the Raven death mark with Rigsy.  
Shockingly, Clara dies, or at least appears to die. Here's the thing; Clara has been a great and charming companion, and yet her death felt lacking. As a bonafide "Spoiler-Phobe," I did not read any articles about when Coleman was leaving the series, so "Face the Raven" quickly turning from another fun Doctor Who romp to the end of a likable companion was unexpected. Sure, I knew that this would be her last season, but I did not expect this to happen until later. However, the biggest reason for the lack of impact is that Moffat is notorious for bringing characters back from the dead, and the Doctor and his companion are always in danger, and he usually manages to fix things. So, I expected the Doctor to save the day like he always does, and yet he did not. Usually, a companion's sendoff feels a little more final, even if the entire season built up to this, especially in the Moffat era. So, maybe part of the lack of impact is my own fault, but maybe she is not actually dead. Who even knows at this point, except for the writers and potentially reporters. Either way, I rather wait to see for myself. And despite the problems, the speech by Clara is really rather moving and impeccably acted. 

Overall: 8.5/10- Despite being a little underwhelming considering the consequences, "Face the Raven" is yet another solid episode of Doctor Who, although it could have been a classic with more emotional impact.

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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Movie Music and More #36 : "The Monuments Men" (2014)

I (Hamlette) think The Monuments Men is a lovely movie, if you can ever call a movie about war "lovely."  It feels like a throwback to classic WWII films from the 1960s, like The Great Escape (1963) and The Guns of Navarone (1963).  Alexandre Desplat's soundtrack also hearkens back to the movies of that era, and it has become one of my favorite scores to write to. 

The first track I'm sharing is "Basic Training."  It's upbeat and cheery, one of those "let's all get working on something together" sorts of songs.  And about 30 seconds in, it brings in the movie's main theme, which is endearingly jaunty and optimistic.

"I See You Stahl" is completely different -- dark and foreboding, and with a sense of desperation.  In the middle it gets very menacing before a calmer theme arrives to bring a sense of hope that leads back into the more can-do feel that pervades the movie.

"Normandy" is a more thoughtful song, quiet and reflective, and yet ultimately also strong and confident.

If you enjoyed those three short selections, you can listen to the whole soundtrack on YouTube here.  I heartily recommend it.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

New Star Wars: The Force Awakens Retro Posters

New retro posters for New Star Wars: The Force Awakens and they harken back to a previous era. Sure, the posters are simply words, but the retro aging effect looks great. Additionally, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has also been officially rated PG-13, which is not surprising. Well, being Thanksgiving weekend, it is a slow day for movie news, so I bid you ado, and please check back next week for regularly scheduled articles. 

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Captain America: Civil War Trailer Review

Captain America: Civil War's first trailer is here, and yes, against my better judgment, I watched a trailer! Captain America: Civil War is one of my most anticipated films of the next year, and for obvious reason. The Winter Soldier is still one of Marvel's best, and Civil War has the potential to top even the original Avengers. My first impression of the trailer is the conflict is on a smaller scale than the original comic book, but I hope that it still captures the political undertones of the original story. However, with the conflict between Captain America and Iron Man, it is already hit hard on the emotional front. Also, Cap and Bucky double teaming Iron Man is one of the coolest things ever! Overall, this trailer looks amazing, and this is definitely going to be the movie of the summer. What do you think? Please comment below and let me know!

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! It is the time of year, in the United States at least, to be thankful, and one of the many things I am thankful are you, the reader. Y'all are the reason I continue to write, and without the comments, I would probably not continue. So, thanks everyone! And if you missed it, please click here to read my review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving, and those outside of the US, I hope y'all have a great Thursday. Well, as usual, here are some humorous and geeky Thanksgiving pictures!

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 Review

We are at an end of an era. The Hunger Games comes to an end with Mockingjay – Part 2. After four years, the most popular young adult novel franchise since Harry Potter concludes its final chapter. Does the ending justify the journey? Let's find out!
At this point, complaining about the final book being split into two parts is pointless. It happened, and now we have Mockingjay – Part 2, the final film that brings the franchise to an end. Personally, Part 1 was not a bad movie. It presented a few interesting ideas and served as a prologue of sorts so that Part 2 could focus on the finale. Unlike many, I have never read the books, so any changes to the source material are irrelevant, and I do not consider myself a fan of the franchise, but rather a casual viewer.

Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Drama,
Release Date: November 20, 2015
Running Time: 137 minutes
MMPA rating: PG-13

The Good: Majorly intense action sequence, Effective jump scares, Peeta is likable for the first time ever, Mostly strong and poignant conclusion, Jennifer Lawrence is as good as always, Impressive CGI creatures, Finnick is cool, Grand scale and scope,

The Bad: Problematic pacing, One or two dramatic scenes are unintentionally funny, Did we ever care about some of these characters?

Plot: 8.0/10- Being a "Part 2," Mockingjay suffers from obvious pacing issues from the start. The movie opens where we left off, and continues the story towards it ultimate endgame. The problem is that it feels like the plot gets going and then abruptly stops and does that several throughout the film. The pacing is not jarring to the point of ruining the experience, but some viewers might be bored with the slower pacing. Despite being split, "Part 2" does feel like a complete film as the central conflict would be undermined if reduced to the second half of a film.

Otherwise, the plot brings the franchise to a poignant end. How the larger plot points resolve is surprisingly well executed and delivers a few unexpected twists. The film almost exclusively takes place from Katniss' perspective, even more so than previous films, which creates a sense of immersion, almost as if you are floating over her the entire film. 

The ending does drag a bit by being about 5 minutes too long, but too much resolution at the end of a story is always better than not enough. However, there are a few missed opportunities where the characters do not make the obvious and logical choice. 

Characterization: 7.6/10- Katniss Everdeen is a decent character, who is made far more likable thanks to Jennifer Lawrence. Compared to other franchise protagonists like Harry Potter or Frodo, the viewer does not have nearly as strong an emotional connection to her, unless you read the novels. With that said, she is a capable protagonist that you want to succeed and comparing the Hunger Games to those classics is unfair.

For the first time ever, Peeta is actually likable, and we finally see why maybe, just maybe, why Katniss might like him. But seriously, Peeta has character depth for the first time, because he is not just the "Nice Guy." Part 2 manages to wrap up the stories of the various supporting characters in a satisfying way, although it would have been great if Haymitch could have been involved in the finale. However, the only issue is that we, or at least I, never cared for the supporting cast nearly as much as the cast of Harry Potter, for example. When characters died, there is little emotional connection, but otherwise, the characters were solid.

Direction: 8.5/10- The streets of Panem offer the most grand and interesting backdrop of the entire franchise. The towering builds and rubble creates the perfect location for the story, and visually, it looked real. Francis Lawrence does an excellent job at directing the action sequences, or rather the one real action sequence. There is one prolonged sequence that is easily the most intense and entertaining battle of the entire franchise. It is intense, fast paced, well directed, and a little frightening. It even made little kids scream several times in the theater! My only issue with the sequence is that enemies seem somewhat out of place in the world the series setup.

Unfortunately, the other action sequences are too short because as soon as they get going, they come to an abrupt end, which is a real shame since the director seemed to finally grasp how to create an exciting action set piece.

Acting: 7.9/10- Jennifer Lawrence is all around great as expected, except during the crying scenes, which always seem a little more humorous than dramatic. Josh Hutcherson is legitimately excellent for the first time ever, as his performance adds depth to the previous boring character. He certainly wins most surprisingly good performance this year. The rest of the cast is strong as expected, with no noticeable weak points.

Special effects: 8.5/10- Without a doubt, the best looking and most impressive Hunger Games film, Part 2 delivers high quality special effects with some of the best CGI humanoid creatures to date. Even some of the best effects have a sense that the creatures are not actually in physical contact with the actors, but somehow, the CGI guys behind the film do an exceptional job. Also, the streets of Panem are very believable to the point where telling the difference between the physical sets and green screen is not easy.

Soundtrack: 6.5/10- James Newton Howard score is fine, albeit completely forgettable.

Humor: N/A- Aside from a few lines from Haymitch, Part 2 is not a humorous film.

Entertainment Value: 8.5/10- While some might be bored by the pacing issues, the story was involving, and I was invested in how everything would end, and in terms of entertainment, it did not disappoint.

Overall: 8.1/10- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 brings the franchise to an end in a satisfying way. Due to pacing issues, it might not even touch the level of the classics like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but as a whole, The Hunger Games is entertaining series of films with interesting ideas, and thankfully, Part 2 resolves everything well enough for me to feel like the journey was worthwhile. Essentially, if you watched the previous films, watch this one; you have no reason not to finish it.

