Comics, Movies, Video Games, and More

"Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."

~Ephesians 5:16

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Justice League: Gods and Monsters Review

When GODS AND MONSTERS was first announced, it garnered a considerable amount of hype when compared to recent DC animated features. The reason for this was that Brice Timm would be involved. (He was the creator of the classic DC Animated Universe after all.) Justice League to this day is regarded as one of the greatest cartoons in history, and for good reason. So to see Timm taking the reign of a JL project after all these years was definitely exciting. Some of that excitement became divided when it was also announced it would basically be an Elseworlds title.

There was some disappointment because the thought of seeing a traditional JL story with Timm was a dream. Still, many were curious to see a new take on the classic team. (Plus it would be a nice break from The New 52.) GODS AND MONSTERS is a very interesting watch from beginning to end. It is definitely a unique tale worth checking out. Plus with Timm, the writing is triple a plus with one of the most unexpected plot twists in recent history.

In an alternate universe, the Justice League uses brutal force to maintain order on Earth. When scientists begin dying, the world's governments challenge the League's dominance.
The main draw obviously is the new take on Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. With just 72 minutes to tell a story, there isn't much time for long-term character development. The film nonetheless manages to give each individual character unique backstories. Superman as the son of Zod was certainly most interesting, though Wonder Woman hailing from New Genesis was great too. Batman's was of course the most down to earth, though is so diverse you could have swapped him out for another character.

When the team first appeared I was worried with them mercilessly killing bad guys that the film would just be about making a gritty version of the League just for the sake of edge. If this wasn't Bruce Timm, it might have gone that route. The story moves at a solid pace, making sure the plot is at the front while the viewer is also treated to different versions of these iconic characters. Throughout we see their relationship to the government and even Superman's Zod genes of wanting to take over. Since we're not used to these new takes, the dialogue is extra engaging.

A glaring negative is in the climax. When trying to break the League's building shield, Superman makes a mini-speech, flies into space, then dives back into Earth in dramatic fashion. But back on Earth Batman is able to deactivate the shield and then Superman magically appears in the building, completely negating his scene from before. It's bizarre and as if the editing and writing departments weren't working together here. Also, while Luthor is a great character in this take, his arc is rather rushed at the end and comes out of left field. The soundtrack in particular is a highlight. In fact, it's one of the strongest soundtracks from any DC animated film yet. (Right from the epic intro theme the viewer knows he/she is in for a treat.)

Overall, GODS AND MONSTERS is a intriguing take on DC's greatest heroes. There's no denying it would have been nice to see Bruce Timm do a more traditional story, but there's something engaging about this particular new take of the characters. By the end, the viewer is ready for more. The fight scenes are great and the plot twist added a whole new dimension to how you look at the story. Put any skepticism aside and check out this movie.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

TERMINATOR 2: Judgment Day Review

Action movies are one of the most popular types of film. They in concept serve a movie's purpose: to entertain. Its always fun to see action combined with another genre, such as fantasy, or in this case science fiction. Terminator 2 since its release has been critically acclaimed and regarded as the summer blockbuster. This film and Aliens (which interestingly enough was also directed by James Cameron) are often looked at by longtime movie watchers as the ideal action films. With Genisys just seeing release, I thought it was time to head back and see why Judgment Day is held to such a high regard. After watching it, it is unfortunate to see why so many action blockbusters fail so miserably. If they took a peak at how this film did it, they could see some success.

The plot is pretty well known by now, so we'll keep it brief. In the future, John Connor sends a reprogrammed T-800 back in time to protect his younger self from Skynet's robot, the T-1000. Sarah Connor, John's mother, has been thrown in a mental hospital, but she's quickly thrown into the conflict. The film opens up to the near future, with a destroyed Los Angeles. It's a fantastic setup, and 24 years later the Terminators with their laser guns still appear very frightening on the TV screen. The main story is of course in the present, so the future scene serves as a backdrop to it and a tease of what a plot completely set in the future would be like. (We finally got that in the immensely underrated Terminator Salvation 18 years later.)

