TV Review: Psycho-Pass (2012- )

Original Run: October 12th, 2012 – current
Created by: Koji Yamamoto, George Wada, Kenji Tobori, Wakana Okamura
Directed by: Naoyoshi Shiotani, Katsuyuki Motohiro
Written by: Gen Urobuchi
Based on: Saiko Pasu by Hikaru Miyoshi
Music by: Yugo Kanno

Production I.G., Madman Entertainment, Funimation, Manga Entertainment, Fuji TV, 22 Episodes (so far), 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’ve been meaning to check out Psycho-Pass for awhile based off of a friend’s suggestion. Seeing that it was on Hulu, I figured I’d binge through it.

Now this show is highly regarded and it has a strong cyberpunk and neo-noir style to it but it just didn’t keep my attention. I’m not sure why, it’s visually alluring, the plot is interesting and I really liked the music.

I guess I just couldn’t get invested in any of the characters and everyone just sort of felt generic. Maybe’s it’s that they all dress the same or that each character has weak traits and are pre-loaded with overused tropes.

Honestly, this felt like someone had a trial version of some “build your own anime” software without any add-ons or premium content to work with.

I really wanted to like this, as it taps into a lot of things I’m into narratively and aesthetically but I couldn’t get past a dozen or so episodes before checking out. Granted, I’ll say that the first episode hooked me but then it all slipped away rather quickly.

This is all just my opinion, as again, this is pretty highly regarded and loved by a lot of people. Strangely, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

But it does look and sound great.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other cyberpunk anime: Ghost In the Shell movies and shows, Parasyte: The Maxim, etc.

Film Review: Skyfall (2012)

Release Date: October 23rd, 2012 (London premiere)
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Bérénice Lim Marlohe, Albert Finney, Judi Dench

B23 Ltd., Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures, 143 Minutes

Review:

“What is this if not betrayal? She sent you off to me, knowing you’re not ready, knowing you’re likely die. Mommy was very bad.” – Raoul Silva

Everyone seems to think that Casino Royale is the best of the lot when it comes to Daniel Craig’s James Bond films. Well, those people are wrong, as Skyfall is pretty close to perfection with a lot more action and meat than the mostly boring Casino Royale.

While the plot of this movie borrows a lot from the plot of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, I don’t really care, as it all works well within the film’s story and the payoff at the end is one of the best in James Bond movie history.

This film, at the sake of spoiling some plot details, brings a character arc to an end. That character is Judi Dench’s incarnation of M. It gives her a fitting and truly memorable exit from the series while examining the wreckage and collateral damage that someone in her position could cause by making the toughest decisions. A ghost from her past comes back to haunt her and even though he ultimately succeeds, this isn’t a film consumed by nihilism, so much as it is a reflection of a person’s life and having to come to terms with past actions.

What really made this work for me was the performance by Javier Bardem as the villainous Raoul Silva. The guy was just creepy as hell and legitimately scary in a way that modern Bond villains aren’t. Honestly, other than Christoph Waltz’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld in Spectre, does anyone remember any of the other Craig era baddies? And honestly, Silva blows Blofeld right out of the f’n water!

The plot had lots of layers and a good three act structure that actually had a very different aesthetic from act to act. The big finale in this looked breathtaking and is one of the best shot James Bond sequences of all-time. Plus, it added in Albert Finney and had him trying to get M to safety while Bond took on a small army, a military helicopter and a madman starving for revenge.

I also like that the film finally fleshed out MI6 with the inclusion of Moneypenny, Q and a new M. I had hoped that this would mean more going forward but since 2012, we’ve only gotten one other Bond movie and this new team has sort of lost its momentum. But I hope they get their time to shine some more in the upcoming Bond film, which looks to be Craig’s last.

Anyway, Skyfall, as far as the Craig movies go, is the bees f’n knees. It’s not bogged down by a three hour poker game or a writers’ strike like the two before it. It’s just action packed, classic Bond but retrofitted for modern audiences that want less camp and more gunfire.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Daniel Craig James Bond movies.