Closing comments: As far as franchises go, The Hunger Games is in the upper middle portion. None of the films fall into "Classic" territory, but, as a whole, it is an entertaining franchise that will be worth watching again at some point. 

Recommended for: Anyone that watched the previous films,

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving Netflix Picks: Movies to Watch on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you want to watch a movie to get you in the spirit of Thanksgiving on Netflix, here is your quick guide! Granted, Thanksgiving movies are not particularly common, which makes finding ones on Netflix are even more difficult. However, there are three that may get you into the spirit of Thanksgiving or at least have something Thanksgiving related. Also, please check back tomorrow for my review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is my definitive Thanksgiving movie. It follows two guys, played by comedic legends Steve Martin and John Candy, as they end up in a ridiculous road trip that ends with a positive message. The film is directed by John Hughes, who is known for such classics as Ferris Bueller's Day Off and The Breakfast Club, and yet Planes, Trains and Automobiles is still my favorite. Please note that the film is essentially an 80s PG movie comedy, except for one scene where Steve Martin's character goes off on a tirade of f-words, so if you are watching it with the family, be aware. Otherwise, this is the movie for Thanksgiving fun!

Addams Family Values
Honestly, Addams Family Values makes this list by default since it is one of the only movies on Netflix to feature Thanksgiving. As for the film's quality, I just cannot remember that well. It has literally been 10 years since I have seen it, but others seem to like it!

If you have children that you need to entertain during the Holiday, Pocahontas is probably a great pick, despite having almost semblance of historical accuracy. Like my previous pick, I have not seen Pocahontas in a very long time, so I cannot vouch for its quality as an adult. However, I remember enjoying it as a young child.

Well, there's my Netflix Picks for Thanksgiving! Do you have any recommendations? Please comment below and let me know!

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Wonder Woman Movie First Look

The first official picture from the upcoming Wonder Woman film is released, as well as a listing of the cast. The picture shows Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in a hood, and it really does not show anything else. 

Patty Jenkins is set to direct and the cast is as follows: Chris Pine as Captain Steve Trevor, Robin Wright (House of Cards), Danny Huston (Clash of the Titans, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), David Thewlis (the Harry Potter films), Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting), Saïd Taghmaoui (G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra), Elena Anaya (The Skin I Live In, Van Helsing) and Lucy Davis (Shaun of the Dead, UK's The Office).


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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Marvel's Jessica Jones and The Man in the High Castle

Two days ago, the two most highly anticipated TV series on instant video have arrived! And those series are Marvel's Jessica Jones on Netflix and The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime. Chances are, you have already seen the trailer for Jessica Jones or even watched an episode of it already. Currently, I am putting it on hold until I catch up to the shows on my DVR after stopping everything to marathon Breaking Bad, which I will review soon, but a review for Jessica Jones is likely on the way within the next month or so. 

While you may have heard of Jessica Jones, you may not have heard of The Man in the High Castle. The series is based on a 1962 novel by Philip K. Dick, the novelist behind the original novel that movies like Blade Runner and A Scanner Darkly are based on. The Man in the High Castle is set in an alternate 1962 where the Axis Powers of Nazi Germany and Japan won WWII and now occupies the United States. Last month, Amazon Prime released the first two episodes of the series, and after watching them, I have to say that this is going to an intriguing watch. Right from the start, there is an eerie tone because even the thought of the Axis winning the war is absolutely terrifying! American Jews are executed, the old and sick are euthanized, and there is a crushing sense of despair and hopelessness. Of course, the series is not for the faint of heart and it is rated TV-MA, and therefore recommended for mature audiences. However, if this concept intrigues you, give it a watch. There is a twist towards the end of the first that makes me have to know how this story is going to end. Are you going to watch either series? Please comment below and let me know!

