Saturday, October 5, 2013

Pacific Rim: Simple is Good, but it Could be Better

So I went and saw Pacific Rim. It was awesome. I could leave it at that, but I think it deserves more than a two sentence opinion.

I was expecting a dumb, cliche monster verses robot flick and, while I got the cliches I expected, they were heartfelt. Let me try to explain.

The premise is laid out in the film's opening narration, a textbook example of tropes are not bad. It sets up the story, and while this could have been done more subtly, it didn't need to be. This movie is many things, but subtle...

... is not one of them.

Basically, Kaiju, monsters from another dimension, staring coming through a portal in the pacific and attacking people. Once they become common, the world unites to defeat them using Jaegers, giant machines that can match them punch for punch. However, these monsters are coming more frequently, and they soon realize that soon they will be overrun and must close the portal before it is too late.

Our characters are not incredibly interesting, but they are at least likeable. Our hero, Raleigh Becket, is a washed up Jaeger pilot, who quit after his brother died. With the end of the world neigh, he is brought back in by our heroic Marshall Stacker. Raleigh ends up partnering with the skilled, but inexperienced Mako to save the day. Each character is given a back story that, while again predictable, helps flesh them out. They are serviceable and do their job.

Our Hero, Raleigh Beckett.

What annoys me is how much time they spend on them. The movie takes itself seriously, spending plenty of time showing you the characters and the world. The problem is that I know these characters already. If they had been a bit more creative with them, it would have improved the movie. Still, the fact that they spent any time at all on the people in the film is to their credit. It helps make the cliche's heartfelt, rather than bland. The actors are solid enough to fill their roles, but special mention goes to Idris Elba, who plays Stacker Pentecost.

I like to call him Marshall McAwesome
Oh, and the two scientist side characters are hilarious, and, as I am beginning to notice with blockbusters, more interesting than the leads. It's fun watching the bickering pair throughout the film, and the moment when they finally work together got plenty of smiles.

Let's talk about visuals and action, because this is where the movie shines. And, yes, there is plenty of orange and blue. Unlike, say, Star Trek: Into Darkness though, it doesn't feel quite as forced here. It is also only in a few places, and is usually justified.

The fights range from cities, underwater, and even (in an incredibly awesome scene) through the sky. The designs for the machines and monsters alike are very cool and interesting. I especially liked the Chinese "Crimson Typhoon", which had three arms and basically used kung fu. I began to have some flashbacks to Lost Planet as I looked at the monster/mech fights, and this is not a bad thing.

All of the designs are distinct and visually appealing.
One of the more memorable sequences is a fight in Tokyo (yeah, it gets attacked by monsters, go figure). It's raining, making everything reflect and gleam off of the metal of the mechs. The fights in the streets are illuminated by the multicolored lights of the city... it was quite stunning.

Some great colors here that help offset the orange and blue.
Of course the action is dead on, and I hardly need to talk about it. It is over the top, epic and a thrill to watch. A lot of the action and art design makes a lot of sense when you realize they were drawing on anime as an inspiration.

Another thing of note is the concepts and plot. See, the mechs have to be run by two people, as one brain cannot handle the stress of running the machine. The two people's minds and memories are connected, meaning they have no secrets and know everything about the other. I like this concept, but it falls slightly flat since the characters are so bland. Still, it plays into a few twists in the plot.

Yes, surprisingly this plot has twists, and I did not see them all coming. I won't spoil them, but they are interesting. Sadly I got confused occasionally, due to my theaters sound quality. (You have to sacrifice some luxuries when you go to the 2$ theater, my friends.) 

In the end, I like the movie. I like it a lot. The problem is I can see what they could have done with it as far as writing is concerned. It knows it's silly, and so does the audience, yet somehow they pull off an epic story. If only the characters had been more interesting, this movie would not have been "awesome", it would have been fantastic.

Perhaps my view is colored by my low expectations being surprised, but I would recommend this movie. Content wise it is pretty clean, with only a few bits of profanity thrown in and almost no other objectionable content, aside from some colorful alien blood. One of the best movies? No, but it is enjoyable. If you can handle a cliche plot and enjoy a heartfelt effort and truly awesome fight scenes, check it out.

The best part though? Sequel confirmed! Here's hoping for the best.

Friday, October 4, 2013

NaNoWriMo: Character Drawing

The yearly event where I try and fail to write a novel in a month, more info here.

Anyway, I don't have much to say about it, other than I am excited. I seem to get closer every year, so I might make it all the way this time. One of the people on the forums was nice enough to draw one of my characters for me, so I figured I'd share it. (Thanks darkcity for making it!)

Granted, in the book he has a more of a Victorian London look, but this is the gist of it. Just felt like sharing The next post will get back to the regular posts.  

EDIT: Just needed a place to post this banner. Art by magge

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Legend of Korra Season 2: Episode 4

Hey, remember this guy? The totally not evil at all mentor?

Why, yes, I am plotting your demise. Why do you ask?
Yeah, they didn't even bother with that one.

So I'm going to get the cons out of the way here first, that way we can focus on the good stuff. Korra is still acting like an idiot (though her actions actually do get results instead of just screwing things up this time) being brash and angry. They went ahead and officially outed Unalaq as a villain, and we're only four episodes in. I suppose this could be a good thing, getting it out of the way so we can move on to new things, but it still felt rushed.

I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that he was behind her father being banished so he could get his position. Sure, it gets him villain points, but I felt like that wasn't really needed. It sort of detracted from her father's drama and past, making him not responsible for his actions.

Still, these are minor issues at best considering the rest of the episode.