The reason why I believe this film is above most modern action movies is the emphasis on the conflict. When T-1000 arrives, the story becomes essentially about him chasing John and T-800 protecting him. The conflict is always at the front without much emphasis on the personal lives of the characters. This isn't a bad thing because in a sci fi action film, the conflict is the most important aspect. This is not to say there's no character development here, but the writing doesn't try to make it about them. It's about saving the future.

Films like Transformers, Battleship, and Edge of Tomorrow add in unneeded comedy, exposition, and attempt to make the characters quirky or something rather than focusing on the plot at hand. "Judgement Day" never once feels like it lets up on the conflict. Just about every scene is important in forwarding the story. The viewer is engaged not because mainly of who the human characters are, but because of the conflict driving them. This is of course greatly helped by Arnold Schwarzenegger's portrayal of the Terminator. T-800 is a fantastic focus as we see his emotionless demeanor and how he slowly learns to be a little more human. It never becomes cheesy to the point of a Predator mimicking human words in Predator 2.

John Connor in this particular film has got to be one of the most unlikable kids in film history. According to the film's universe, he would be 10...yet has enough juvenile accounts to fill a person at age 17. Not only that, but he curses in almost every scene he's in. Realistically, I just don't think someone at that age would be utilizing this kind of language. In fact, he doesn't act like a 10 year old at all throughout. If everything else wasn't so great, he could have truly dragged down the story. (The problem with Jurassic World was its reliance on mediocre characters over the story.)

Linda Halmilton as Sarah Connor does the deranged act pretty solid. It kind of reminds me of the rather crazed Ellen Ripley in Alien: Resurrection, which isn't a bad thing. Besides Arnold however, the true star was T-1000, portrayed by Robert Patrick. This guy is known as the best antagonist of the series, and for good reason. Every scene he's in he commands a presence. The interesting concept of him being able to liquefy himself into basically any object is a pretty cool effect that doesn't look dated at all.

There's nothing worst than an action movie being boring. (We're looking at you, Wrath of the Titans.) The action in "Judgement Day" is some of the best you'll find. The first battle scene between the Terminators set the tone for what was to come. The chase scenes are arguably the greatest in film history. The best part is of course the final showdown. It's fantastic, epic, and no quirky gimmicks stopping the fight. (Such as with Thor: The Dark World, which had one of the most mediocre climaxes in comic book film history.) What a lot of modern films like to do is add gimmicks to the fights, but what most of the time really works is just simple punches and throwing around. The climax here is ideally what all finishers should strive to be like.

Overall, I believe that Terminator 2 is the archetype of action films. It's basically a blueprint a lot of movies have looked at and failed to emulate. The characters here aside from John Connor are engaging. The conflict is the driving force, with them basically along for the ride. If they were bad characters, we'd have a problem. This is one hole a lot of modern films have. The plot might be interesting, but most of the characters are written so poorly that they drag the story down. (All four "Transformers" movies.) On the flip side, if the characters are boring and one-dimensional, the action is going to feel shallow with no point. (Once again, "Wrath of the Titans.") "Judgement Day" manages to find a perfect balance of solid characters and emphasis on the plot, which is accompanied by a great soundtrack. I would definitely defend the sequels, but there's no denying that T2 stands the test of time of being perhaps the greatest action film and one of the best movies overall.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion Review

Puella Magi Madoka Magica on the outside looked like your typical magical girl anime, which of course isn't a bad thing. Sailor Moon is the one that popularized the genre, and many have followed suit with engaging, often cutesy adventures. "Madoka" was far different. It tackled themes such as true friendship, salvation, faith, and manipulation. The 12 episode show is on par with Serial Experiments Lain with its thought-provoking storyline. That's why Rebellion was an interesting idea. The show ended rather well, with Madoka basically becoming a god and rewriting time. It displayed the true kindness of a friend, and ended with hope. So, a sequel wasn't really necessary. Still, it would be nice to see the characters again. The film puts Homura in the spotlight as she tries to figure out why things don't seem right. "Rebellion" was a fantastic adventure, once again showcasing friendship and displays satisfying finality...until it all goes down the drain. The final act not only destroys the film, it completely and utterly destroys the entire franchise.