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Ip Man 3 Trailer

Check out the first official trailer for Ip Man 3, a film starring Donnie Yen, who is set to co-star in the upcoming "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story." As the title suggests, Ip Man 3 is the third film in the Ip Man franchise, which is loosely inspired by the life of martial arts master Ip Man, who trained the legendary Bruce Lee. The Ip Man series are some of the best action films in cinema, and if you enjoy action films like The Raid or The Matrix, then go watch the first two films right now on Netflix. As for the trailer, it shows exactly what Ip Man fans want to see: a montage of epic action sequences. With that said, the Ip Man franchise has a surprisingly inspirational story and an interesting main character, so that the action sequences are not void of emotion, and I am sure the third film will feature that too. To add to that, I am surprised to see Mike Tyson will be making an appearance in the film, which should result in a fun action sequence. Providing the film reaches a theater within reasonable driving distance, I plan to go Ip Man 3, and for my full review on the first Ip Man film, please click here to check it out. Are you interested in the film? Please comment below and let me know and check back next week for some Thanksgiving movie posts!

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Doctor Who: "Sleep No More" Review

Doctor Who finally succumbs to the found-footage genre in "Sleep No More."

*Spoilers Ahead*
"Sleep No More" opens in a unique fashion as the audience is shown, what is essentially, "Found-Footage" narrated by a man named Rassmussen. Assuming that everyone reading has seen the episode, let's move on from the summary. 

This week's monsters are the "Sandmen," creatures that come from the "sleep dust" that builds up in your eyes every night. How exactly the Sandmen came from the Morpheus sleep pod is vague. Does that imply that if a comatose patient never had his or her eyes wiped, the sleep dust would turn into a monster? Or did the machine create lifeforms that feed off of the "sleep"? Regardless, the reason for the monsters is a bit on the absurd side; however, they are creepy and deliver the thrills. 
This is the first time in franchise history that an episode opened with a title card like this.
Capaldi and Coleman do not seem to have much to do this episode. But, usual, they are excellent together. The episode's supporting cast of characters was decent, albeit not exactly memorable. The idea of Indo-Japan is an interesting one, and "the Great Catastrophe" is said to refer to what happened in Season 21 serial "Frontios." The concept of Morpheus is also an interesting one, and while the reasoning behind the creatures is vague, exploring the concept of a society that does not have to sleep is fascinating.

Director, Justin Molotnikov, does a fine job at using the found-footage style to create a unique and creepy Doctor Who adventure. Certain moments would have benefited from a higher degree of tension, but what we got was good enough. The atmosphere of the episode is another highlight as it reminded me of the disturbing Bioshock video game series with its use of the "Mr. Sandman" song. 

My only issue is that the episode is also related to one of its strongest aspects. It is revealed that the footage the audience is viewing can be accessed by the Doctor, and we discover that there are no helmet cameras. In fact, the footage is coming from people's eyes of those that used Morpheus, as well as the dust floating in the air. If I am not mistaken, there is at least one shot where we see from the Doctor's perspective, and he said that should be not necessarily possible. Of course, I could be mistaken, but it was strange. Otherwise, the concept of footage being available to characters in the story is a fun twist on the norm.

In the end, it turns out Rassmussen is actually recording this entire adventure to spread the Morpheus signal across the galaxy. The final scene with Rassmussen falling apart into sand is brilliantly executed and incredibly creepy. Series 9 has been lacking truly creepy moments, and at least this episode delivered one of those. Unfortunately, the ending is a bit of a mess as it makes little sense.

One thing that confuses me is how or even if, the next episode is the second half of the story. Every story is said to be two-parters, but this one left on a strange note, so we will have to see how the episodes tie together.

Overall: 7.5/10- Utilizing a found-footage style that is new to the franchise, "Sleep No More" tells a unique story, albeit it one riddled with confusing moments. 

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Peanuts Movie Review

The Peanuts Movie, the revival of the classic Peanuts franchise and lovable characters like Snoopy and Charlie Brown.
The Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz, is a classic comic strip that ran from 1950 until Schulz’s passing in 2000, and for me, it is a part of my childhood. I grew up watching the “It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and reading the comic strips, which are still hilarious today. So, for me, The Peanuts Movie brought back a lot of nostalgia, but is there more than mere nostalgia? Let’s find out!

Directed by: Steve Martino
Genre: Comedy, Animation, Romance
Release Date: November 6, 2015
Running Time: 93 minutes
MMPA rating: G

The Good: Charming nostalgia trip, The same classic and lovable Peanuts characters, Appealing art style, A few funny moments,

The Bad: Not exactly remarkable, Not quite as funny as it should be,

Plot: 5.0/10- The Peanuts Movie's plot is simple. Charlie Brown wants to impress the new girl in town, only named as "Little Red-Haired Girl." Of course, being Charlie Brown, he just can't be the cool kid, and a nostalgic journey of the lovable characters doing the same lovable things that you have seen for years ensues. The story has a pleasant tone and a positive message that makes everything come together for a satisfying conclusion. There is nothing explicitly wrong with the plot. However, there is not explicitly great either. Basically, do not expect something as smart and clever as Inside Out or the Lego Movie.

