Warcraft Review

Warcraft Movie Review (4/2/2/2+2) **½ or ***

This movie is not for everyone. As a fantasy film it stakes out a particular territory so comparing it to what has come before will result in a mixed response. If you can accept the higher fantasy elements then there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had, but if your tastes fall closer to a more grounded LotR or GoT then this can become a very painful experience.

  • Technical 4

From a technical standpoint there’s a lot of outstanding work put into this behind the scenes. It is a very faithful adaptation of the source material and the changes that do exist make sense for an adaptation. Fans of the series should be pleased with seeing the realization of this world. However, as beautiful as the establishing shots of Azeroth are, they do a poor job of expressing epic scale with the overuse of small enclosed sets.

  • Story 2

The film is very successful at adapting the harder aspects of the Warcraft franchise, but fails in some basic storytelling elements. These sins can be forgiven depending on your expectations from the outset. It’s possible to see a great movie within this one but it slightly overshoots its world building ambitions diluting the main narrative.

  • Characters 2

Much of the dialogue is uninspired and delivered in a straight forward fashion without either the serious gravitas or campy fun to make it compelling. The exception to this would be Travis Fimmel as Lothar who seemed to be the only physical actor doing something interesting with the material. The movie does manages to succeed in humanizing the fully CG Orcs but in so doing make them the more compelling side of the conflict.

  • Impact 2 + 2

It is successful enough in that world building to lay the foundation for a franchise, but sequels will need a bit more care in their crafting to have staying power. The inevitable sequels will need to stand alone and avoid attempting a direct sequel in order to make it accessible to an audience that may skip this installment.

Technical: 4, Story: 2, Characters: 2, Impact: 2 (w/ +2 for fans)

Final rating: 2.5 (3 for fans of the franchise)

The Dead Lands Review

The Dead Lands Review (3/4/2/3) ***

  • Technical: 3

The Dead Lands rides a narrow line somewhere between Indie and Hollywood quality.  Oddly enough it’s the overly polished aspects that were the biggest distraction for me in an otherwise very realistically portrayed setting. The effects were good as in they didn’t seem like effects, the gore and prosthetic work was solid as were the costuming and sets.

  • Performances: 4

The primary cast was able to convey everything despite the entire movie being spoken in an unfamiliar language. Personalities came through quickly and clearly. Some of the secondary cast seemed out of place, but there was little fault in their actual performances which still came across as compelling and believable.

  • Story: 2

The story is actually pretty straight forward and the pacing good other than a segment around the end of the second act. Initially it seemed a bit confusing although its significance is made clear by the end of the segment. The writing and dialogue seemed good, although that’s mostly based on the performances since I do not speak Maori.

  • Impact: 3

The Dead Lands does a very good job of telling a story set in a different time and place. It’s very well made despite some minor flaws that shouldn’t detract too much from the overall package. It’s also a very hard film to categorize; it comes across as either a high budget historical dramatization or a low budget action film. Either way the film is still compelling and fills an otherwise empty niche.


Death Parade Review

Death Parade Anime Review (4/4/4/4)

  • Artistic Merit: 4

Beautiful animation that just works as intended. It would have been very easy to go over the top stylistically but instead it becomes very powerful in its restraint. Emotions come through clearly whenever they need to, and you can viscerally feel their internal struggles. The animation manages a seamless and understated use of cg, and nothing feels out of place. Everything is treated maturely, and the lack of fanservice or censoring is refreshing.

  • Characters: 4

All the characters have distinct designs and clear personalities. The minor guest characters that appear in each episode quickly manage to be compelling in their own minor arcs. By the end of each episode you begin to care about their fates. The main characters Decim and Chiyuki work very well portraying the audience perspective. Chiyuki’s journey is our journey, beginning with no knowledge of this world or understanding of our place within it. Decim also represents the audience as detached observer who gradually can’t avoid being moved by what he experiences.

  • Story: 4

The basic concept is solid to begin with. What Madhouse manages to do however is really elevate the material a construct a full world that manages to simultaneously feel real and remain mysterious. What could have easily been an episodic series that only plays off the base concept turns out to be a complete narrative where each episode is thematically different but all working towards building the central story. These 12 episodes run the full gambit of tone and emotions and it all works to give the series a depth that few series have managed to pull off.

  • Impact: 4

This series is strongly compelling, partially because it doesn’t try to answer all the questions or push a particular moral viewpoint. It presents thought provoking questions and then leaves us an an audience to answer them for ourselves. The pacing and balancing is excellent; it can be both funny and serious, tragic and uplifting. It is a smartly written series that doesn’t condescend to its audience or go for cheap emotion which is becoming a rarity. At the core it tells a story, a good story, a well told story.