The story starts out mysteriously for the viewer because we have Homura, Madoka, Sayaka, Kyoko, and Mami having adventures stopping nightmares which take physical form. It's fun, and interesting because when looked at generally the entire first act is a look at what the show could have been if it didn't tackle the deep themes. Here we have a team with flashy Sailor Moon-like transformations, stopping monsters and having tea together afterward, with them even singing a My Little Pony-like song to save the day. Not only that, but Kyubey is basically a Pokemon mascot. It's a "perfect" reality, and quite brilliant. Of course, Homura eventually realizes something is up and goes on a journey searching for the answer.

To me, it was obvious that this was an "ideal" reality. (Shows such as Under the Dome and Falling Skies have done this not too long ago.) What's not obvious is what exactly is causing this. The plot twist that it was mainly Homura's doing was great, but not half as great as the fact it was also Kyubey's experiment. We'll address that in a second, but first it's important to mention the cool things which transpired inside the fake world. Perhaps the best scene was the fight between Mami and Homura. It was well choreographed and just plain epic. The soundtrack throughout the film is as expected solid, but the best themes play right before and during this battle.

The sad part about being just 12 episodes is that some characters just don't get enough satisfying screen time. In the case of "Madoka," just about all the characters were engaging. Kyoko for example only got to appear in a few episodes. So, it was great seeing her get a substantial role here. She has some great humorous lines, especially when speaking to Homura about what the former should or not be remembering. The imagery isn't quite as psychedelic as the show's, (it's still insane of course) but still provides some of the most unique graphics in anime. Scenes with the distorted faces on the people was probably the creepiest thing I've seen in awhile.

Kyubey is a fascinating character and great antagonist. He doesn't consider himself evil, yet with no emotions he manipulates as he pleases. The entire sequence with him revealing what he's been doing to her was fantastic. When she shouted, "You want to control Madoka don't you?!" and then the chase scene the viewer can feel the intensity build up as he explains his plan. Seeing Homrua turned into a witch was a sad, but engaging scene as we see her friends unite to help her, much to the amazement of Kyubey This leads to the would-be best scene of the movie.

Homura has been through a lot in the 12 episodes and this movie. The friendship established between her and Madoka is unparalleled. This is evidenced in the dialogue between them on the hilltop. It's a sad state when your best friend no longer exists physically and you're the only one who remembers, like it was all a dream. That's why the scene where Madoka ascends from the heavens to take Homura with her was so effective. It was closure, plus Homura would be with her best friend forever. The dialogue Madoka speaks to her, "Whatever happens to you, good or bad, you're still you and I would never abandon you. So don't give up. Have faith!" is reminiscent of God making a promise to never forsake those whom have pledged faith, then at the end of the day the person is taken up to Heaven. If the scene above was the ending, it would have been fantastic since it basically ties together everything.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

In a surprise plot twist. Homura stops Madoka from taking her, and somehow, somehow beats Madoka and becomes a god herself, essentially rewriting time again. Homura actually uses the word evil to describe herself. Let's first look at how this doesn't make any kind of sense. For one thing, there's no way Homura could actually stop Madoka. She's a god, (or concept as the series calls it) so there's no way Homura grabbing her can somehow bend the rules, no matter how you look at it. (The explanation given is pretty poor.) What's worst however is that this move isn't consistent with Homura's character throughout the show and majority of the film. She's a concerned friend whom at the end of the show comes to terms with what has transpired. She vows to keep fighting because it's what Madoka would want. In the movie she fights to destroy the fake reality and stop Kyubey from gaining access to Madoka. And then, when it's time to go be with her best friend, (what she's always wanted) she literally goes insane and (for no reason) turns evil literally.