Characterization: 7.0/10- Every single one of the classic characters act exactly as you remember the characters. No one is unnecessarily modernized or changed at all. If you love the characters from the old stories, you are going to love them as well.

Acting: 7.0/10- The Peanuts Movie's cast is filled with actual voice actors, who have done little other work, and because of this, everyone’s favorite characters sound exactly as you remember them. Despite passing away a few years, archived audio of Bill Melendez is used so that Snoopy and Woodstock sound like the same, which is perfect.

Animation: 7.0/10- Blue Sky Studios do a great job at combining modern computer generated technology with the old art style to create something that looks modern for the kids today, but nostalgic enough for those that grew up watching it. It might not be as flashy as many films today, but it looks good. Personally, the original 2D is much better, but I will prefer the hand-drawn over CGI.

Soundtrack: 5.9/10- I can't help but smile when I hear the original Peanuts theme, and thankfully, it is still present in the film. The use of modern licensed music is not bad either, although some of the songs felt out of place in the setting.

Humor: 6.5/10- The humor, or lack thereof, is one of my only real problems. The comic strips still makes me laugh to this day, and while there are some laugh-out-loud moments, The Peanuts Movie's humor misses the mark sometimes. It is often amusing but rarely hysterical, which is unfortunate.

Entertainment Value: 7.0/10- Despite having a few parts of the movie that made me zone out, The Peanuts Movie was a fun and short entertaining experience. Even though it was fun, I have no intention of watching it again.

Overall: 6.5/10- An amusing nostalgia trip for fans, The Peanuts Movie brings back almost everything that you loved about the original Peanuts. However, I cannot help but feel that newcomers might be bored, except for children, who should love it.

Closing comments: Honestly, if you neither have kids nor have nostalgia for the Peanuts, I cannot say whether or not you will enjoy the film. For me, it was the wholesome nostalgia trip, but others might find it pointless and simplistic, so that’s up to you.

Recommended for: Anyone who likes the Peanuts,

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Movie Music and More #35 : "Anastasia" (1997)

I (Hamlette) have owned this soundtrack since I was in college.  I first saw Anastasia (1997) on Thanksgiving break during my freshman year of college, and loved it so much I bought the soundtrack when I was home for Christmas.  Anastasia is hardly the stuff historical documentaries are made of, but if you're like me and don't expect your animated movies to be exactly factual, then you can enjoy it for the history-inspired fable it clearly is.  The music by David Newman, Lynn Ahrens, and Stephen Flaherty, was nominated for two Academy Awards, though it didn't win either of them.

The first song in both the movie and the soundtrack is "A Rumor in St. Petersburg," and it's so much fun -- it reminds me of the song "The Rumor" from Fiddler on the Roof, as I'm sure it's meant to.  After all, both movies are set in Russia in the early part of the 1900s.  The song works splendidly to communicate not just the setting, but also tell us the basic plot:  two con artists (voiced by John Cusack and Kelsey Grammer) are searching for a girl to impersonate the missing Princess Anastasia to get them a big reward from her grandmother.

Meanwhile, an orphan named Anya (Meg Ryan) with no memory of her past sets off to figure out who she used to be, as the song "Journey to the Past" explores.  The music helps us feel the mixture of determination and hesitancy she feels about trying to find out her history.  The music swells as her questions give way to optimistic ideas of what she might find on this journey.  This was nominated for the Oscar for Best Song, but of course it lost out to a little tune called "My Heart Will Go On."  Sigh.

My third selection to share today is "Once Upon a December."  I think this is the most beautiful song in the whole score, and the one that best captures the mystery and yearning that run through this film.  In it, Anastasia regains a memory of dancing with her father in the palace as a child.  It's haunting, isn't it?

Usually I limit myself to three tracks for these reviews, but today I'm sharing one more song.  "At the Beginning" plays during the end credits, and it's my favorite song on the whole album.  This song gives me a happy energy high, and I could listen to it over and over.  In fact, I have :-)  My favorite part is at 2:25.  


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