There is a major theme of family throughout the episode, wrapping up the cliffhanger of last week. Tenzin finds his daughter playing with a group of baby Flying Bison, deciding they were better brothers and sisters than her real ones who had been mean. Tenzin, frustrated with his own siblings, sits down and plays with her.

"Aww" is the appropriate response, even if you are male.

They come to the conclusion that family, while they can be annoying and troublesome, is still family. They will always be there for you, and should be valued. Simple, old fashioned and a little cliched? Sure, but it rings true.

I feel like I should note that Tenzin admits that Aang had faults as a father, and apologizes for trying to force his idealized memories on his siblings. They forgive him, apologize for taking out their anger with Aang on him. They end their segment by looking at a photo of all of them, happy together as kids.

Again, this whole segment felt very real and mature. The theme of family carried over to Korra's segments as well, with a few emotional moments between her and her parents. Sadly, the Aang family arc felt a little rushed, mostly due to constantly returning to Korra for the plot

Also, a side note. I may get frustrated at her character for being headstrong and kind of an idiot, but man she can be awesome in the middle of it.

"For kids 7 and up!"

A great example of how to solve problems? Not really, but man was it hardcore. This is how they should show her character, by showing what lines she is willing to cross that Aang never would, not by making her an idiot who never learns.

A further note: the comedy in this episode was strong, though I felt that it interrupted the drama rather than lightening it a couple of times. The crazy inventor is quickly becoming a favorite of mine.

They seem to be setting up a civil war between tribes, and Korra and the rest of Team Avatar are heading for Republic City to get the president's help. On one hand, I'm annoyed that we are leaving the beautiful arctic visuals and gong back to the city. On the other, it seems to be setting up the old avatar vibe, the whole travel the world bit. (Also, the more they travel, the higher a chance they run into Iroh the II. Dante Basco FTW).

Still excited for the coming episodes, see you next week.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Legend of Korra Season 2: Thoughts on Ep 1,2 and 3

(Author's Note: I know have been vanishing a reappearing from this blog of late, but I am now going to be updating more regularly. Hopefully at least once every two weeks. OK, feel free to read the interesting bit now.)

So I figured I would give my two cents on the new season as it comes out, as I am a fan of the Avatar franchise. I am going to gloss over the episodes in general this time around, but will focus in on specifics in the future. Even then, this will mostly be my thoughts an an overview, I won't be detailing the plot scene by scene.

Season two is starting off stronger than season one did. They are balancing the drama and humor better, and have shown how characters have moved and changed since we last saw them (well, most of them, more on that later). Bolin is hilarious, Tenzin is as entertaining as ever and a new cast of characters is being developed nicely. Even Mako, who was annoyingly stoic in the last season to many, is proving to be more interesting.

The new characters include an extended focus on Korras family, with her father, mother and uncle(coughobviouslyevilcough)  playing large roles. The other family reciving more focus is the Aang family, consisting of Tenzin, his brother and sister. They are all interesting, but more on them later. The airbender family is becoming more interesting as well, rather than simply being used as comic relief.

With all of these interesting characters, what's the issue? Korra is the issue.

Does that smirk annoy anyone else, or is it just me?
I'm sorry, but this character is a jerk. Know her big journey last season? All that attempted development? Gone. Not a thing mattered. We, my friends, are back to square one. She's stubborn, angry, snappish and generally unlikable. She treats her friends like dirt, only to come crawling back to them at the end of the episode with a lame excuse about being angry.

Look, I get it. She's a teenager, she is the opposite of Aang, being headstrong is part of her character. The problem is she hasn't grown. She hasn't learned a thing from any of her failures, refuses to listen to those wiser than her... It may have been interesting once, but it is shaping up to be the same arc as last time.

That's not to say the show is bad, not at all. In fact, all of this could be the set up to a great moment when she finally learns and evolves, realizing her failures. It remains to be seen if they go this route, but I remain hopeful. She did get some better moments in the third episode, and her anger and confusion is justified better as "I'm the Avatar and I don't know what to do" Rather than "Gah! I'm angry and know best, jerks!" She has a tender moment with her family at the end, where she apologizes for being wrong. Still, she did that in the past, and it never stuck.  Hopefully she will improve as time goes on.

Now, onto the most interesting part of the third episode.

Left to right: Bumi, Tenzin, Kya

 When one of Tenzin's daughters goes missing, the three of them go looking for her. As they talk, we find out that Aang, while a great person, may not have been the best father. He focused on Tenzin, who is the only airbender, and apparently neglected the other two emotionally.They proceed to argue and fight among themselves. This is where the episode shines. It shoes the writing teams skills at characters and conflict. It's emotional, raw, mature and intelligent. This is what gained Avatar praise, honest storytelling and real characters. 

This is the sort of thing you would expect from an adult drama, but in a kids show. Personally I think it is a good thing. In the real world, families don't always get along, parent's aren't perfect and conflict happens among families. In a kid's show, you know they will come back together in the end, perhaps teaching the young audience a thing or two about family in the process. It's worth noting that they left the conflict hanging, presumably to be completed in part two.

In other parts of the show: The animation is gorgeous, and the spirits are amazing and unique. The humor is great, the world realized, and the upcoming conflicts look promising. 

There is one more thing I suppose I should note. Because of my christian faith, the whole concept of the spirits bothers me on some level. Still, as a work of fiction, I think it provides unique avenues of storytelling. I don't think children will start worshiping the water spirits or anything, but parents who worry about that sort of content should be aware of it. 

In conclusion: The show is strong, but it is held up by it's supporting cast, and the lead role is dragging it down. It is not a lost cause, and they could pull a great spin on it that would make it equal to the original Avatar: The Last Airbender. Let's hope they do.