  • Additional Thoughts

Death Parade is refreshingly original and really hard to compare to anything else. While I could see this working in other mediums, its a series that feels like it is exactly where it should be and could eventually become a classic in terms of serious anime.

Man of Steel Review

Man of Steel Review (4/3/2/2) **¾

  • Technical: 4

A lot of money was spent making this film look good and it does. The overall aesthetics worked and way superhuman action was portrayed made visual sense. Everything about the film looked correct, although the heavy use of CG for the 3rd act started to wear out its welcome. The flashback structure worked in remixing the otherwise familiar back story.

  • Performances: 3

Man of Steel assembles a very skilled cast and they do well with what they’re given. Amy Adams is particularly good as Lois Lane in the first half but gets reduced to a cliched damsel for the final act.

Cavil is believable as the new Kal-El, but spends too much of the film brooding to be sympathetic.Too much effort is spent portraying the burden of being Superman. The character comes across as morose and generally uninterested in his powers. His casual usage is a missed opportunity as it doesn’t properly convey their significance.

  • Story: 2

This is probably the most controversial aspect of the film as the story makes some very notable changes to familiar Superman lore and characterizations. The worst offender in this regard was Pa Kent. Costner performs it well, but he is written as the antithesis to how the character is traditionally used.

Too many plot points felt overly contrived for the sake of convenience and the Kryptonian codex subplot felt out of place. There’s a lot of good things going on in this film but it doesn’t quite come together into a satisfying whole. The dark tone of the film doesn’t relent until the final scenes which might have been the most enjoyable.

  • Impact: 2

What you think of this movie will depend a lot on your understanding of the Superman character. Man of Steel attempts to be a dramatic character study and generally succeeds at that. However it is very different from what you may expect from a Superman title. This film could stand on its own without attachment to the Superman mythos, but unfortunately those connections drag down the overall experience.

  • Additional Thoughts (Spoiler Territory)

Man of Steel flirts with greatness but misses lots of opportunities that I feel need to be pointed out. Firstly, if they were going to use flashbacks to show his youth more time should have been spent showing the growth of his powers, his struggles to control them, and the excitement of using them. The temptation must be real and with great power comes great blah blah blah.

Secondly, if they wanted Clark to be hidden until Zod’s arrival Zod should have arrived on Earth claiming to be an authority and portraying Kal-El as a hidden fugitive. This would give Clark an additional burden to prove himself to humanity.

Now about that final battle… 40 minutes of disaster porn, and that final kill. Ultimately that kill was a cop out and a bad cliche, I won’t debate if it was in character or not but it didn’t have any emotional ties to the rest of the film. Great endings are hard and this one just lacked imagination.

Purely in my opinion the true ending should have been after turning back the Kryptonian threat. After they had been stopped Superman should have been rescuing the people of Metropolis from falling buildings, fires, floods, and the aftermath destruction. Split second rescues create dramatic tension. This would have been the perfect opportunity to flesh out characters like Lois and the Daily Planet crew throughout the rest of the film.

Superman rescuing people would have fit thematically and could have provided an uplifting and positive conclusion instead of his brief moment of angst. Can he rescue them all? Would he have to choose the good of the many over the few? Can he push the limits of his powers to do the impossible. It would at least have showed that the destruction mattered and that he cared a bit. These might be minor complaints but its the details that elevate a generic action movie to something of a Dark Knight caliber.

Finally, this last part is just speculative but if they had a plans to bring in Wonder Woman given their current relationship in the comics then what if he couldn’t save Lois a la ASM2? Give that one some thought.

Guardian’s of the Galaxy Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Review (4/4/3/4) ***¾

  • Technical: 4

The power and polish of Marvel/Disney is on full display. Space opera can come across as cheap or cheesy when done wrong, but there was obviously a lot of attention to detail on display. The universe they created draws appropriately from its comic book origins but manages to elevate it into a fully realized setting. The Nova corp ships were a particular standout for me. Few movies integrate their soundtracks this well.

  • Performances: 4

The real strength of this movie is the interaction and snarky between characters because of how naturally it flows. Even the minor characters have distinct personalities and opportunities to shine throughout the movie. The CG characters are particularly compelling and give unexpectedly emotional performances.