Film Review: John Carter (2012)

Also known as: John Carter of Mars, A Princess of Mars, Barsoom (working titles)
Release Date: February 22nd, 2012 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Written by: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon
Based on: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Willem Dafoe, Don Stark, Bryan Cranston, Thomas Haden Church, David Schwimmer, Jon Favreau

Walt Disney Pictures, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Did I not tell you he could jump!” – Tars Tarkas

I got to be honest, I didn’t think I’d get much out of this film but I was pleasantly surprised.

I never planned to watch it but I recently started reading Dynamite Entertainment’s comic book adaptations of the Barsoom stuff (titled Warlord of Mars) and I wanted to see how similar the comic book version of A Princess of Mars was to this film, a live action version of the same story.

They were pretty close, for the most part. Having never read the novel though, I’m not sure which is closer to the source material. I’d assume the comic though, as Disney loves to put their own stamp on their adaptations.

This is an action packed, epic adventure story. It’s grand in scale, is a hell of a lot of fun and is basically a swashbuckling romp on Mars. It’s like if you merged Disney’s Prince of Persia and Pirates of the Caribbean movies together and then threw them into outer space.

This was also one of the most expensive movies ever made but completely flopped at the box office and has become one of Disney’s biggest failures. The sad thing is that it wasn’t shit and the film did a fantastic job of world building: setting up future sequels. Honestly, having seen this now, I wish it would have evolved into a franchise.

I thought that Taylor Kitsch was convincing as John Carter and his chemistry with Lynn Collins’ Dejah Thoris was pretty good. But I actually preferred his relationship with his badass Martian dog, Woola. I smiled every time this cosmic canine was on the screen.

Plus, the Michael Giacchino score is superb. I loved the themes in this picture.

My only real complaint about the movie is that I didn’t like some of the character design. I’m not sure how true to the books the look of the Martians was but I preferred the bulkier, heavyset versions in the comics, as opposed to these skinny ones in the film. Still, the actors that played the Martians (primarily Willem Dafoe) did a solid job.

Additionally, the CGI was questionable in the quality of the characters. The special effects work great for the ships, vehicles, landscapes and architecture but the living, breathing characters felt artificial. And that’s kind of baffling considering the immense budget of this top tier motion picture.

None of the flaws are enough to distract you though. The total package is good and I enjoyed it enough to not want to nitpick the shit out of certain things that don’t wreck the film.

I hope that this being a massive flop won’t deter future filmmakers from taking on the Barsoom material. John Carter is a worthy enough character to live on in various forms forever. I just hope that someone can eventually make something that the people want to see because the Barsoom mythos is rich and deserving of further adaptations.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s Prince of Persia and Pirates of the Caribbean movies, as well as the first two Brendan Fraser Mummy films and Aquaman.

Documentary Review: Namath (2012)

Also known as: Namath: From Beaver Falls to Broadway (complete title)
Release Date: January 28th, 2012
Written by: Ousie Shapiro
Music by: David Robidoux
Cast: Joe Namath, Liev Schreiber (narrator)

NFL Films, HBO, 86 Minutes

Review:

Joe Namath played before my time but growing up, he was always a former NFL great that older generations always told me about. He had a mystique about him and was a real legend on and off the field.

Once ESPN Classic came into existence and I was really into watching NFL Films productions in my teen years, I really got to see and understand why people loved him. And frankly, I loved him too. He had style and a panache that was unparalleled for the time. In high school, I owned a Namath throwback jersey.

Joe Namath also had that moment where he predicted and guaranteed a Superbowl win when his New York Jets were 17 point underdogs to the Baltimore Colts. But he won and that prediction became as legendary as Babe Ruth pointing to the stands to call his most famous homerun.

In the years since, Joe Namath has had alcohol problems that were made pretty apparent to the public. He’s since gotten help and is living a much better, booze free life but the partying playboy went through rough patches.

This documentary was a really entertaining watch for fans of the game and the man. It doesn’t shy away from Namath’s demons and Joe even goes into depth talking about them and why they existed in the first place. But the real focus of the documentary is on the man’s life, not just his personal faults.

I thought that this was fair and it let Namath clear the air and genuinely express his remorse for certain actions. It also showed how cool Suzy Kolber is in how she handled the situation that involved her because she knew Joe was in a really bad place, at the time.

I love old school football. This documentary just cemented that further and it made me really respect Joe Namath more so than I did already.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other documetnaries about the NFL, most notably ESPN 30 For 30 films and HBO documentaries.