This not only destroys Homura as a character, it destroys the very foundation of Puella Magi. The show ended with the portrayal of hope. The ultimate sacrifice was made. True friendship prevailed. Love, hope, and faith was evident in the finale as Madoka took the burden for all Magical Girls. The show had some dark turns, but at the end the theme of standing up to the demon's schemes and an act of love standing triumph over them prevailed. That's the core of the anime. Rebellion undoes that ending completely. It out of nowhere makes Homura a traitor, insane, and pure evil. It undoes the sacrifice Madoka made. It in effect makes the entire anime moot.

One could perhaps make an argument that the entire final act was an ingenious plot twist. It is correct to say that it's unexpected. The problem is that there's zero build up and no indication in the anime or film that Homura was on the verge of becoming evil. It is the definition of cheap shock value. It would be the same as a 12 issue comic book where the hero faces torment every issue but never gives up having hope. In the final issue he succeeds at saving his family and friends with the sunset behind him. Then a few years later a one-shot is released where it undoes that. It makes the victory irrelevant. The decision to have Homura do what she did is a slap in the face to the incredible anime, her fans, and the franchise. As the ending unveiled itself and the credits started to roll I could feel this inner annoyance because it completely and utterly disregards Homura as a character and what the anime meant.

Rebellion was one of the best anime films I've seen in awhile up until the final 20 minutes. It had everything a sequel should be: it added without hindering the completed story and provided satisfying closure. There's such great symbolism, emotion, and finality to the scene when Madoka comes to take Homura away. Sadly, what happens afterward turns the film upside down. It is by far the worst ending I've personally seen to anything. The plot twist isn't smart, it's terrible. To put it in blunt terms: the ending is total garbage. There's no coherent explanation given. It takes away the essence of hope, and evil wins. It's hard not to want to watch this film because it's a canon sequel, but it ruins what is one of the best anime of all time.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Puella Magi Madoka Magica Review

Anime in the USA has never been that popular with the general public. Ironically, it often transcends writing that is often seen in many American cartoons. The Japanese aren't afraid to utilize themes such as religion, death, emotion, and other things which make many shows being aired on Cartoon Network look just sad. But, an article comparing American vs. Japanese animation is for another day. The anime in question for today is known as Puella Magi Madoka, which follows 14-year-old Madokda Kaname. She's given the option to make a contract with a creature, which afterward she would be given power to become a Magical Girl in order to battle witches! If the show had gone that route with simply Madoka fighting off evil entities with her friends and in the final episode fight the biggest one, it would have still been a cool show. But that's not what this anime is about.

"Madoka" deals with themes such as friendship, sacrifice, the greater good, selling your soul, and ultimately hope. It captures viewers with compelling dialogue and makes the viewer really think abut life, the world, and what it means to love others. On the outside the show appears to be much like Sailor Moon where these middle school girls in costume fight evil monsters. This show takes that concept and turns it upside down. The intro scene to anything is what grabs a viewer; to see the city in ruins and a lone girl trying to fight is enough to pique interest here. After that scene the show takes some unique routes to the finisher.

The main character is of course Madoka. The theme song constantly teases her in her getup as a Magical Girl so the viewer is wondering, "Well, when is this going to happen?" since episodes go on with her still just in a normal form. Then the show turns this thought process around later on, making the viewer decide they actually don't want her to become one. For the first few episodes the show is somewhat identical in plot to other monster-of-the week programs. It's when we start to learn a little bit about Homura Akemi, the other main character, that things start to change drastically. Unlike long-term shows such as Naruto or Digimon, "Madoka" doesn't have the luxury of being over 100 episodes, clocking in at only 12. It is truly astounding what is accomplished in just these episodes. Characters are deepened and viewers grow attached. For example, Kyoko, who at first was the most annoying and unlikable character, ended up being one of the most likable just a few episodes later. Her death, and all the main deaths were extremely sad, which means the writing succeeded at engaging the viewer.