  • Story: 3

The humor is played straight against the absurdity of the situation, some of the humor depends on your level of 80s nostalgia but it never feels dumbed down which is refreshing. The plot is relatively simple but works well in the context of an over the top space opera. The story is well constructed and plays off the oddity of its underlying premise.

  • Impact: 4

If you like space adventures or comic book movies you will probably like this film. If you are also a child of the 80s or older you will probably love it. Guardians revives the feel of an old style of summer blockbuster combining action, humor, and eye candy. It’s just a fun ride throughout despite some minor flaws.


The Age of Aging Heroes

Superhero films are the new hotness, breaking box office records and redefining the genre. The comic book age of my youth was something of a boom era where the popularity reached a peak of sorts with sales repeatedly hitting new highs and major crossover events occurring on a regular basis.

The kids that grew up in that era have entered that prime entertainment demographic where they are old enough to have disposable income and are still young enough to use it. We are in the golden age of comic book cinema because money drives the market.

Marvel has planted the flag and taken the superhero genre to another level, creating a unified cinematic universe. This is significant in a number of respects, not the least of which is changing how audiences think about comic book movies. Every film is a continuation of a larger narrative but still accessible to the uninitiated.

There is one area where comics and films must distinguish themselves however. If done correctly this can be the greatest weapon in Marvel’s arsenal. I refer specifically to Marvel because they are the dominant force in this arena and also the most poised to take advantage of what I’m about to say.

In comic books, heroes rarely age and if they do its at a glacial pace. I remember reading once that there was an actual conversion rate used in Marvel comics between real years and comic book years, but I digress. Live action films require actors and real actors age.

This poses a particular dilemma for comic film makers. When the time comes do you recast or reboot a franchise? I would argue neither as retirement is the real answer. As popular as these characters are, these actors are iconic in their portrayals. To create a living, breathing, and evolving cinematic universe these characters need to age with it. Characters entering and exiting the stage services the greater story.

This is not to say that there are not ways to restart certain characters such as an Iron Man or a Captain America, but once Tony Stark and Steve Rogers complete their personal stories what is there really left to say? Many iconic comic book heroes have multiple identities over the decades of stories already told; Green Lantern is an obvious example.

Super heroes tend to represent an ideal, but the best stories come about from how the people behind them learn to deal with their power. Iron Man works because the audience is invested in Tony Stark, the suit he wears is just a plot device that lets us explore who he is and how he deals with it.

Comic book films are ultimately character studies, and Marvel can draw on an extensive universe of characters to refill their universe. A successful franchise that lasts is one that adapts. Marvel is uniquely positioned for that revolving door of iconic characters.

A few cinematic deaths may be in order, which is something that Marvel has yet to truly pull the trigger on. At some point the hero dies or becomes the villain. Without the possibility of loss can the victory be heroic, and a heroic death is one of the most powerful moments a cinematic universe can have.

There will always be the financial impulse to push a franchise till the wheels come off (ie. Crystal Skull), but studios need to embrace this aging factor. Audiences can accept a hero and a world that will age and change with them. To build a world you build its history, and keep building on top of that.

Demographics will continue to evolve and the comic book boom of today may not survive into tomorrow, but a unified cinematic universe will define the next generation’s interests and expectations in the same way the comics of my youth are defining the films of today. The next generation of movie goers will be steeped in the lore of Marvel movies and not the comics they are based on.

Completed Manga Worth Reading

There are a number of good sites that can provide countless hours of manga readings, I will try to avoid any direct mentions as fan work and scanlations still occupy a somewhat gray legal area. A casual search can provide numerous options, but test many of them out to find the ones you like. The major differences you may find will include the viewing size of the pages, the loading speed, search features, but most importantly the pace of updates.

Different sites can vary in days or weeks between updates for a series you follow. Its a good idea to track the actual scanlation groups for specific updates, but most popular series get updated on a regular schedule.

A good series can hook you and get you reading from start to finish, which can be a problem if the series is still ongoing. For this week’s recommendations I’m going to list a few series that are actually complete which means no waiting. Being able to read material from a weekly/monthly format to a non-stop one makes it much easier to follow the story lines and artist intent.

These are my recommendations for great lesser known series. For this list I kept to series that never got an anime adaptation and appear to have a definitive end.

Change 123 (60 chapters) – A great twist on the harem genre that plays off a girl with multiple personality disorder. Great artwork, martial arts action, and a cute little love story. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to locate any other work by this writer/artist team.