Film Review: Dredd (2012)

Also known as: Judge Dredd (Jamaica, Japan, working title), Dredd 3D (promotional title)
Release Date: July 11th, 2012 (San Diego Comic Con premiere)
Directed by: Pete Travis
Written by: Alex Garland
Based on: Judge Dredd by John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra
Music by: Paul Leonard-Morgan
Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris, Lena Headey, Domhnall Gleeson

DNA Films, IM Global, Reliance Entertainment, Entertainment Film Distributors, Lionsgate, 95 Minutes

Review:

“In case you people have forgotten, this block operates under the same rules as the rest of the city. Ma-Ma is not the law… I am the law. Ma-Ma is a common criminal; guilty of murder, guilty of the manufacture and distribution of the narcotic known as Slo-Mo, and as of now under sentence of death. Any who obstruct me in carrying out my duty will be treated as an accessory to her crimes… you have been warned. And as for you Ma-Ma… judgement time.” – Judge Dredd

Not enough people saw this in the theater, myself included. But I did see it as soon as I was able to stream it. I wasn’t a big fan of what the original 1995 film was and even though I knew that this one was a much more serious picture, it didn’t get me into the theater.

That was my mistake though, as I really liked this movie the moment I saw it. It hit all the right notes and was just a badass bonanza of bullets, blood and brutality!

Dredd is the movie I’ve wanted ever since seeing the original RoboCop. It’s unapologetic, goes for the gusto and doesn’t relent in its intensity. Plus, Karl Urban’s version of Judge Dredd holds a special place in my heart right next to Peter Weller’s RoboCop.

Sadly, this didn’t do well enough to get a sequel but talks of continuing on with Urban as Dredd haven’t died down. But for now, we’ve still got this to enjoy, even if it just feels like a small sample size of what could be.

This is just a hair over 90 minutes, which is fine. It’s so intense that anything more might have been overkill.

The action is damn good and this film is just a masterpiece when it comes to pure destruction.

Beyond that, this is well acted between the three biggest components: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby and Lena Headey. In fact, Headey was incredibly good as a psychotic female crime boss that literally wore here vileness on her face. When Headey and Urban finally come face to face in the movie, it’s a fantastic moment, greatly accented by both actors’ work.

This has good effects, especially in regards to the scenes where we see the world through the eyes of the drug users. The finale that sees Headey’s Ma-Ma get doped up and thrown through a window, 200 stories to her death, was stunning. It was shot very dynamically and was masterfully crafted from the camerawork to the special effects.

These type of films are often referred to as “high octane” but this one goes beyond that. It’s a real throwback to the over the top, intense action pictures of the ’80s.

Dredd is a great template for how to do a hard R action movie. Frankly, the world could always use more of those.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the original Judge Dredd just to compare, as well as the first two Robocop movies.

Film Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2012-2013)

Release Date: September 25th, 2012 (Part I) and January 29th, 2013 (Part II)
Directed by: Jay Oliva
Written by: Bob Goodman
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson
Music by: Christopher Drake
Cast: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, David Selby, Wade Williams, Michael Emerson, Mark Valley, Paget Brewster, Grey DeLisle, Michael McKean, Bruce Timm, Frank Welker, Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter, Tara Strong

DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 76 Minutes (Part I), 76 Minutes (Part II), 148 Minutes (Deluxe Edition)

Review:

“You don’t get it, son. This isn’t a mud hole. It’s an operating table. And I’m the surgeon.” – Batman

When I see that there is a new DC Comics animated adaptation of a famous comic book story coming out, I usually don’t get too excited. The reason being, most of them take tremendous liberties and just sort of do their own thing, ignoring the story they’re “based” on and making the whole thing nothing more than a bullshit marketing scheme to sell more Blu-rays.

I guess that’s why I was pleasantly surprised by this film, a true adaptation that really captured the spirit of Frank Miller’s most famous Batman story.

I put off watching this for a very long time and I only gave it a shot because a friend of mine that actually reads comics told me it was definitely worth my time. He wasn’t wrong.

This film does a fine job of capturing the magic of Miller’s story and it also has some solid homages to the imagery of the famous comic.