Back to Madoka, in some other show she could come across as weak and annoying for all her crying, but not here. She's a true friend, and very few shows today display what true friendship is all about. (Other than My Little Pony, try finding an American cartoon where it perfectly displays the love of best friends!) The other main character is Homura Akemi. She is obviously fantastic. Too often we have "tough" characters in shows with no real reason why they are like that. They're just there to be cool. Homura's backstory in episode 10 breaks this trope. We see that she knows Madoka in a different timeline and comes to know her as a true friend. So, what happened in the present day for the previous nine episodes is given a whole new meaning.

The plot twist with Homura being a time traveler was a very cool one, though might be one of the show's only plot points which wasn't explained properly. Her wish was to be able to meet Madoka all over again, which she does, but then she's able to repeat the process over and over. Perhaps the wish meant that she would be able to do that continually, but it could have been worded a little better. It's not a major thing in the long run. Her love of Madoka is perfectly looked at in two scenes: the one where she falls on the floor in tears and the one where she hugs Madoka inside the former's house near the climax. Again, you have to give credit to the writing for making the viewer feel invested and share in the sentiment with just a few episodes 

Obviously the most intriguing character might just be Kyubey. In another series, this cat-like creature would have been the mascot and companion like Luna in "Sailor Moon" or Snarf in Thundercats. But once again, all magical girl tropes are dropped here as the viewer slowly learns just who Kyubey is. He is quite a brilliant character, being basically a manipulator without evil intent, in his mind anyway. According to him, emotion is a disorder in his species, and by using his contracts to turn girls into witches it serves a greater good for counteracting the spread of entropy in the universe. When one thinks about it for a second, Kyubey is never actually portrayed as purely evil, just as an entity keeping a balance. It's brilliant writing when something like this creature can be portrayed as evil and not evil at the same time.

Still, despite any thought process about greater good, at the core viewers knows what Kyubey is doing is wrong, and they can feel the despair as Madoka desperately tries to convey that. Throughout, I think the show harkens witches, Kyubey himself and the Labyrinth to demonic influences. In episode 4 we have a bunch of people being fed with the thoughts that it's better to leave the Earth by killing yourself. In that same episode Madoka is flooded with unwanted memories where she's made to feel guilty about almost everything. (With angel-like beings playing the images, making it appear like she's even more wrong, and then being pulled in every direction.) Not only that, but in Homura's backstory there's a voice prompting her to just die. Then we have Kyubey whom is basically manipulating Madoka into accepting a contract with him, which is basically a deal with the devil. He uses things such as telling her that only if she transforms could she save her friend (the scene near the climax where he basically tells her that Homura holding on to hope is meaningless comes to mind) to simply just saying whatever wish you want can be granted. The classic question the show asks is, "Is there a wish you'd be willing to trade your soul for?" It's a classic scene of the devil as he tries to get a person to see what kind of temporary satisfaction is alluring to steal that person's soul. I don't know if the show intended for these things to be a comparison but with the religious themes present throughout I wouldn't be surprised. 

Mami is another main character, whom dies way too early. Her death was handled well, and her presence is still felt afterward. Again, she didn't appear long but somehow the writing made her one of the most likable characters in anime history. That's why the viewer feels a sadness when we see her get chomped by a witch because it was right after she revealed she had a found a true friend in Madoka. The emotion in this show is incredible. The scene when Sayaka, (we'll address her in a sec) breaks down at the fact that her friend is going to steal the guy she's been in love with forever away would have been groan-worthy if this were any other show, but it's handled wonderfully here.