Bloody Monday (96, 68, and 37 chapters) – There are actually three Bloody Monday series, and they should be read in order as the events of each have strong ties to what comes after. It’s a mature series centering around a gifted hacker trying to preventing bio-terrorism by a highly organized network of professional killers. What really sells this series though are the genuinely surprising plot twists. If you like shows like 24 and movies like Borne Identity this is the manga for you.

Defense Devil (100 chapters) – Demon defense lawyer getting innocent souls out of hell and teams up with an attractive warrior nun to save the world. Suffice it to say the holy girls always go for a demon guy. Same artist and style as Area D.

Kurohime (80 chapters) – A magical witch gunslinger who is also an aspiring god slayer. The story also revolves around an epically tragic love story. It leans a bit more humorous at the outset, but gradually moves more toward the action and drama side of the spectrum. Hero? Villain? Tsundere?

Angel Densetsu (84 Chapters) – This one is definitely not for everyone and the art style can be hard to get into, but the story is quite funny if you follow Japanese culture. The story follows a nice guy with face so scary everyone runs in fear from him. It’s an issue he’s completely oblivious of which is where the humor comes in.

Samurai Usagi (68 Chapters) – This one ended very recently so we’ll see how well it holds up. It’s a bit childish, but that’s part of its charm. Lots of good natured fun and silly samurai action.


Star Wars Redux

The Star Wars universe has grown significantly over the last 36+ years and with Disney’s acquisition it’s poised to expand even farther. I grew up enthralled by the original Star Wars trilogy which far surpassed anything that had come before it.

The films a child watches can often shape their world views. A person’s movie history begins around the year they’re born. If you’re over a certain age you know Han shot first, if you’re under a certain age you know Darth Maul lived. Star Wars means something very different to different ages.

It’s really amazing to see what a successful film maker can achieve, and the positive impact they can have on so many generations. Sometimes I wonder what the next era of Star Wars will bring, but ultimately I can thank one man for having the vision and talent to bring Star Wars to life.

Irvin Kershner.

New Hope was a happy coincidence that came at the right time from a young director willing to buck film making orthodoxy so George Lucas deserves credit for planting the seed of an idea. Empire Strikes Back directed by Kershner however built the franchise we know today. (Incidentally the film Lucas had the least involvement with.)

Empire expanded both breadth and depth of Star Wars, building a real foundation for everything that would come afterwards. Vader was already the most intimidating villain of his time, but the shocking reveal of Empire would turn that on its head and make us rethink his every move again. Heroes are defined by the strength of their villains.

Whereas Obi Wan could only give vague allusions as to what a Jedi was, Yoda would give us a window into how extensive Jedi culture once was. Boba Fett, the bounty hunter archetype, and Lando Calrissian demonstrated the gray morality of a troubled universe. Empire would also mark our first look at the mysterious Emperor, a figure so powerful even Vader knelt before his visage.

Each of these additions was significant on its own, but they also contextualized and expanded the characters we already knew. Obi Wan was a Jedi Knight but Yoda was a Jedi Master. Han and Lando were scoundrels cut from the same cloth, and through Lando we see the changes in Han.

The Star Wars Universe was firmly planted with the roots of Empire. Great movies falter in their second outing so often due to the ‘sophomore slump,’ but great sequels are like afterburners that surpass the original and create cultural movements. Time will tell if the modern style of prepackaged trilogies can have that same lasting impact.

The design challenge of making a sequel is different from making a compelling segment to a larger unseen story. When a film maker has three films to tell their story, none of those films have to be self-contained anymore. As much as I enjoyed Lord of the Rings, those endings were not satisfying. The first Matrix was a great stand-alone film, but the less said about its sequels the better.

I’m not as fanatical about Star Wars as I once was. Those abhorrent prequels forced me to step back and divest myself from my own fandom. Their sins are already extensively documented and I would direct you to the RedLetterMedia prequel reviews if you have a few hours to kill. (NSFW)

With its acquisition by Disney, Star Wars is poised to move into another era at the expense of an already extensive Expanded Universe. Given Disney’s track record I’m cautiously optimistic, although still a little sad we won’t get a chance to see the best Expanded Universe stories brought to the big screen. It was unavoidable that they had to clear the slate since the fate of practically every screen character, their children, and their children’s children has already been written about in detail.

I’ll always remain a partial fan due in part to the work of so many talented artists and storytellers who helped create the Expanded Universe which will be undone soon. I could be offended, but I’m more curious about how EU 2.0 will play out. I want to know which characters and stories will be revisited, but then again I also love cover songs. Either way it turns out Disney ownership insures we will have Star Wars for many generations to come.