I guess my biggest gripe is that even though the animation is really good, it sort of just looks like the other DC Comics animated features. DC has a specific style to its animated films and this falls in line with it. For what this project is and what it represents, I fell as if the art should have been closer to the style and tone of the actual comic. This took a big step forward from a narrative standpoint but the visual style really should have been unique, grittier and more in line with Frank Miller’s art.

I also wasn’t crazy about the length of this but that’s really my own problem, as I start to tune out when watching animation for too long. I don’t really know how this could have been edited down and because it adapts a very rich story in a really great way, I’d leave it alone. It fills the time well and there really isn’t a dull moment.

The voice actors were all superb. Peter Weller was perfect as an old Batman and Ariel Winter, who had to have been really young when this was made, was very convincing as the Carrie Kelley version of Robin.

I’ve watched a lot of DC Comics animated stuff since the ’90s and this is certainly in the upper echelon of the things they’ve put out.

If you love The Dark Knight Returns in comic book form, this shouldn’t disappoint.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other recent DC animated Batman and Justice League films.

 

Film Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Also known as: The Hobbit: Part 1 (working title)
Release Date: November 28th, 2012 (Wellington, New Zealand premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Based on: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Lee Pace, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, Aidan Turner, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, WingNut Films, Warner Bros., 169 Minutes, 182 Minutes (Extended Edition)

Review:

“I’m looking for someone to share in an adventure.” – Gandalf

When these movies first came out, I was really disappointed with them. Granted, they were still mostly enjoyable but they lacked the magic that made Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy so spectacular a decade earlier.

I finally revisited this, as I got a great deal on the entire set of Hobbit films in their Extended Edition format, which is also the versions of the Lord of the Rings films I own. And like the other Extended Editions, this beefed up version of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey became a better, more fleshed out movie.

Also, I’ve had six years to let this movie digest and I did find it more palatable this time around. Although, some of my issues with it are still there.

To start, this feels like a disjointed film, tonally. It’s as if it isn’t sure what it needs to be. Frankly, the tone of Lord of the Rings was perfect and this should have mirrored that. There isn’t really any reason why it couldn’t, as it had the same creative team behind it.

The film suffers from being too hokey at times and its the kind of hokey that is cringe. The dwarves look goofy as hell, the humor is usually off key or unnecessary and the musical bits, whether or not they exist in the book, really bogged this movie down and made it exude Disney level cheese but really bad Disney. I’m sorry but Aragon and the Mouth of Sauron didn’t break out into song and dance in Return of the King.

There’s also weird moments like the dwarf snoring and breathing moths in and out of his nose. And then there are strange, unnecessary things like Radagast the Brown having bird shit crusted to the side of his head. I also can’t leave out the insane physics of this movie and how the dwarves and Bilbo are seemingly indestructible and have incredible balance between the Stone Giants fight scene and sliding down a massive rock chute without splattering all over the place or breaking every bone in their bodies.

Another thing that hurts the film is that it relies on CGI much more heavily than its predecessors. The Lord of the Rings films had a bunch of guys in fantastic orc makeup and they looked real and totally badass. Here, we have computer animated orcs that look more like video game characters than something organic on the screen. Granted, I love that Manu Bennett plays the orc leader.

But the reason why CGI orcs don’t work for the film is because practical effects, if they can be utilized properly, just look better. The original Lord of the Rings trilogy was heralded as being a huge step forward in special effects on every level. The Hobbit movies, however, are just stagnation.

The film has some strong positives though.

All of the new main characters were well cast. I loved Martin Freeman as the young Bilbo and Richard Armitage as Thorin. It was also really cool seeing Lee Pace as the Elvenking, Thranduil. He wasn’t in this chapter very much but his role gets bigger in the two pictures after this one.

I also liked the additions to the story, at least in this film. The side story with the Necromancer is really cool and I liked seeing Gandalf, Saruman, Galadriel and Elrond come together to discuss the rising darkness in Middle Earth.

The problem with this trilogy, which becomes more apparent in the second and third film, is that this didn’t need to be a trilogy. The Hobbit is a short book when compared to the Lord of the Rings novels. This could have been expanded into two films and even included some of the additions to the story but three movies spreads the narrative too thin. Especially for movies roughly around the three hour mark.

An Unexpected Journey doesn’t quite work in the way that it should but it is still a hell of a good time for fans of Lord of the Rings.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two Hobbit films, as well as Lord of the Rings.