The friendship established between Sayaka and Madoka is established very well. That's why the former's death was perhaps the most heart-breaking to watch. The fact that she got turned into a witch added an extra dimension of emotion. It's important to now mention perhaps the most iconic aspect of the show: the imagery. For the most part it's normal animation (and pretty crisp too) but when the girls delve into a Labyrinth the graphics become trippy. When the butterflies appeared in Episode 1 I had no idea what I was watching anymore. The insane cartoony, creepy, and unique graphics never got old. Seriously, there's nothing quite like this show for those scenes alone.

You might hear this show be compared to Serial Experiments Lain, and for good reason. That show has so many different thought-provoking themes which one never truly forgets. People still debate what exactly the series even meant. "Madoka" goes down some similar routes, especially with the final episode. When Madoka finally decided on her wish to become a Magical Girl she found a loophole where she managed to essentially rewrite time & reality. The fact that Kyubey was shocked and said, "Are you trying to become a god?!" when before he tried to coerce her into becoming a Magical Girl with the words, "You could become the god of this world!" gives proof that he's truly a manipulator. The writing truly succeeded at making one one of the greatest anime villains of all time. Now, about that final episode...

The final episode of a show like this is usually 3 things: 1, a finisher, 2, controversial, and 3, open to interpretation on purpose. "Lain" is a perfect example of this. While Puella has some of these elements, it's definitely more clear-cut than "Serial Experiments" in providing a finisher. Since Madoka basically became a god, she rewrote time where things preceded as normal, just without her existence. Somehow Homura is the only one that remebers. Why? Well, perhaps being a time traveler herself has given her that ability. Or perhaps being a god, Madoka put her memories inside her. It's a fascinating ending, and the entire scene in space displays what it means to love your friend. 

The soundtrack is definitely a highlight. The main theme is fantastic, and the use of a heavy violin upped the mood. (Case in point in Episode 8, against the rain.) As mentioned already, the show asks some tough questions. The subway scene for example was definitely off-putting. But it wasn't there just to display language, it was there to show how a good chunk of humanity operates. Sayaka is there wondering if it's worth truly fighting for them when she hears a conversation like this. Is it worth it when most of humanity is like this? The answer is of course yes, as when Madoka in the final episode says, "If someone ever tells me it's a mistake to have hope, well then I'll just tell them they're wrong, and I'll keep telling them until they believe, no matter how many times it takes." At the end of the day, there's always hope. Despite all the crying, deaths, and end of the world, Madoka at the end displays that hope does exist. The show's ending might appear open-ended to some, but to me I think it's nicely showcased with 1. true friendship & sacrifice and 2. a person standing up the devil's schemes, or in this case Kyubey. Her saying of, "I'm here to take that burden for you" is reminiscent of the Cross of Jesus Christ, and in many ways she's represents that: a second chance. Right before the world is about to be destroyed by evil, she comes, offers her life to give everybody another chance of redemption. The Magical Girls who were basically under condemnation because of their contract are lifted of that burden. Likewise in the real world, because of the Cross people who were under condemnation are given a second chance through faith. Whether or not this was the intent of the ending I'm not sure, but one thing I can say with certainty is that the show did a great job showcasing the love of a friend, and someone whom inspires hope in others. I'm reminded of the verse from John 15:13, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."

Puella Magi Madoka is a much-watch. It takes a popular genre and modifies it extremely. What appears to be a happy show is much more interesting. While not going to perhaps the surreal levels of Serial Experiments Lain, it nonetheless is a show along similar lines. The plot twists are astounding and you get very attached to the characters. The insane imagery when they battle witches in the labyrinths is worth the watch alone. Then in the real world the subtle imagery with things like flies forming together on a streetlamp to look like a skull and the classic portrait of "The Creation of Adam" above in the scene with Madoka's mom and the teacher add to the overall atmosphere. The hype for the final battle against Walpurgisnacht was excellent. (Not to mention the epic choir!) All of this is accomplished in just 12 episodes. Madoka definitely belongs in everyone's top 5 anime of all time.